City hall's advisory committees are still a disaster

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Nancy Biggs poses for a photo at her home in Ottawa Ontario Tuesday June 20, 2017. Nancy has just quit as vice-chair of City Hall's advisory committee on environmental issues. Council doesn't even ask the committee's opinion on things, let alone listen to it, she says, and she'll be more use volunteering with outside groups like Ecology Ottawa. Tony Caldwell

David Reevely, Ottawa Citizen

Nancy Biggs regrets spending three years trying to advise city council on the environment.

“I had high hopes in the first year and it just became more and more evident as time passed that we weren’t really a resource to the city at all,” Biggs said Tuesday, the day after she quit as vice-chair of city hall’s environmental stewardship advisory committee. She’s the second to bail out in six months and other members are restive. “We have never really been utilized at all.”

City hall’s advisory committees have a long history of sucking up interested citizens with expertise, ignoring them and making them mad, and then spitting them out again.

Biggs has a master’s degree in environmental science and spent her career in medical research. Since she retired she’s been increasingly active in environmental causes. She thought helping craft city policies on garbage, energy and especially active transportation (like biking and walking instead of driving) would be a worthwhile project. Instead, “I just don’t feel like I’m being useful, or like I’m using my time well.”

Biggs thinks she can make more of a difference away from city hall, with groups like Ecology Ottawa and Citizens for Safe Cycling.

“I just don’t like it when you somehow imply that you’re getting really good advice and it’s somehow being acted on when it’s not,” agreed committee member Bill Eggertson, a former radio journalist who’s more recently worked in the renewable-energy sector. The committee amounts to “greenwashing,” he said, pretending the city is much keener on an environmental agenda than it really is.

The members of the committee aren’t randoms pulled in off the street or activist wackos, he points out; they applied for the volunteer positions and city council chose them.

“If there is somebody on an advisory committee who is hot on Issue X, if you’ve got that type of expertise, why not take advantage of it?” Eggertson asked.

Main Street locals celebrate end of 'complete street' construction project

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Old Ottawa East thoroughfare took two years to finish

Mika Weaver, the owner of Singing Pebble Books on Main Street, sits in the cafe next door that's run by her husband. Weaver was one of many local business owners who faced precarious times during the City of Ottawa's lengthy project to turn the four-lane thoroughfare into a so-called 'complete street.'

Mika Weaver, the owner of Singing Pebble Books on Main Street, sits in the cafe next door that's run by her husband. Weaver was one of many local business owners who faced precarious times during the City of Ottawa's lengthy project to turn the four-lane thoroughfare into a so-called 'complete street.' (Trevor Pritchard/CBC) 

During the worst of the construction, through the detours and dusty days, Mika Weaver remained optimistic.

"I was sure we could weather it," said Weaver, who has owned Singing Pebble Books on Main Street since 1995. "And really it wasn't that bad."

Two years ago, Weaver and other locals found themselves in the middle of a major City of Ottawa project to overhaul the four-lane street running through the otherwise tranquil Old Ottawa East neighbourhood.

The plan was to turn Main Street into the first major Ottawa thoroughfare that's also a so-called "complete street" — a road that's shared equally by cars, cyclists, pedestrians and transit users. 

On Saturday, both the community and the city celebrated the end of the work with a party that included street food, carriage rides and a brass band.

"Finally, finally, finally." said Weaver. "The street is now designated cool."

Will improve traffic flow, says councillor

While the city converted Churchill Avenue in Westboro into a complete street in 2014, Main Street is more heavily used and more centrally-located.

The renewal project began in May 2015 and involved the replacement of deteriorated water and sewer systems, as well as the addition of new cycle tracks, wider sidewalks, parking spaces and public art.

The street gradually began to reopen to car, bicycle and pedestrian traffic last summer. 

david chernushenko councillor main street ottawa june 17 2017

Coun. David Chernushenko holds a necklace made of the century-old pipeline that was torn up as part of the Main Street renewal project. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)


"There's been a major shift throughout North America of what a major thoroughfare that runs through a downtown residential neighbourhood … should be and what it could look like," said Capital ward Coun. David Chernushenko, sporting a necklace made from the century-old subterranean pipe that was torn up as part of Main Street's renewal.

"You can still keep traffic flowing, but essentially take it back as a real liveable safe street for people."

Aside from some minor work that remains on the southernmost stretch of the bike track, Main Street is now back open, Chernushenko said.

While drivers may notice one fewer lane in each direction — stretches of Main Street are now two lanes instead of four — a centre turning lane at major intersections will actually improve traffic flow, not slow it down, he added.

"One car that wanted to turn, previously, was essentially stopping all of the moving traffic. And now, even with fewer lanes, it's not," said Chernushenko.

main street reopens complete street cyclists bike path ottawa

Two women walk their bikes along a new separated bike path on Main Street on June 17, 2017. Hundreds of people came out Saturday to celebrate the completion of a lengthy construction project that turned the previously four-lane thoroughfare into Ottawa's latest 'complete street.' (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)


'It's safer'

Main Street's previous flaws caused "frustration for so many years," said Phyllis Odenbach Sutton, president of the Old Ottawa East Community Association.

"We have wide sidewalks now, where it used to be walking on this street was horrific. And biking on this street was not something you wanted to do," she said. "So it's just wonderful."

The truth is, if you build infrastructure, people will use it.- Joey Gunn, Main Street resident

Odenbach Sutton said the community association wanted to see the power lines along Main Street put underground as part of the renewal work. The fact that many large trees had to be uprooted to make the changes possible was also somewhat bittersweet, she said.

But the positives of the project ultimately outweigh the negatives, Odenbach Sutton added.

