Some cyclists and pedestrians are asking why the National Capital Commission (NCC) is reopening a five-kilometre stretch of Colonel By Drive to motor vehicles, following a summer closure that allowed people to stay active during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The commission closed the section of Colonel By that stretched from Daly Avenue beside the Shaw Centre to Canal Woods Terrace near Bronson Avenue on July 1, to allow for rehabilitation of the road's aging retaining wall.
But with the NCC reporting more than 92,000 visits during that time, some who took advantage of the closure are questioning the return to status quo.
"I think the [NCC] has had since April of last year until now to develop some sort of a coherent policy around future use for these kinds of spaces," said Gabriel Rivett-Carnac, who walked on the road five or six days a week and biked along it with his young son during the summer.
"I can't rationalize why these spaces are being closed to active transportation ... and why they're going back to just being roadways."
More visits to active spaces
Although the NCC closed Colonel By to accommodate construction, the road was also one of a number of initiatives designed to encourage the use of outdoor space through the pandemic.
The commission reported over 657,000 visits to parkways that were limited exclusively to active use in 2021, an increase of more than 25 percent over the same period the year before.
The NCC is still keeping the stretch of Colonel By closed to motor vehicles during "peak times" for bicycle and foot traffic, something that was observed more on weekends than on weekdays, said communications advisor Dominique Huras.
Motor vehicles will be diverted away from Colonel By between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekends until Oct. 11, to match the NCC's weekend bikedays program on the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway and the Sir George-Etienne Cartier Parkway.
No one from the NCC was available for an interview, Huras said in an email.
Advocates see opportunity for 'bold action'
Shawn Gettler, vice-president of cycling advocacy group Bike Ottawa, said he'd like the closure to be considered a "natural experiment" for how Colonel By could be used differently in the future.
"The original intent was never that it was just a commuter route. It's just kind of fallen into that role," said Gettler.
"It's public space, and it's the kind of thing we should really be looking at as a way we could add more park space and more capacity on the active transportation network."
The NCC's decision last year to extend pedestrian and bicycle access during COVID-19 lockdowns was "quite successful," said Adrienne Yuen, an Ottawa resident who published a book chapter in August on pandemic recreation in the city.
"It was an example of a local authority experimenting a little bit in light of COVID to give people a safe space to recreate and enjoy the outdoors," she said.
Rivett-Carnac said he'll miss the freedom of walking and cycling on an open roadway now that pedestrian traffic on Colonel By has been shifted back to the narrow multi-use pathway.
"Anything outside of a motor vehicle is not treated as a serious mode of transportation," he said. "There's just a lack of coherent policy around taking bold action to make some sort of a change."