Office of Councillor Jeff Leiper, Kitchissippi Ward, Ottawa | (613) 580-2485  |
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Byron pedestrian re-configuration

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For the past couple of months, I’ve been asking residents what they think of a potential permanent re-configuration of Byron Avenue to prioritize pedestrian traffic. During the summer of 2020, we used barricades to discourage cut-through traffic to create room for people to walk, jog and cycle more safely. Last year, my office received a petition from a group of local residents, Living Byron, asking us to re-configure Byron in such a way as to permanently discourage that traffic, and for me to actively pursue that with the City.

Right off the bat, I’ll say that my invitation to comment resulted in around 275 emails back to us, with two-and-a-half times more emails raising objections to a permanent re-configuration than arguing in favour.

When I delve into the comments that people sent us, residents raised concerns about driving more traffic onto Golden and Fraser, and about losing an east-west alternative to Richmond. Residents are concerned about the impact of LRT construction, and how the new station or a future Richmond complete street will affect traffic flows, which are legitimate reasons for a broader study.

Those who argued in favour of them told me they greatly appreciated the extra space during pandemic times, and that they incorporated the route into their jogging and walking routines. We heard lots about kids able to ride (and learn to ride) their bikes, and the distanced space it afforded for chats with neighbours. The positive benefits from last year's configuration were noted by residents in a wide area.

Opinion was sharply divided, and my staff and I “heard” the tension in your emails. Residents are suffering the effects of the pandemic and my sense of the feedback we got is that there is little open-mindedness today on the part of many to a complicated and divisive discussion.

In the midst of so much change in the ward between relentless development and LRT construction, I don’t consider that I have a mandate to actively pursue a permanent re-configuration of Byron right now, as much as I agree with those who consider that it added to the quality of life in our neighbourhood.

My invitation to residents wasn’t a referendum or vote since I simply needed to determine how I would approach the petition. The decision to permanently re-configure Byron is not mine to make. But I do not consider based on what I’ve heard that it would be fair of me to actively pursue this further at this time. My small staff are buried with a level of work that has at least doubled since the pandemic began, and we don’t have the capacity to lead the community through this discussion as a priority.

I’ll be packaging the material we’ve put together as a report that I’ll give to City staff so that they are aware of this discussion. I will also be noting to them my sympathy for the Living Byron proposal. I emphatically do not agree that Byron – a local collector – should operate as an arterial to whisk traffic east and west, for example, nor that the issue of traffic diversion is insurmountable. But without a clearer mandate from residents, I’m not in a position to prioritize this discussion today by, for example, asking Council to require the City to study it.

I’ve also shared this material with Councillor Kavanagh since her ward is immediately adjacent and some of this geography will become part of Bay ward in the next term of Council.

As I noted in my post introducing the issue, I will be seeking to re-configure Byron this year as a temporary measure again. A significant number of the notes that I received supported another year of temporary measures, even if those residents opposed a permanent change. It’s clear that we’re not out of the pandemic yet. This year the Ottawa Farmers Market will be operating from Byron Linear Park again which is important to their sustainability. Because of the pandemic, they will require space on Byron that we are still working through (including an emphasis on mitigating traffic increases to Golden and Fraser) in order to facilitate safe distancing when egressing the site. I will keep residents in the loop of that discussion as it evolves.

Posted March 26, 2021