Joey Gunn lives on Main Street and said he's already seen concrete changes in cycling volume along the road.

"The truth is, if you build infrastructure, people will use it," said Gunn. "You see the traffic, the bike traffic now. People are using [the bike tracks]. And it's safer."

Fifth-Clegg bridge next

With the Main Street renewal project mostly complete, attention in Old Ottawa East will likely turn to the construction of a pedestrian bridge over the Rideau Canal that would connect Clegg Street with Fifth Avenue in the Glebe.

Mayor Jim Watson told those who came out Saturday afternoon he expected the province to make a funding announcement for the bridge in coming weeks.

Both the city and the federal government have already committed to their share of the roughly $17.5-million bridge project.

For Weaver, the pedestrian bridge will not only bring more patrons to the stores along Main Street — it will also bring benefits for people like herself who also call Old Ottawa East home. 

"A lot of the kids in this neighbourhood go to schools in the Glebe. So having that footbridge connect means that people can just get across the canal much quicker," she said.

Neighbours celebrate completion of Main St. 'complete street' renewal project

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Paula McCooey, Ottawa Citizen

There had been bumps along the way, but the mood was upbeat on Saturday as Main Street in Old Ottawa East officially reopened with a good, old-fashioned block party on Saturday.

The two-year, $39-million Main Street renewal project is complete after months upon months of re-routed traffic and area businesses adjusting to ongoing construction.

Residents came out to enjoy the festivities, which included live music, bouncy castles, an open market and food stands between Clegg and Hazel streets.

The changes include widened sidewalks with newly planted trees, a landscaped plaza with public art installations and benches, and new bikes lanes, which are all part of the city’s “complete streets” plan to be shared by “many user types.”

“Over decades, the emphasis has been on motorized vehicle travel to the detriment of all of the other users,” said Capital ward Coun. David Chernushenko, who cut the ribbon alongside community partners. “Complete streets simply rebalances so we now have a street that works for all of the users as best as we can in equal share, and that means for the community the reacquisition of a lot of space.”

During the event, Safer Roads Ottawa put on a bike rodeo for kids and offered tours of the new cycle tracks and bike boxes.

The project, which required that the street be reduced from four to two lanes, received a mixed response. 

Mayor Jim Watson and friends cut the ribbon to officially open the redone Main Street. Paula MaCooey, Postmedia


Area resident Mary O’Donnell likes what she sees. “I like the renewal because before it was just a street for people to rush through, 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at night, and now you have the street for 24 hours a day.”

O’Donnell’s friend has a different view.

“I find it very dangerous and there isn’t enough room to park, even in the little parking alcoves,” said Toni Forsythe. “And in the winter it was very dangerous. Nobody made any allowance, it seems to me, for the snow banks. But I enjoy the wide paths.”

Along with the improvements will come more residents with the new Domicle condo development The Corners on Main and EQ Homes’ Greystone Village soon to be built next to Saint Paul University. Also, the newly planned pedestrian and cycling bridge between Fifth Avenue and Clegg will mean increased traffic flow in the Glebe and Old Ottawa East.

Mika Weaver, who has owned Singing Pebble Books since 1995, said she has already noticed more interest in the neighbourhood since the street reopened in the spring. She said that, with new condo plans, some are now comparing Old Ottawa East to Westboro.

“People are (saying), ‘How does it feel to be in a cool neighbourhood now?’ that kind of thing,” said Weaver. “In terms of the business, we find more people are coming in that have never been in the store before, and more people coming in who are just interested in the neighbourhood.”

Steampunk travellers promenade along the redone Main Street. Paula MaCooey, Postmedia

Mika Weaver, owner of Singing Pebble Books, said the Main Street renewal project has increased interest in the neighbourhood.

Main Event & Main Street Re-Opening Celebration lineup

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Saturday, June 17, 10 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Main Street from Hazel to Clegg

The Main Event is moving back onto Main Street for a combined Main Event & Main Street Re-Opening Celebration. Main Street will be closed from Clegg to Hazel for Old Ottawa East's biggest & best ever block party — you do not want to miss this one!!

Event is rain or shine but may be scaled back in the event of poor weather. To find out if weather changes are in effect, go to www.OttawaEastCAG.ca after 8 a.m. on the day of the event.


On stage

10:00 a.m. Stan Clark Orchestra

11:00 a.m. Official Re-Opening of Main Street with speeches from our elected officials, ribbon cutting and CAKE!

11:15 a.m. Stan Clark Orchestra

1:00 p.m. Ralph Mercredi Quintet


Activities

  • FREE wagon rides  from 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
  • Kids can give a bird a home with FREE birdhouse painting at the eQ Homes tent.
  • Bouncy Castle & Obstacle Course
  • FREE Balloons from our friendly Balloon Twisting Clown from 11:00 a.m - 1:00 p.m.
  • Drop by the BMO tent for FREE face painting and prizes!
  • Sula Wok & Merry Dairy Food Trucks
  • Rainbow Kidschool will be on hand with fun kids activities and cool give-aways
  • Lets Talk Science and the Science Lady from 10:00 a.m. - noon
  • The Community Association "Political" BBQ
  • Sandy Hill Community Health Centre
  • Saint Paul University
  • Police and Fire Service vehicles around 1:00 p.m.
  • City of Ottawa Public Art Program with Main2 artist Stuart Kinmond
  • Pedestrian walking tours with EnviroCentre
  • Bike Rodeo
  • Safer Roads Ottawa & Ottawa Public Health
  • Biking loops up the cycle tracks facilitated by CanBike or Ottawa Paramedics’ bike team.