A Brief History: In 1994 the Sandy Hill neighbourhood and City Council agreed a traffic plan. King Edward was designated for “through traffic” whereas Chapel and Range Road were designated as “interior neighbourhood collectors”. The neighbourhood initially pushed for a diversion rather than traffic calming plan but accepted, on good faith, the latter. Chapel St was closed at Beausoleil and remained so until the Rideau St reconstruction this summer when one end of the block reopened as the other closed. The Rideau / Chapel intersection was closed by the construction works when Beausoleil / Chapel opened.
It is only since the construction team moved off Rideau in early December that Councillor Fleury requested that Chapel / Beausoleil remain open creating the Chapel Street end-to-end cut-through.
At 8am in the midst of a snowstorm with less than 24hours notice a clutch of Sandy Hillers met Councillor Mathieu Fleury and an Ottawa City planner on a wintery corner to discuss the Councillor’s surprise plan to re-open Chapel St to cars without notifying the residents of Sandy Hill.
An angry Twitter storm had erupted putting pressure on the Councillor to meet with vocal residents as word of mouth circulated information about the street opening. Angry concerns were articulated about the lack of communication on an issue impacting the liveability of two residential neighbourhoods as the opening of Chapel end-to-end creates an alternative cut-through between the 417 & Gatineau. Chapel St – in the heart of residential Sandy Hill and Lowertown – is already, in Sandy Hill, beset with traffic and speeding drivers. Mann St leading from the 417 turn-off to Chapel had speed bumps installed such was the concern about speed. Add to this the speculation that developers feel greater car traffic on Beausoleil could make the area east of Chapel more desirable while a new development at Chapel and Beausoleil is set to begin work and the scene for debate is set.
The reason for opening Chapel to cars initially appears worthy. There are no cross-walks or traffic calming measures at Beausoleil where it meets Chapel – a popular route to 3 schools: De La Salle, York St Public & St Anne’s. Clearly an unsafe junction there have been near-misses and collisions with school children at this location and this situation – on the table for a number of years now – requires action.
Enter the snowy on-site meeting – the Councillor’s team explained that the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) requires an intersection for a Stop sign to be erected. Stop signs are not legal mid-street. In calls prior to the meeting and at the on-site the explanation was that hands were tied. Council said they prefer to not open Chapel to cars but the HTA disallows this approach. The Councillor states in emails to residents questioning the unannounced change: “We believe that this temporary solution, a controlled crossing at this intersection, will have a positive impact “. So it appears in the email that the opening to cars would be reviewed with the Street possibly closed to traffic once the HTA amended their current regulation (up to 2 years for this to happen if at all).
Adding cars to increase pedestrian safety is jarring at best while at worst it both increases the pedestrian danger at one location whilst spreading it beyond. Actions and words began to contradict one another as alternatives were suggested and solutions to legally and inexpensively secure the needed Stop sign without opening Chapel St were put forth.
Attendees suggested closing the other end of the block – Chapel at Rideau as had been done throughout the summer and fall – or the installation of mid-block barrier. Practical, inexpensive and with little impact.
The next idea was to create a bike-only turn off/on to Chapel which appeared to be a seemingly tailor-made solution. The planner agreed this creates a legal intersection and meets the HTA’s criteria for a stop sign. A solution that is green, inexpensive, legal and allows time for discussion should the Councillor in fact want to open the street to cars.
Strong positive problem-solving met with resistance from Councillor and City Planner. Blocking off the other end of Chapel at Rideau was potentially too expensive and the bike-only intersection was shockingly deemed “unsafe” because as the City Planner put it, “cars won’t stop for intersections without cars”. This attitude contradicts the Councillor’s team statement that the Street could in future be closed to cars. If the City bows to drivers that disobey traffic laws for bikes surely it stands to reason the same will hold true re pedestrians regardless of the HTA. Further there are -as listed- a variety of methods to legally implement a safe-crossing with Stop sign at Chapel and Beausoleil without opening the street to cars: initially stated as the Councillor’s preference. Hands are clearly not tied when it comes to options.
In a time where cities worldwide embrace the transformational power of pedestrians and cyclists in keeping cities moving and reinvigorating neighbourhoods it should be unacceptable for City representatives to dissuade forward-thinking approaches and visions for urban improvement. Especially with outmoded approaches that reward illegal actions. In Ottawa cars do stop for cyclist – the proof is in the number of cyclist and pedestrians that safely cross the Corktown (pedestrian) bridge to Somerset West alone. If drivers of any vehicle in Ottawa disobey the rules and put vulnerable road users at risk they need to feel the full weight of the law full stop.
There may be many more solutions to the current issue but this can only be resolved once all factors under consideration are understood. Should a street need to be re-opened that mustn’t be done in isolation. One could argue it makes more sense to open all blocked streets rather than a single channel – however this argument would require healthy debate and factual information.
The Councillor has said that the City will review alternatives offered. The Councillor should take immediate action and close the road to car traffic today (mid-block, at Rideau) or make it bike-only. Implement a safe-crossing as the priority but do so with reduced impact to those that live nearby to keep all street crossings safe.
Sandy Hill and Lowertown will continue to speak-out to preserve their neighbourhoods and to grow progressive forward-thinking urban solutions in consultation with their population.
Should the Council and City attempt to institute changes without transparency or worse yet reward illegal and unsafe drivers by giving them more road – putting more cars at a popular school crossing and in the heart of a residential neighbourhood – they may get a bigger fight than expected.
The Lowertown Community Association (LCA) invites citizens to attend their monthly meeting in January. Cllr. Fleury will address, amongst other items, the rationale behind his decision to open Chapel Street to vehicular traffic. Please be respectful and considerate as this is a Lowertown Community meeting. We remain hopeful that Cllr Fleury’s office will schedule an open meeting dedicated to the intersection issue shortly.
Monday, January 13th 7pm, Routhier Centre, 172 Guigues Street.