It's not managing the special events — it's the day-to-day that's worrisome
Depending on your viewpoint, there's lots to love or loathe about the massive Lansdowne Park redevelopment.
If you're a football fan, you're likely delighted by the seemingly daily RedBlacks announcements as they ramp up toward their first game in early summer. The skeptical wonder if the sport will be successful in Ottawa the third time around.
If you're something of a shopaholic, maybe you can't wait for the 400,000 square feet of retail space expected to be opened by this time next year (with about half the shops and restaurants opening their doors six months from now, and the rest over the second half of 2014). But if you were taken with the early talk about how a reimagined Lansdowne was to become a "unique urban village," you'll be sorely disappointed by the numerous chains that have committed to setting up shop there, including the LCBO, Rexall, a national bank, and possibly — according to a report by the Citizen's David Reevely — a Cineplex theatre complex (although probably a fancy one that serves grown-up drinks).
But there's one element in the Lansdowne revamp formula that everyone can agree on: traffic. Or, more precisely, that there's a concrete plan to avoid (or at least alleviate) the inevitable gridlock that will ensue from the thousands of expected new visitors to the site.
So far, it's really not clear what that plan is.
Sure, there's a concept of how to handle the crowds on game day, although there still are many details to be worked out.
For example, here's a new problem: although only club seat and suite clients will be allowed to park in the garage on game day, about 600 spots will be open to the public. After all, the retailers spending top dollar to locate at Lansdowne don't all want to rely only on game-goers for their business.
Figuring out how to stop those spaces from being used by football attendees is just one more thing on the to-do list before the Redblacks have their home opener next June or July.
But the truth is, it's not the special events that have everyone worried. Yes, it'll be a headache to figure out how to get 24,000 people to and from a sold-out Frank Clair Stadium, but it'll get figured out. Eventually.
The real challenge is how Bank Street and the surrounding Glebe area can absorb 5,000 or 10,000 people a day visiting Lansdowne.
"There's a real misperception," said Coun. David Chernushenko, who's work in Capital ward has been largely taken up with issues relating to the Lansdowne development.
"People generally don't have a big issue with special events, unless they become so numerous that they're every second day," he said, pointing out that a CFL team has fewer than a dozen home games a season. "People realize that you go into special events mode."
But what about the rest of the time?
Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which owns the Redblacks and partnered with the city to redevelop Lansdowne, is looking to attract thousands of visitors to the huge shopping and entertainment complex every day. Some will take transit, but as Lansdowne isn't on a major route, it's likely many will drive.
So the real question is, how will these people come and go from this traditional neighbourhood?
The underground garage will have about 1,300 underground parking spaces, with 280 reserved for the homeowners living in the two condo towers and town houses on the Lansdowne site, and another 40 short-term street-level spots.
The question is how these folks will get in and out without creating huge backlogs on either Bank Street or Queen Elizabeth Drive, where the two public parking access points are located.
As Mayor Jim Watson said in an interview, "I go to the Glebe today on a Saturday, and it's chock-a-block full."
If the area is already congested, how will it absorb all the thousands of new shoppers?
That's what local residents want to know. If a recent public meeting on the Lansdowne transportation plan is anything to go by, the community is so incensed by what it sees as the lack of urgency in coming up with a plan for the "day-to-day," that one man put forth the extreme (although legal) suggestion that residents start parking by the curb instead of their driveways to keep visitors from clogging up side streets.
After feedback from 1,000 residents, the Glebe Community Association came up with 21 "priority" recommendations to ease congestion, including increasing the frequency of east-west bus routes to alleviate the transit traffic on Bank Street to improving residential parking enforcement in the Glebe.
This month, the city rejected these proposals, along with 11 others. Another half-dozen suggestions are under consideration. Only two were accepted: better signage to direct drivers to use the Queen Elizabeth Driveway entrance, and new rules to forbid stopping on certain streets right around Lansdowne.
The fact is, it's not a surprise that the city is resisting taking a few measures ahead of time.
Sure, there are some steps that should be taken this instance. It seems foolish for the city not to prioritize building the Clegg Street/Fifth Avenue bridge that would connect Old Ottawa East across the canal to the Lansdowne site. The bridge delay — it's currently on the books for 2020 — is particularly head-scratching when you consider the many millions taxpayers are shelling out for the stadium, the Horticulture Building reno and the urban park. Why wouldn't the city want to create as many access points to these public sites as possible?
But before the city re-builds intersections or installs speed bumps, it's probably prudent to wait to see how the traffic issue unfolds. It's not always obvious ahead of time where the bottlenecks will occur.
On the other hand, the city must be prepared to adjust quickly to problems as they arise.
And "quickly" is the key word here.
OSEG's chief executive Bernie Ashe said all Lansdowne partners have "a huge commitment to monitoring. And we're going to be completely open about the kinds of complaints we get."
This might sound like so much good public-relations talk from some executives, but coming from Ashe, it's likely sincere for one simple reason: OSEG needs the traffic flow to work. In this cause, the company and the community are united.
Because if Lansdowne earns an early reputation for being a pain to get to, if Bank Street is thought to be a permanently congested nightmare, it'll be a disaster for OSEG and for Glebe shop owners alike.
And no matter what other opinions you hold about Lansdowne, there's no one in this city who wants that.
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