Letter to Businesses and Communities About Bank Street Transportation

This has been a difficult time for everyone in our city. We understand that the realities of the pandemic and the responses from all three levels of government have an impact not just on residents, but particularly on businesses, and we understand that our local small businesses will disproportionately feel the brunt of the economic impact compared to large national and multi-national corporations.

At the city, we’ve been working on some ways to help local businesses. We have been supporting a buy-local campaign, and in our Capital Ward Bulletin we have been providing residents with lists of businesses they can access online and in the community for services and goods. At city council, we passed a motion providing commercial property tax relief. We’ve also released a simple guide for employees who may have been let go from businesses to help assist average residents with federal, provincial and municipal funding: www.shawnmenard.ca/covid_19_resources

We know that many businesses will not be able to manage these ongoing expenses while they are getting reduced or no revenue. We want to see our businesses make it through the pandemic.

The pandemic also poses a significant public health challenge for our neighbours. Residents are being asked to refrain from going out, but they will still need to go outside at times. They will need to shop at the stores that remain open in order to access necessities, and they need to be able to move around outside for the sake of their physical and mental health. While outside, they need to be able to practice physical distancing in order to reduce transmission.

Last week, the Ottawa Board of Health re-iterated the need for residents to be outside and maintain physical distancing, expressing its formal support for providing extra space for pedestrians and active transportation, including for accessing essential services. This should help reduce the incidences of people walking in the street to distance, posing another safety risk.

Recently in Capital Ward we acted to change the outside curb lanes for active transportation over the Bank Street Bridge. The lanes have been converted to pedestrian and bicycle lanes. With car traffic down by over 60%, this measure will have no impact on traffic flow in the Glebe or Old Ottawa South. Since its implementation, we have heard overwhelmingly positive feedback from residents—and we have witnessed the tremendous benefit this has provided, making it easier for people to keep distance while crossing the bridge to shop at our local stores.

I want to address what appears to be misinformation that has been circulating. I understand how this can happen when communication is limited. Since the pandemic began, we have been seeking options from city staff to present to businesses along Bank Street in our essential service areas. We now have more clarity and can seek comment on these.

The first option staff have provided is to open small pockets outside of two spots in Old Ottawa South, one in the curb lane outside of the Shoppers Drug Mart and one in the curb lane outside of Cedar and Co. After reviewing these locations, my office does not believe there will be a significant benefit to this as the sidewalk in those areas is wide and opening small pods does not help with people traversing from their home to the service they are trying to access. We are open to comments on this. The other option we have approval for is a three-block stretch from Third Avenue to Glebe Avenue, where many essential services are located and where the sidewalk is narrow. This would give residents safe access to the Glebe Apothecary, McKeen’s Metro, Home Hardware and Shopper’s Drug Mart (while also allowing space for buses to pick up and drop off riders). This would result in the temporary conversion of 19 parking spots on one side of the street for pedestrians and active transportation. The other side of the street would maintain its current parking configuration, allowing for continued vehicle access. With car traffic significantly reduced, and the demand for parking down dramatically, there would be very limited impact on businesses, and, in fact, could be a significant benefit, as residents would feel more comfortable shopping at their local store.

We are open to your feedback on these issues and will be holding an online meeting on Thursday, April 30th at 2pm. To be part of the meeting please email capitalward@ottawa.ca.  You can also use that email to provide comments if you aren’t able to join the meeting.

Our office is always looking for ways to improve public health and safety, and we have engaged the local community—residents and businesses—on ways to make Bank Street safer, livelier and more economically viable. We have been up front about this throughout our term of office.

Back in December, my office held a public forum on the future of transportation along Bank Street. We wanted to hear from community members about what they wanted out of their street.

In March, we released an “As We Heard It” report. Those who read it will know that it did not make any formal recommendations, but documented what the people from the neighbourhood had to say.

It is unfortunate timing that this was released a week before the pandemic hit Ottawa. Since then, we have been working hard to provide support, information and resources to businesses and residents to help them get through this difficult time. In terms of transportation, we have focused on issues relating to the spread of COVID-19, rather than the issues raised in the December public forum.

In the future, we will be re-visiting the concerns expressed by the community. I ran on the issue of improving the safety of our streets, and our office has consistently worked hard to make Capital Ward the safest ward for active transportation in the city. We’re going to keep doing that.

We want to find ways to improve our street to help our businesses grow. Residents and businesses, alike, have been concerned about empty storefronts along Bank Street the past few years. We know that the status quo isn’t letting Bank Street and the businesses along Bank Street reach their full potential. From Montreal to Toronto to Vancouver to Portland to Minneapolis, we have seen how welcoming, thriving city streets provide significant boosts to local businesses. That’s what we want to see in Capital Ward. Streets that work for both businesses and residents, because if a street fails one, it will fail the other soon after.

We will be discussing with staff what measures we can put in place in Capital Ward in the future to provide safe streets for all road users, ensure smooth and efficient transit service, and create an environment where business can flourish. We are relying on the expertise of city traffic engineers to develop plans that would balance all needs, and help improve this traditional main street.

Before any future plans are implemented, the public will be consulted. Projects will be studied, and we will make informed, evidence-based decisions. This is something we can work on together.

In the meantime, I would ask for feedback on the implementation of the current, limited public health measures during this pandemic. Let’s keep each other healthy and safe, get through this together and then get back to full business once the pandemic has passed.

Thank you for reading this.

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