NCC to consult on car-free parkways

Photo: Liz Mckeen

By John Dance

The pilot project to shut down vehicle traffic along the Rideau Canal continues. Last year, much of Queen Elizabeth Drive (QED) was turned over to cyclists and pedestrians for the first part of the summer, then it was reopened and Colonel By Drive (CBD) was closed. This year, just QED has been closed.

While reaction has been mixed, enthusiastic supporters of the move include the Centretown Community Association, which has lobbied for the closure for several years. “Queen Elizabeth Driveway (QED) begs to be a permanent car-free promenade,” association president Shawn Barber wrote to Tobi Nussbaum, chief executive officer of the National Capital Commission (NCC), which operates the parkways.

“The QED was extremely well used by pedestrians, joggers, dog walkers, cyclists and boarders when closed during COVID,” wrote Barber. “Its popularity and value as a vehicle-free amenity now are clear. Close the QED to vehicles, possibly as far as Fifth Avenue, and let it become a grand promenade. It would be a promenade epitomizing the character and culture of Ottawa.”

The NCC seems to have taken this advice to heart, at least in part. “Our preliminary plan included the use of the full length of QED, however, as a result of the feedback received from the City of Ottawa and the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, we adjusted the program, limiting it only from Somerset to Fifth Avenue,” said NCC spokesperson Sofia Benjelloun.

The City of Ottawa doesn’t love the vibe. Chris Brinkmann, manager of traffic operations, commented: “The current QED closure has resulted in the diversion of about 10,000 vehicles per day, and the City is seeing an infiltration of detoured traffic. These daily volumes have shifted from the QED to these residential streets, significantly affecting the neighbouring residential transportation network. This congestion could further cause dangerous delays to emergency responses, both at Lansdowne and within the surrounding community.”

The Glebe Community Association (GCA) discussed the closure of the Driveway at a board meeting earlier this year. “We have heard from people who love the increased active recreation space, and we have also heard from people concerned about increased traffic and noise on residential streets” said GCA vice-president June Creelman.

“While we are generally supportive of some QED closures, we decided it was premature to take a stance without better data,” Creelman said. “We have written to the NCC and asked them to study traffic impacts and to provide us with more precise data on traffic counts on affected streets.”

One consequence of closing the QED is that the Colonel By Drive is no longer reserved for active users on Sunday mornings, and some cyclists miss having the full length of the parkway. On the other hand, QED will have no motorists 24/7 until September and on weekends into the fall so there is a lot more time for car-free cycling and walking than just Sunday mornings.

“The NCC continues to work with the City on gathering additional traffic data to better understand the impacts that City and NCC seasonal activities may have on neighbourhood streets,” said Benjelloun. “As part of our ongoing commitment to working with the community, we are meeting with different community groups and will be launching a survey at the end of the summer season to help shape the future of the QED programming.”

So we’ll all get a chance to tell the NCC what we think of car-free Canal parkways.

John Dance is an Old Ottawa East resident who keeps a close eye on city affairs and writes frequently for the Mainstreeter and the Glebe Report.

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