Metcalfe Street to be redesigned?

by Georgia Lay

Converting Metcalfe Street from a northbound one-way street to a two-way thoroughfare has been a dream of neighbourhood activists and urban planners since 1974 when the Centretown Neighbourhood Development Plan was published.

Wrongly characterized as a “high speed highway ramp” for almost 40 years, Metcalfe Street may finally fall victim to the quest to make travel through Centretown as unappealing as possible for motorized vehicles.
The new Centretown Community Design Plan perpetuates the impetus to “fix” the traffic problem in Centretown by recommending the conversion of one-way north-south arterials in Centretown to two-way. Metcalfe Street is to be converted first, with O’Connor, Kent and, perhaps, Lyon Streets to follow.

The inability of the Canadian Museum of Nature to provide visitor parking without encroaching on its own greenspace also contributes to the push to reorganize Metcalfe Street. The section of Metcalfe Street that runs through the east lawn of the museum between Argyle and McLeod Streets would be closed.

According to a traffic study by Delcan, Metcalfe Street currently accommodates between 800 and 1100 vehicles per hour during the morning rush as commuters flood into offices in Centretown on weekdays.

Where will vehicular traffic exiting the Queensway at Metcalfe Street end up? On Elgin Street? On Bank Street? Will it revert to Metcalfe Street at some point between McLeod and Wellington Streets?

Metcalfe Street is, at 10.5 meters, the narrowest of the candidates for conversion. It currently consists of three lanes, one of which is used for on-street parking during off-peak periods.

Those of us who live on Metcalfe Street can view the impact of reducing Metcalfe Street to one northbound lane when construction on the Tribeca site causes the temporary closure of two lanes. The traffic backs up south beyond Somerset Street and along the streets leading into Metcalfe.
Idling cars and increased traffic congestion only add to the “unsafe and unpleasant conditions” which the CDP notes that the existing street configuration produces.

The CDP proposes two options for a two-way Metcalfe Street. Option one would see the third lane divided up into bicycle lanes on both sides of the street and no on-street parking. Under option two, the third lane would be devoted to permanent parking on the east side of the street and no lanes dedicated to bicycle traffic.

Most of the apartment buildings on Metcalfe were built before the demand for off-street parking emerged. And only a few of the older apartment buildings have an entrance where taxis, trucks and ParaTranspo can pull up on the property to load/unload passengers and goods.

With condo developments replacing surface parking lots, the supply of off-street parking in Centretown is dwindling. The CDP recognizes that public parking will become an issue in the Centretown of tomorrow and suggests various strategies the City could adopt to deal with it.

Unlike its experience with the Laurier Segregated Bicycle Lane pilot project, where there was some flexibility to establish new parking spots on side streets, the City will not find an additional 70 – 80 parking spots on the side streets adjacent to Metcalfe Street. The parking on those narrow mid-Centretown streets is already in heavy use by residents and their guests, and by patrons of Elgin and Bank Street businesses.

One of the patterns emerging from the Segregated Bicycle Lane pilot project is that most of its users are, like their car-bound counterparts, weekday commuters to the Central Business District. But unlike car drivers, cyclists are a seasonal lot. The overall benefit of maintaining bicycle lanes throughout the winter for a small number of riders is questionable.

On the west side of Centretown, cyclists are served by south- and north-bound bicycle lanes on Percy and Bay Streets – both quiet, residential streets. Rather than piling another transportation use on a busy, narrow arterial such as Metcalfe Street, why not set up bicycle lanes on Cartier Street, on the east side of Centretown, for commuters from southern approaches to the Central Business District?

The CDP does caution a measured approach to the reorganization of Metcalfe Street. It recommends “a technical review of the highway ramping systems” before any two-way conversions are undertaken, and that “a transportation network analysis should be completed detailing the existing and future conditions and impact on road capacity, circulation and spill-over to adjacent streets” before Metcalfe Street in particular is altered.

I would add that competition between cycling and parking uses of our streets needs to be resolved before any two-way conversions of one-way streets are undertaken.