City of Ottawa committee votes to reopen Wellington Street

A year after the ‘Freedom Convoy’ protest shut down Wellington Street, a city of Ottawa committee has voted to reopen it to cars for now.

The city’s transportation committee voted unanimously to reopen the street to traffic “as soon as it is operationally feasible,” but no sooner than March 1. The vote is subject to approval by city council.

Wellington Street has been closed in front of Parliament Hill—between Elgin and Bank streets—since late last January when protesters descended on the capital and hundreds of trucks parked downtown.

The street became an epicentre of the Freedom Convoy as demonstrators set up a large stage and other infrastructure, most infamously a bouncy castle and a hot tub.

Transportation committee heard from about a dozen members of the public on Thursday, most of whom advocated for closing the street to cars and turning into a space for pedestrians and cyclists.

“There is no reason to return Wellington to cars, and there’s every reason to leave it open for people,” William van Geest of Ecology Ottawa told councillors.

Others, such as Kevin McHale from the Sparks Street BIA, argued it’s time to reopen the street to cars.

“Almost a year after the truck convoy ensnarled downtown Ottawa, the rest of the city has moved on, yet businesses and residents of the downtown core continue to be reminded of that gruelling month every day,” he told councillors.

McHale said the ongoing closure has limited surface parking downtown, made loading zone inaccessible for local businesses, and redirected large vehicles to other streets.

Mayor wants street reopened

Mayor Mark Sutcliffe has advocated for reopening the street to cars. On Thursday, he told Newstalk 580 CFRA the best course of action is to reopen it for now while a longer discussion about the street’s future happens.

“If it’s going to be closed to vehicles, as some people are proposing, in the long run, there’s a lot we need to consider about what that will be, what that will look like,” he said. “What I don’t want is the status quo, which is barricades at the end of the street and it looking terrible, and I don’t want this to drag on.”

He also said it would take some time to prepare for the street to reopen.

“The earliest we’d have it open is mid-to-late March, because there’s some work that would have to be done to get the street ready for vehicles again,” Sutcliffe said.

Among other things, the traffic signals were removed at Metcalfe and O’Connor streets. City staff estimate it will take between four and eight weeks to get the signals reinstalled.

Parliamentary committee recommends closing street

Last month, a House of Commons committee recommended keeping Wellington Street closed permanently to vehicles and extending the vehicle-free zone one block farther west, to Kent Street.

A report from city of Ottawa staff earlier this month said the closure has not caused a “total failure” of the transportation network in the downtown core, but warned that an increase in traffic due to construction and federal workers returning to downtown office could impact traffic in the area.

The motion passed at transportation committee on Thursday also recommends city staff explore options for temporary road closures on Wellington Street this summer for special events, and that city officials continue discussion with the federal government about expanding the parliamentary precinct to include Wellington Street.

Council will debate the matter on Feb. 8.

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