‘Complete street’ vision for Main Street squeaks through transportation committee

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By David Reevely, Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA — Local residents came out ahead of car commuters in a vote by city council's transportation committee Friday, but just barely.

In a 6-4 vote, the committee approved a plan to narrow the driving lanes on 800 metres of Main Street in Old Ottawa East from four to two and to use the new-found space to build elevated bike lanes, widen the sidewalks, plant trees and add bus shelters. Nearby residents love it, because it'll turn a wide arterial road that's mostly empty at least 20 hours a day into a more walkable neighbourhood main street.

But at rush hours, driving along Main Street between the Rideau River and Rideau Canal will take three minutes longer, the city's transportation planners say, because it'll reduce the street's capacity from 1,200 motor vehicles an hour to 900. Traffic counts say the number of cars on the street now only exceeds 900 an hour briefly in the morning and for slightly longer in the afternoon, but it will definitely slow some of those drivers down.

And that led to the most rancorous committee meeting city council has seen in months.

Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans, whose ward to the south includes many people who drive through Old Ottawa East to get downtown, said she believes the city's staff planners presented bogus data to make their case and more than a few hundred will be inconvenienced. "Where do all these cars go?" she wanted to know.

The city is making massive investments in transit and smaller ones in cycling, explained deputy city manager Nancy Schepers. The idea is that more people will choose other ways of getting around besides driving, which is in keeping with the city's policies, and the evidence from projects like the Laurier bike lanes is that reducing car capacity somewhat to make way for other means of transportation can be done without creating traffic jams. The planners don't think that would work further north on Main, which is why the critical (and busy) intersection of Main Street and Lees Avenue is keeping four lanes in all directions, but they believe there just won't be a significant problem in the area farther south.

Coun. Allan Hubley worried about the wisdom of building bike lanes at sidewalk level, where pedestrians could wander into them. ""Do we have any suggestion of what these numbers are going to be?" he asked. "Are we going to see an increase in bikes nailing children as they're walking down the sidewalk?"

The planners don't think that'll happen. Hubley also objected to Schepers' claim that drivers will respond to a little more congestion by either adjusting their commute times or finding other ways to get where they're going. "To me, that's social engineering. I get very nervous about us getting into it," he said.

The "complete street" plan the committee eventually voted for is actually cheaper than one with four car lanes would be: car lanes need to be built atop deep beds to handle the weight, whereas bike tracks are about as cheap to build as sidewalks.

Deans tried a motion to get the planners to go look again at a Main Street plan they'd already rejected, which would have kept four car lanes on Main Street and include bike lanes at street level. It failed on a 5-5 tie, after provoking the ire of the area's councillor, David Chernushenko. Deans had suggested that maybe the "complete street" idea could wait until the traffic chaos of five years of light-rail and highway construction is concluded. However, because this $26.5-million project is being driven by the need to replace 100-year-old sewers under Main Street, which should be good for a lifetime once the new ones are in, that won't likely happen.

"If we pick a design now that's right for the next five years but wrong for the next 98, then we will rue that day," Chernushenko warned.

Ottawa councillor releases new urban cycling documentary

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By Cullen Bird, Metro

Ottawa Coun. David Chernushenko hopes his new documentary on urban cycling will open up attitudes about urban design and transportation.

The 40-minute documentary, called "Bike City, Great City," features interviews and scenes from bike-friendly cities in Europe and North America, focusing primarily on Ottawa, New York and Copenhagen. The Capital Ward councillor says he shot European footage and interviews during a summer trip in 2008, with the rest of the North American footage taken by him over the last year and a half.

"In a way it's the story of Ottawa, and our slow but steady progress towards becoming a really good city for cycling," Chernushenko said, though he adds there are significant steps to be taken to match progress made in European and other North American cities.

Chernushenko acknowledges there are significant differences between Ottawa and other cities in the film, but believes important steps can be made to create better infrastructure and perceived safety for cycling.

"It's a shift towards adapting our cities so they work better for more people," he says.

Mayfair owner not 'jumping for joy' over Empire Theatre's Lansdowne demise—yet

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By Graham Lanktree, Metro Ottawa

The Mayfair Theatre owner isn't dancing yet over the sale of Empire Theatres, which was set to be an anchor tenant at the refurbished Lansdowne Park in 2014.

"In order for the cinema to be there, they had to move the horticultural building," said owner Lee Demarbre. "That would have been the biggest commercial space. I can't imagine they're going to let that slip. I'm not jumping for joy because I know someone will probably step in."

On Thursday, Empire Company Ltd., which owns Empire Theatres as well as the Sobeys grocery store chain, said they are getting out of the movie business and selling 24 theatres in the maritimes to Cineplex Inc. along with two in Ontario. The company's other 20 theatres in Ontario and western Canada are being sold to Landmark Cinemas.

The Mayfair repertory theatre sits close to the new development and Demarbre has decried how it will affect his business since it was proposed.

"It would be great news if it opened without a cinema," he told Metro Ottawa. "I love the news that it fell apart."

Yet although the deal puts the fate of the new theatre up in the air, Demarbre believes it will have a soft landing. Before the deal was struck with Empire Co., he said, a cinema company official told him the developers had a handshake agreement with another large cinema chain.

"This is good news for Cineplex," he said. "All this is reflective of how crappy Hollywood is doing right now."

Lansdowne theatre tenant exiting movie industry

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Mark Brownlee, Ottawa Business Journal

The soon-to-be-redeveloped Lansdowne Park now has another question mark as a future tenant that was slated to open a theatre at the site's vast new retail space announced Thursday it's moving away from the movie business.

Empire Company Ltd. said it plans to sell its location in Kanata, as well as other locations in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, to Cineplex Inc.

The deal does not include the Empire location at the World Exchange Plaza or the planned location at Lansdowne Park, said Pat Marshall, vice-president of Cineplex, in an interview.

The firm doesn't have any plans to open a cinema at either location, she added.

A spokesperson for Empire could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which is handling the Lansdowne project, is still unsure of what Empire's decision means to the future of the project.

"We are only aware of what's been reported in the media and are trying to understand the implications for the Empire Theatre planned at Lansdowne," said Roger Greenberg, a partner on the project, in a statement. "When we do find out, we'll be happy to share further."

The theatre is already under construction, the statement said. It did not say whether there was a lease agreement in place.

Empire's departure would leave another hole to fill at the Lansdowne site. The company responsible for the project's retail components, Trinity Developments, has issued few details about its plans for a large part of the close to 400,000 square feet of retail space.

It listed several new tenants – including TD Canada Trust, Rexall and Jack Astor's – in February but then pulled them down a short time later.

Empire was still listed as a future tenant at Lansdowne on Trinity's website as of Thursday afternoon. Messages left with the company were not immediately returned.

The location at Lansdowne, which was scheduled to open in 2014, was supposed to replace a theatre at the Rideau Centre that closed this spring.

The Kanata location of Empire Theatres is one of 26 movie theatres across the country Cineplex Inc. plans to acquire., according to Thursday's announcement.