Lansdowne will face 'some traffic challenges,' Watson says

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By Neco Cockburn, The Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA — There will be "some traffic challenges" at a redeveloped Lansdowne Park, as was the case during major events in the past, but the city is working to manage the issue, says Mayor Jim Watson.

"It's going to be a holistic approach to deal with the challenges that both parking and traffic circulation are going to cause. The flip side to that is that it's actually a pretty good sign of a healthy community when you actually have more traffic, whether it be pedestrian, cycling, because it's a destination point for people," Watson said on Thursday, after concerns about traffic emerged at a meeting of council's finance and economic development committee.

Watson pointed to Westboro, saying it wasn't such a hot neighbourhood 20 years ago.

"Today, it's pretty busy there on Saturdays as well. I don't mean to sugar-coat the fact that I think there are some legitimate concerns," he said. "We've tried as best as possible with contingency plans to deal with them."

Discussion about traffic and transportation issues overshadowed financial matters as councillors approved reports detailing progress and updates on various elements of the Lansdowne project.

A few community members who spoke to the committee repeated concerns that not enough attention has been paid to the amount of day-to-day traffic the site generate, and that managing big events has been the main focus. (There are plans for shuttle services, satellite parking and other measures aimed at managing a large influx of visitors.)

Capital Councillor David Chernushenko followed up with questions to city staff, who replied that the day-to-day traffic has been assessed.

An assessment in 2010 looked at the amount of regular daily peak-period traffic expected at the site, said John Smit, the city's manager of development review for urban areas. Traffic along Bank Street is anticipated to increase by about 10 per cent at regular peak times, and could be accommodated by the system, the committee heard.

Rush-hour traffic is used in such studies "because that's when the transportation system is being used to its greatest demand, that's when there's the greatest demand of activity that's required to be accommodated," Smit said.

Chernushenko said he'll raise more questions about parking and other related issues at council's transportation committee.

The councillor reiterated that Lansdowne Park would be better if it was a car-free area, without surface parking, and said he also intends to propose revisiting the issue of cycling infrastructure in the area, as there are concerns about safety on the Bank Street bridge and crossing the Queen Elizabeth Driveway to National Capital Commission pathways.

The committee then approved various updates on the Lansdowne project, which is expected to cost about $7.6 million more than expected up front because of a shortfall in the revenue from commercial development and extra costs in renovating the historic Horticulture Building. More revenue is anticipated later, however.

The committee agreed with a staff recommendation to lease or sell the "air rights" for residential units and office towers to a pair of Minto entities. It approved an increase in debt authority from about id="mce_marker"19 million to about id="mce_marker"24 million to cover a shortfall in the money received for the air rights, along with a contribution to the city's social-housing reserve fund.

A programming plan for the urban park, Aberdeen Pavilion and Horticulture Building was also approved.

The relocation and renovation of the Horticulture Building is expected to cost id="mce_marker"0 million, and city manager Kent Kirkpatrick told the committee that's a "solid estimate," although as with all pieces of the plan, the final numbers will be known after the tendering process.

A revised plan for retail stores, which sets out the amount of fashion retailers to be allowed on the site and includes electronics sellers in the mix, was approved. The addition of soccer entrepreneur John Pugh to the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, and moving the Ottawa 67's to Scotiabank Place while the Civic Centre is renovated received the go-ahead.

The committee also approved a motion from Councillor Peter Hume to formally add Toronto architect James Parakh to the Lansdowne Park design review panel.

Parakh has worked informally with the panel, which includes Hume, along with Chernushenko and a pair of landscape architects. Having a regular architect provide input has helped, Hume said.

Another change would allow the panel to make decisions through a vote, rather than by consensus. That would give members the ability to dissent if they disagree, Hume said.

"Up until now, if there was a dissension among members of the panel, that necessitated coming back before council and seeking approval for that element," which is not practical or desirable, he said.

Chernushenko asked what's being done to try to replace big shade-giving mature trees with ones of similar potential, given the limited amount of soil resulting from the parking garage and other constraints. The committee heard that planners are exploring ways to provide more soil, such as a trenching system in the commercial part of the site.

Responding to Chernushenko's comments about a car-free Lansdowne, Smit said the site "is a pedestrian realm environment wherein the cars are invited. It's designed not to look like a place that vehicles would be sort of circulating like they would on a road system."

George Dark, a Toronto urban-design who has guided the redevelopment's design, told the committee that it would be possible to create a "pedestrian precinct" if the city wanted. Banning vehicles could be problematic, however, particularly when nothing in particular is going on at the site, Dark suggested.

The reports are to go before council on Wednesday.

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