Time to reopen Wellington Street to vehicles, city committee says
Motion passed to bring down barricades after March 1, and add a new bike lane
Trevor Pritchard · CBC News
Ottawa’s transportation committee voted unanimously Thursday to allow motorized vehicles to return to Wellington Street sometime after March 1. The road has been blocked off with concrete barriers ever since last winter’s Freedom Convoy protests. (David Bates-Taillefer/CBC)
Ottawa’s transportation committee has greenlit a plan to eventually reopen several blocks of Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill that have been closed to motorized vehicles ever since the end of last winter’s Freedom Convoy protests.
Last February, after the convoy protesters and their big rigs were dislodged from the downtown, city council approved a motion to temporarily close off Wellington Street between Bank and Elgin streets until the end of 2022.
Since then, concrete barriers have kept most cars and trucks away.
Pedestrians and cyclists have been able to use the road, but unlike the pedestrianized Sparks Street one block south, it’s been mostly quiet, with few big events taking place during the closure.
On Thursday, after hearing from roughly a dozen members of the public — many of whom spoke about how the city was now blessed with a rare chance to completely rethink Wellington — the transportation committee unanimously voted to haul away the barricades no sooner than March 1.
“We have the opportunity to better serve families with a safe pedestrian-first space,” said Derrick Simpson, chair of the Centretown Community Association’s own transportation committee.
Simpson told committee members that short-term improvements to Wellington should include amenities like more greenery, food stands and public art.
“The convoy took something from us. But this is an opportunity to turn a dark time for our city into something beautiful.”
A man carries a Canadian flag on Wellington Street during last winter’s convoy protests. Several blocks of Wellington in front of Parliament Hill stayed shut to most vehicles after the protesters were cleared away in February 2022. (The Canadian Press)
The motion urged city staff to regularly update the offices of both Mayor Mark Sutcliffe and Somerset Coun. Ariel Troster about ways to beautify and animate the street.
It noted Wellington could be closed again during the summer for special events and community programming or for the “safety and well-being” of Ottawans. It also included a direction to city officials to keep talking with the federal government about their plans for a revamped and expanded Parliamentary precinct.
The transportation committee also approved Troster’s amendment to add a temporary protected bike lane.
“I think we can all agree that the status quo — the bare, ugly barricaded street — is not an option,” said Sen. Andrew Cardozo, a longtime Ottawa resident whose offices sit on the blocked-off stretch.
Cardozo told the committee they had a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to animate and invigorate Wellington Street, but worried that allowing vehicles on the street again, even temporarily, could derail things.
“I urge you to go with the [people-focused] option,” he said. “And I urge you to act quickly and get it moving and do it permanently.”
Sen. Andrew Cardozo said Wellington Street, which he called the “single most important street in our country,” should be enhanced with “an inspiring and inviting vision.”
‘Crickets’ from the federal gov’t
The yearlong closure has caused headaches for nearby businesses, limiting deliveries and leaving some loading zones inaccessible, said Kevin McHale, head of the Sparks Street BIA.
It also shunted trucks onto Elgin Street and other downtown thoroughfares that weren’t designed for that purpose, McHale told the committee.
“As more workers return to the downtown, these issues will only grow,” he said.
With the return of public servants — many of whom would normally drive down Wellington — already underway, Thursday’s unanimous vote will hopefully kickstart talks with the federal government about the street’s future, said Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney, chair of the transportation committee.
“Let’s face it, it’s not exactly a beautiful-looking street at this point,” Tierney said just before the vote.
“I think what we all agree on [is that] something has to happen with that street. And what’s been missing is our federal government partners to date. It’s been crickets.”Duration0:59
Transportation committee chair Tim Tierney said after Thursday’s meeting that “the conversation has started” with the federal government about the future of Wellington Street.
The federal government wants Wellington to stay closed to traffic, with Liberal members on one House of Commons committee calling for land transfer talks with the city in order to fold it into the parliamentary precinct.
In a statement to CBC, Ottawa Centre MP Yasir Naqvi said he realized Wellington was “not anyone’s ideal space” right now, but the immediate focus should be on animating it with pop-up food stands and other amenities.
“The [committee] has already recommended the street remain closed to vehicular traffic to help secure the area and clarify jurisdictional boundaries,” he wrote.
“Any temporary reopening would seriously affect this objective, and will have negative security implications for the entire parliamentary precinct.”
Street hockey players fight for the ball in a tournament held on Wellington Street last summer, one of the few organized events that have animated the street since it was blocked off to vehicles. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)
As for Troster, she said after the meeting that her ward’s residents are divided over what to do with Wellington, with her email inbox being stuffed with opinions from both sides.
While she’d ultimately like the street to be pedestrianized, the possibility of a bike lane and promises to liven up the space during the summer convinced her to support the motion.
“I think it will really bring people together to dream about the possibilities for Wellington,” she said. “Because you have to see it to believe it.”
The motion is slated to go to city council on Feb. 8. If approved, it would still take a while to remove the barricades, reinstall street lights and update some of the signs, Tierney said. :55
Coun. Ariel Troster, whose amendment to add a temporary protective bike lane to Wellington Street was approved Thursday, said the issue of whether to reopen the street was a divided one in her ward.