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Wellington Street closure would yield 'notable impacts,' study finds

Wellington Street is seen in late January 2023, before the downtown Ottawa artery was fully reopened to traffic. (Félix Desroches/CBC - image credit)
Wellington Street is seen in late January 2023, before the downtown Ottawa artery was fully reopened to traffic. (Félix Desroches/CBC - image credit)

The permanent closure of Wellington Street to vehicles would push downtown traffic elsewhere, resulting in "notable impacts" for commuters and an "overall increase in driver stress" for motorists, according to a study prepared for the City of Ottawa's transportation committee.

The study found the number of vehicles using the east-west roadway that runs through the capital's parliamentary district has increased steadily since it was reopened entirely last April, with traffic approaching pre-pandemic levels.

The future of the downtown artery has been a subject of debate since January 2022, when a major protest that became known as the Freedom Convoy forced its closure.

The study found light vehicle and motorcycle traffic volumes have been steadily increasing since its reopening, and described temporary cycling lanes as "very well used."

In December, 11,969 light vehicles and motorcycles used Wellington. That's approaching volumes seen in July 2018, before the COVID-19 pandemic drastically reduced activity downtown, when the count was 12,362.

The study's authors were tasked with evaluating transportation implications of a proposed permanent closure of Wellington between Bank and Elgin streets.

Default Caption Workers paint a bike lane on Wellington Street in downtown Ottawa April 27, 2023, the day before this part of the road reopens to public vehicles.
Default Caption Workers paint a bike lane on Wellington Street in downtown Ottawa April 27, 2023, the day before this part of the road reopens to public vehicles.

According to a study prepared for the City of Ottawa's transportation committee, closing Wellington Street permanently would have 'negative implications' for the overall cycling network because it would increase vehicle-cycling conflicts. (Reno Patry/CBC)

9 intersections eyed for changes

The study looked at various scenarios and found the impact of such a closure could be somewhat mitigated by altering traffic patterns at nearby intersections.

The most dramatic scenario considered a 10 per cent increase over 2019 volumes and saw "notable impacts on vehicle traffic flows, surface transit operations, and emergency service response on surrounding downtown streets and intersections" if Wellington Street was closed.

Nine intersections were identified for possible modification to help mitigate the impact of closing Wellington, but the study said a comprehensive study would be required to design and confirm the feasibility of each one.

The cost estimate of such a redesign ranges from zero to $26 million, depending on future traffic volumes.

For pedestrians, the report found a closure of Wellington would offer "an exceptional environment," but there would be an overall decrease in pedestrian safety and comfort in the area because of an expected increase in vehicle-pedestrian conflicts.

Similarly, a closure would also have "negative implications" for the overall cycling network because of an increase in vehicle-cycling conflicts, according to the study.

The West Block of Parliament Hill and Wellington Street in downtown Ottawa in a drone photo from April 2023.
The West Block of Parliament Hill and Wellington Street in downtown Ottawa in a drone photo from April 2023.

The authors of the study looked at the potential impact of permanently closing Wellington Street between Bank and Elgin streets. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

Closure would squeeze transit

Closing Wellington would also diminish transit service because Queen Street, which runs parallel and is now a major OC Transpo route, could also see higher traffic volumes, leaving "few options to increase transit capacity within this corridor."

According to the study, closing Wellington would also reduce the number of parking spots and loading zones available on Metcalfe and O'Connor streets to accommodate the changes.

The study also found the proposed closure would result in an overall increase in traffic delays that could result in longer response times during emergencies.

For motorists, the report found closing Wellington would "result in an overall increase in driver stress" because of additional turning requirements and the difficulty of navigating the one-way street network in Ottawa's downtown core.

The transportation committee will receive and discuss the study Feb. 22.