The 350-metre section of Rideau has been put through the wringer since 2015.
Author of the article: Jon Willing Ottawa Citizen
Rideau Street in front of the Rideau Centre might be barely recognizable to domestic tourists who haven’t been downtown in years.
A segregated bike lane snakes through the road outside of the mall, the sidewalks are wider and the space for cars has been shrunk to a single lane in each direction. There are even 15 new trees.
Rideau Street reopening after years removed from Ottawa’s transportation ‘spine’
The $13.5-million project to redesign and beautify the stretch of Rideau Street between Sussex Drive and Dalhousie Street will wrap up in the spring with the final landscaping, but the road, bike lanes and sidewalks will open on Saturday.
After five years, Rideau Street will be fully functional again.
The 350-metre section of Rideau has been put through the wringer since 2015 when the city started work on the LRT station entrances for O-Train Line 1, a.k.a. the Confederation Line, which runs about 26 metres under the historic street.
Vehicle restrictions have forced drivers to zig-zag around construction. Pedestrians and cyclists put up with the heavy construction as they navigated the corridor, while many bus customers found their routes relocated to the Mackenzie King Bridge on the other side of the mall.
Rideau Street’s infamy in recent years has been tied to the sinkhole that appeared on June 8, 2016, but today, no one will find evidence of the crater in the new streetscape.
The time has come for Rideau to turn another page in its long history.
“Can you believe it?” said Peggy DuCharme, executive director of the Downtown Rideau BIA.
“The disappointment is we couldn’t have one big celebration.”
The entire length of Rideau Street between Sussex Drive and the Cummings Bridge has been, in some way, undergoing reconstruction since 2012. The roughly 1.5-kilometre section between Dalhousie Street and the bridge was complete in 2015.
With the COVID-19 pandemic hampering shopping districts across the city, businesses in the Rideau Street corridor have been looking forward to the road’s return just in time for Christmas.
The BIA’s 53-block zone is bordered by the Rideau Canal, George Street, King Edward Avenue and the Mackenzie King Bridge.
DuCharme said the pandemic hasn’t drastically impacted businesses in the BIA.
“I’ve always been impressed with how resilient Rideau Street is. It’s not as empty and vacant as you think it should be, or (compared to what) you’ve heard other cities are on their main streets.”
Rideau Street has managed to sustain a legacy of being a central commercial shopping attraction dating back before Confederation, but it has also been a key transportation link, with the parliamentary precinct situated to the west and Vanier to the east.
City of Ottawa archivist Paul Henry said the street would have had a massive amount of activity more than a century ago. Some of the earliest sidewalks in Ottawa were built in the 1850s and in 2020, there’s a clear appetite for more dedicated pedestrian space, as illustrated by the broad walkways in the Rideau Street redesign.
“We find our way back to the traditions and approaches that have the greatest resonance with us,” Henry said.
Rideau Street has always been central to the public transit system, probably more than ever with buses running on the surface and trains running below as part of the O-Train network.
OC Transpo buses will return to Rideau Street on Sunday on local routes, serving customers transferring between buses and LRT. Bus stops have been shifted closer to the station entrances.
Pat Scrimgeour, the city’s veteran director of transit planning, said although Rideau Street has morphed over time, it has always been an important link in Ottawa’s public transit network, whether the transit corridor has been above ground or under the road.
“Along with Sparks Street, it was the spine of the streetcar system up until the ’50s, along with Mackenzie King Bridge,” Scrimgeour said.
“It’s been the spine for the bus service up until the opening of O-Train Line 1, and with the construction that’s happened now, it becomes the major focal point for all the local bus routes in downtown, Lowertown, Vanier, Sandy Hill, Overbrook, New Edinburgh and all these areas where they connect with O-Train Line 1 and where they connect with the major destinations that are close to Rideau Street.”
Before construction, Rideau Street between Sussex Drive and Dalhousie Street was a chaotic streetscape with buses rumbling through the corridor as taxis and other ride-ordering services jockeyed for curb space and delivery trucks rolled onto sidewalks, while pedestrians dodged traffic to reach a store or bus stop on the other side of the road.
Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury hopes the redesign provides a bit of relief to a stretch of road that’s no longer a “bus mall.”
“The city’s marquee tool to improve areas is by improving its infrastructure, including the roadway and how it treats those urban amenities,” Fleury said.
The project includes a reconstruction of the William Street pedestrian connection to the ByWard Market.
One talker will be the new segregated bidirectional bike lane.
Starting from Ogilvy Square at Nicholas Street, the bike lane runs west along the south side of Rideau Street before crossing to the north side of the street at the William Street pedestrian area, ending at Sussex Drive.
The bike lane looks like it was plopped down without any connections to other safe-cycling infrastructure.
However, Fleury said there needs to be a long view when it comes to the bike lane, pointing out the city’s intention of adding cycling infrastructure on Wellington Street and an expanded cycling network to the south.
At the BIA, DuCharme said the unusual bike lane opens the road redesign to criticism and businesses counting on deliveries have been concerned about losing curb space on one side, which explains why the bike lane swerves in the middle.
DuCharme is excited to extend the BIA’s special streetscape lighting into the redesigned part of Rideau Street. The poles have projection lighting so, for example, snowflakes can be beamed onto buildings in the winter.
While the pandemic makes it impossible to organize a big event to celebrate Rideau Street’s reopening, DuCharme hopes the public health crisis will dwindle in time for holding a party next Canada Day.
“We’re resilient. We made it through eight years of construction and we made it through a pandemic,” DuCharme said.
“This is our way to help find joy in all of that.”