It’s got a farm at one end and a gorgeous stretch of riverbank at the other, and a name containing the work “park”. With those kind of credentials first-time visitors to Ottawa might be excused for expecting Parkdale Avenue to be a meandering lane through a shady glade, and not a fume-filled arterial road functioning as an on-ramp to the busiest stretch of expressway in Eastern Ontario.
But even long-time Ottawans are taken aback at just how many functions the City of Ottawa and the Ministry of Transportation expect a narrow neighbourhood two-lane street to fulfill. It’s a passage for emergency vehicles, a bus route, a commuter thoroughfare for thousands driving to Tunney’s Pasture and the Civic Hospital, and a local street for homeowners whose driveways give out onto the avenue.
In the Ottawa context, it is the very definition of “traffic bottleneck”, with all that entails, both for the quality of life for adjacent residents and for the health and safety of non-motorized users of the corridor. Residents old enough to remember the highway construction still talk about the strange 1960s-era decision that saw two-lane Parkdale chosen for the dreaded Queensway interchange rather than the adjacent four-lane Holland Avenue. Favourtism is alleged – one persistent urban legend mentions a city councilor’s mother having property on Holland; other versions have it is an MPP’s sister.
Recently a team of student planners from McGill set out to tackle the reality of Parkdale. Under the guidance of Ottawa planner Michel Frojmovic, director of Creative Neighbourhoods, the team carried out a community consultation process over the fall of 2009 and has recently delivered a comprehensive planning document that, if adopted by community stakeholders, could put the City on notice that a much different vision of Parkdale is expected in the future.
There are a whole host of possible “interventions” proposed by the presentation, from closing down the Queensway off-ramps during certain hours to a plan that would see the City claim the full width of its right-of-way along Parkdale in order to install a bike lane. However, Frojmovic believes the best way forward is with a couple of baby steps:
“The easiest thing for the City to do would be to enforce the ban on truck traffic. After that, we can take a leaf from the Preston Street book and make the Queensway underpass an attractive passageway that would encourage more pedestrian use of the street. It’s been done one neighbourhood over, and with the support of stakeholders like the BIA there’s no reason we couldn’t be looking a much improved underpass for Parkdale as well.”
An artist’s rendition of the refurbished underpass is below:
The process has also resulted in the formation of an ad-hoc “Friends of Parkdale” group that is open to all residents and business owners in the Parkdale district.