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Proposal calls for drastic overhaul to Elgin Street

Some business owners are pushing back against a proposal to significantly redesign Elgin Street by lowering the speed limit and removing parking, among other measures.

Since last June, the city has been mulling a redesign of Elgin St. and its southern continuation, Hawthorne Ave, with more benches and trees. This week, the city proposed widening sidewalks by halving the 122 parking spots between Lisgar and Isabella streets.

Strolling Elgin St. with her baby in tow, local resident Genna Woolston said she could use more sidewalk space, especially during winter.

“It’s important to make space for bikes,” she said. “It funnels the cars, and it puts the bikes together, so the visibility makes it safer.”

Across the road at Al's Steakhouse, co-owner Gloria McCann says businesses can’t handle less parking.

“There are people who are cruising the streets for a long time to look for parking,” said McCann, whose restaurant owns a parking lot. “After the snowplow comes, cars can’t get onto sidestreets .”

McCann said rising food prices have closed a handful of Elgin St. eateries. She feels nicer streetscapes would boost customers, but construction zones could kill more businesses. “Elgin Street is way past-due for beautification.”

Coun. Catherine McKenney heard similar opinions Wednesday night at a packed public meeting.

Of 600 online submissions, McKenney said almost all advocated wider sidewalks and traffic-calming measures. “On a street like Elgin, the highest priority has to be pedestrians, and we’ve done that here.”

In addition to a 30 km/h speed limit, McKenney wants raised intersections to slow drivers, who can opt for under-capacity streets like Metcalfe, O’Connor and Kent. “There are options other than coming into the downtown and just going through it.”

McKenney said incremental construction can ease the effect on shops, as can tasteful, well-lit fencing, “to make it a pleasant place to visit even if there’s boards up around you.”

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson told reporters Thursday merchants need to refer customers to the underused parking garage at City Hall.

“We want to get it right. We don’t want to harm the businesses, but at the same time werecognize that there’s a real demand for things like patios, and they’re gobbling up a lot of the sidewalk space.”

The city is planning a third public consultation later this month, aiming to present a final plan to the transportation committee in April. Construction isn’t anticipated until at least 2019.

source: Dylan C. Robertson, Ottawa Business Journal, 13 January 2017