Amid controversy surrounding the closure of a portion of the Queen Elizabeth Driveway to cars, local business officials are calling for a compromise that would encourage “active transit” while also addressing the concerns of businesses and residents.
Janice Barresi, vice-president of brand and social impact for Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), said the organization has long held concerns about closing the road. OSEG owns and operates the Ottawa Redblacks football club and the Ottawa 67’s hockey club and manages events at the TD Place complex and throughout the Lansdowne district.
“We’ve expressed our concerns to the (National Capital Commission) regarding the negative impact of the parkway closure to Lansdowne tourism, local residents and small businesses in the neighbourhood,” she said. “We welcome four million visitors annually and having access to only one major artery (Bank Street) as an entry point will serve as a deterrent to visitors.”
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As part of its active use program that began as a pandemic measure in 2020, the NCC closed a stretch of the driveway on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Fifth Avenue to Somerset Street from Canada Day to Labour Day. The road was also closed to vehicles on weekends and holidays from May 13 to June 25, as well as Sept. 9 to Thanksgiving Monday.
The active use program is designed to reserve parkways for biking, walking and other car-free transportation methods from May to October.
However, the daily closure of the QED has sparked debate in recent days at city council and among residents. Last week, Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe questioned the NCC’s decision to close the driveway, citing impacts on traffic flow as well as on surrounding neighbourhoods.
“There’s no question that, when Queen Elizabeth Drive is closed and there’s a big event at Lansdowne Park, it has an enormous impact on traffic in the area,” he told reporters after last week’s city council meeting.
“We see traffic going on to residential roads in the neighbourhood and, of course, more traffic on Bank Street. And so I don’t support any plan to permanently close Queen Elizabeth Drive to vehicles.”
The current closure allows access to Lansdowne via Princess Patricia Way and, according to Barresi, OSEG has permission to allow vehicle access and shuttle service along the QED, as well as increased bus frequency on adjacent routes, for Redblacks games.
As a result, it’s other midsize events at Lansdowne, from festivals to flea markets, that are most affected by the closure, she added.
“Guests will try to access Lansdowne, encounter the closure, and then divert onto the local neighbouring streets,” she said. “It’s congesting Bank Street and people can’t access the businesses there. Then the residents are impacted because the streets are clogged and they can’t get out of their driveways.”
According to the 2021 Lansdowne Transportation Demand Management Report, about 58.8 per cent of attendees at TD Place use vehicles to get to events, a drop from 68 per cent in 2018. While event-goers rely overwhelmingly on cars, other alternatives are gaining traction. In 2021, 17.2 per cent walked or cycled, compared with only seven per cent in 2018.
Patrick Burke, executive director of the Glebe BIA, said businesses along Bank Street have felt the impacts of increased congestion.
“The QED is just a route that a lot of people use, whether they’re travelling through the city or incidentally,” he said. “When it’s closed, there are more cars on Bank Street. It makes the trips slower and it takes longer for people to get to the front door of a local shop or restaurant. I think that just causes frustration for people who support local businesses here.”
He added that, while the impact on vehicle traffic is fairly clear, it’s harder to gauge the effect on foot traffic to businesses in the area. To better assess the impact, Burke said he’d like the NCC to be more transparent about usage numbers.
“The people who use the QED (for active transit) definitely enjoy it. It’s a pleasant experience and the canal is obviously beautiful,” he said.
“I’d like to see more engagement from the NCC, first and foremost. It’s a great program some of the time, but having it all across the summer is a big challenge. Some people want it to stay the same and others are just open to more flexible solutions.”
In a statement, the NCC said the active use program has been popular this year, with nearly 50,000 visits since May.
“The NCC is working to make our capital a leader in creating the kind of livable and sustainable urban experience we can all enjoy and that other cities might wish to emulate,” spokesperson Benoît Desjardins said. “Our active use program on Queen Elizabeth Drive helps alleviate the pressure on the capital pathway network, which is used to capacity during the summer.”
He added that the QED, like the Sir George-Etienne Cartier Parkway and the Kichi Zībī Mīkan, is a roadway that was intended to serve as a scenic route, rather than a commuter road.
Last week, the NCC launched a survey to solicit feedback on future iterations of the active-use program.
Barresi said OSEG would also like to work more closely with the NCC, as well as with the city and other stakeholders, to examine adjustments to the program.
She said she sees the potential for a compromise, such as adjusting closure hours, reopening for big events or introducing more shuttle service where it’s economical to do so.
“Previously, the NCC would close the parkway to cars in the morning,” she said. “That doesn’t impact the major events and wouldn’t have the same negative implications for the neighbouring community.
“So I think there are a number of viable options that, if we convene key stakeholders, we could find a win-win solution. We’re committed to active transportation, we want people to take different means to access our site, but we need to work together to find solutions.”