Tuesday, May 28, 2024

9 Ottawa intersections identified for possible modifications if Wellington Street closes to traffic

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The city of Ottawa says traffic operations are “working well” on Wellington Street, as traffic volumes approach pre-pandemic levels on the road in front of Parliament Hill following its reopening last spring.

Meantime, a new study suggests the city would need to spend between $4.6 million and $26 million to modify nine downtown intersections to accommodate increased traffic if a section of Wellington Street is permanently closed to vehicles.

The city reopened Wellington Street to vehicle traffic on April 28, 2023, after the road was closed for more than a year following the so-called ‘Freedom Convoy’ demonstration in downtown Ottawa.  Wellington Street currently has one traffic lane in each direction and one bike lane eastbound and westbound.’

A report for the Transportation Committee shows there were 11,969 light vehicle and motorcycle trips a day on Wellington Street, between Metcalfe and O’Connor streets, in December, up from 9,457 trips a day in September and 7,882 daily trips in July. In July 2018, the city recorded 12,362 trips a day by vehicles and motorcycles on Wellington Street.  

“The collected data indicates that light vehicle and motorcycle traffic volumes have been steadily increasing since the re-opening of Wellington Street,” staff said. “The December volumes are approaching pre-COVID volumes.”

The number of heavy vehicle trips on Wellington Street west of Elgin Street has decreased from pre-pandemic levels since it’s no longer a truck route.

“The current operation of Wellington Street is working well from a traffic operations perspective,” staff say.

Coun. Tim Tierney, chair of the city’s transportation committee, says he’s happy with traffic on the street.

“People are very happy. They don’t have to take that extra commute through Gatineau to be able to get to the other side of Ottawa,” he says.

“You know, you look at the pre-pandemic levels in 2018, how well used it was then. we’re back there again. But not only that, even cycling in the summer with the addition of the cycling lane on the side, it’s picked up traffic as well. We’ve seen an increase there as well. So it’s a win win for everybody.”

The future of Wellington Street has been a hot debate since it was closed in February 2022, with the federal government expressing an interest in buying a section of the road in the Parliamentary Precinct with the goal of keeping it closed to traffic. Staff say the city and Public Services and Procurement Committee continue to have “regular meetings,” with staff noting security for the Parliamentary Precinct “remains a primary concern for the PSPC.”

Modifications required at downtown intersections

Council directed staff to work with Public Services and Procurement Canada and the NCC on a transportation study to assess the impacts of a proposed permanent closure of Wellington Street between Elgin and Bank streets.

A report for the Transportation Committee, submitted by Traffic Services director Phil Landry, warns that a permanent closure of Wellington Street to vehicle traffic would require modifications to up to nine intersections in downtown Ottawa to accommodate increased traffic, costing up to $26 million.

The study, conducted by engineering firm Parsons Corporation, concludes that if there was no change in traffic volumes compared to pre-pandemic levels, three downtown intersections would require modifications to mitigate “traffic operation deficiencies,” costing between $4.6 million and $10.6 million. The three intersections would be Bank Street and Laurier Avenue, O’Connor Street at Laurier Avenue and O’Connor Street at Slater Street.

An additional six intersections in downtown Ottawa would require modifications to accommodate increased traffic if traffic increased 10 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to the report. Staff say the total estimated cost to modify the nine intersections would be between $10 million and $26 million, with the six additional intersections requiring work at Bank and Slater streets, Kent and Slater streets, Lyon and Slater streets, Lyon and Queen streets, Lyon and Wellington streets and Elgin and Queen streets.

If there was a 25 per cent reduction in traffic volumes compared to pre-pandemic levels, the city would not need to modify downtown intersections, staff say.

A report for the city of Ottawa says up to nine downtown intersections would require modifications if Wellington Street is permanently closed to traffic. (City of Ottawa/report)

The study warns the closure of Wellington Street would cause delays for public transit and emergency services on streets around Wellington Street, create navigation challenges for tour buses and taxis, and result in an “overall decrease in pedestrian comfort” due to increase traffic.

“The proposed closure of Wellington Street would offer an exceptional environment to those walking within the closed segment,” the report says about the potential closure of Wellington Street for pedestrians. “For the remainder of the transportation network within the study area, there is an overall decrease in pedestrian comfort and safety due to an increase in vehicle-pedestrian conflicts at study area intersections which have limited mitigation opportunities.”

The study by Parsons focused on identifying the network traffic impacts and associated mitigation, and addressed the implications of the proposed closure of Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill on pedestrians, cyclists, transit, the movement of goods, emergency services, loading zones and maintenance.

Staff looked at Albert Street and Slater Street serving as the primary east-west detour routes, while Queen Street and Laurier Avenue would function as secondary detour routes.

“The proposed closure of Wellington Street would result in an overall increase in driver stress due to additional turn requirements, decrease in network resiliency and increase in challenges for vehicles when navigating the one-way street system within the Downtown Core,” the report says.

The report by Landry says the impact of the proposed closure on Wellington Street and the associated mitigation measures will be “dependent on the level of traffic.”

“The study demonstrates that traffic impacts through all three scenarios can be mitigated through targeted intersection modifications,” staff say. “The range of potential costs to implement the identified conceptual mitigation measures is from no cost associated with the Low Vehicle Traffic Scenario, to $26 million associated with the High Vehicle Traffic Scenario.”

–With files from CTV News Ottawa’s Dave Charbonneau.

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