One year after convoy, Ottawa city council votes to reopen Wellington Street

Ottawa city council has voted to reopen Wellington Street more than a year after it closed due to the ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests.

“We must move beyond the events of the past and focus on the best possible future for downtown Ottawa,” Mayor Mark Sutcliffe said ahead of the vote.

“In the short term we will improve Wellington as a public space. In the long term we will turn it into something truly special for Ottawa and for Canada.”

The street will reopen sometime after March 1. The motion to reopen the street passed with dissents from councillors Jessica Bradley and Shawn Menard.

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.

Many have argued that the street should remain closed to cars and become a space dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists.

However, others have expressed concerns about traffic in the area and the street closures hampering deliveries to local businesses.

Reopening date uncertain

It’s unclear when exactly the street will reopen to cars. The motion calls for it to be reopened as soon as it’s operationally feasible after March 1.

Traffic signals need to be reinstalled, a new protected bike lane needs to be designed and implemented, and city staff need to work with emergency services to make sure they’re comfortable with everything.

“In terms of timelines, it’s difficult to say,” Phil Landry, the city’s director of traffic services, told reporters. “Once we have a confirmed timeline we’ll provide that to council.”

Staff estimate it will take between four and eight weeks to get the traffic signals reinstalled.

Transportation Committee chair Coun. Tim Tierney says he expects it might be closer to April before the road reopens.

“With all of the little things that still have to take place, the installation of stop lights, the removal of barricades, working with our emergency services crew, I’m thinking it’s probably going to be end of March, the beginning of April,” he said.

One step in ‘significant process’

Reopening the street to cars this year doesn’t mean it will stay that way forever. Sutcliffe said this decision is a step in what will be a long-term discussion about the future of the street.

“Whether or not it’s closed to vehicles, it can’t look like it does today. It must become an even better space for the community and for the country,” he added.

“We still need to discuss significant long-term decisions about who will own the street, whether it will be open to vehicles and what the design will be.”

“We can’t let fear drive our decisions. We can’t base lasting choices on one event. We must choose wisely based on our goals for the next several generations,” he said. “Any permanent decision will be fundamental to the future of our city.”

The motion passed at council 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.

Sutcliffe said he and city staff met with Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, Public Services and Procurement Minister Helena Jaczek last week about future plans for the street.

Jaczek told reporters on Wednesday that the federal government is “exploring a lot of opportunities” regarding the future of Wellington Street.

“The desire essentially is to look at the Parliamentary Precinct sort of rite large,” she said. “If you look at international capital cities, most of them have formed some sort of parliamentary precinct that makes sense not only from the point of view of local residents, but on behalf of all Canadians to have a nation’s capital that we can all be proud of. So, those discussions are ongoing.”

In December, 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.

Amendments failed

Coun. Shawn Menard introduced two amendments at council.

One would have encourage the federal government to advance seasonal or event-specific road closures through partnerships with the city, which the federal government would pay for. The other calling on council to support the vision of Wellington Street as a sustainable transportation corridor.

The two amendments failed in votes of 15-10 and 17-8, respectively.

Menard said the amendments would clearly lay out that the federal government would pay for the programming, as well as provide a vision for the future of the street.

Sutcliffe said he believed everything the amendments set out to do was possible under the original motion.

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