Late for work? You’re not alone. Canada 150 and Confederation Line construction projects have led to lane closures, long delays and frustration for commuters going through the downtown area.
Some of the most heavily travelled Centretown roads are under construction, or slated to be soon. Lyon Street, McLeod Street, Queen Street, Rideau Street, and Kent Street are just some of the main thoroughfares affected by the upheaval, clogging city streets during rush hour.
“Since I’m on the 95, I’m passing right through the #OnTrack2018 mess,” said Evan Przesiecki, an Ottawa resident and Carleton journalism student.
Please head over to Capital News Online to see the rest of the story I worked on as part of the multimedia team. Find out the Ottawa neighbourhoods with the most construction and why things may only be getting worse when winter starts.
Tim Moore rides his bike 15 kilometres into Ottawa from Aylmer every day for work. It saves him a lot of time.
“If I drive in, it would be an hour. I take the bus, it’s 45 minutes. I cycle in, it’s 25,” he said. “All the traffic is bottle-necked on the bridge, so there’s line-ups and line-ups and line-ups. Get on the bike and just whiz by.”
Moore works as a bicycle technician at Foster’s Sports Center, at the corner of MacLaren and Bank Streets. It’s the oldest bike shop in Ottawa, with long front windows full of shiny, multi-coloured bicycles. The inside of the store has wide, empty aisles designed to allow customers to wheel in their bikes so Moore and the other techs can work on them.
As a bike tech he mostly builds and services bikes in the shop. The most common fixes are for flat tires when people run over glass or construction debris, but he also builds and test drives some of the higher-end bikes for avid cyclists who will pay for a technician’s expertise in assembling their new purchases.
The shop is quiet on a weekday morning, interrupted occasionally by the sound of the doorbell, and customers coming in with bicycles, skates that need sharpening, and requests for bike accessories. Office workers in pressed dress pants come in on their breaks to get Moore to take a look at their bikes.
Cycling to work allows Moore to bypass traffic congestion and intimately understand the vehicles he works with. While people could fix many things on their own, he said he’s able to do it very quickly: “What could take somebody an hour, we can generally get down to about five minutes or so.”
With all of the people on the road commuting, Moore doesn’t worry much about getting hit.
“I’m lit up like a Christmas tree and I obey the rules of the road,” he said. “When I can, I cycle in the bike lanes.”
While it doesn’t make him nervous, he’s had many close calls and has been “doored” a few times. “I saw it coming, so basically just (got) bumps, as opposed to lying down on the asphalt.”
He said there’s a section on Richmond Road where the city has put in dooring lanes that are helpful in giving cyclists more space.
In general, he likes the fact that the City of Ottawa has taken a “more proactive role in cycling, particularly downtown,” adding bike lanes and green bike boxes—designated areas at intersections for bicycles to stop for red lights. But he doesn’t think the federal election is likely to impact infrastructure in any new ways.
“Looks like the Conservatives are going to take it again,” he said. He doesn’t see them putting much more money into infrastructure.
Of the 15 million Canadians who commute to work, 74 per cent of them drive a vehicle and 12 per cent take public transit, according to the 2011 National Household Survey. It’s a lot of traffic concentrated in urban centres and a lot of money—on average, Canadian households spend $2,606 a year on gas and $1,077 on public transportation. Fewer than two per cent of Canadians commute by bike.
Though the NDP has said it will work with provinces and territories to create a transit plan which could incorporate cyclists, the Conservatives and Liberals have focused more specifically on public transit.
Moore hoists a bicycle up on a stand to work on the wheels, then empties bags of silver screws, nuts, and bolts onto the counter gently, so they don’t roll off. He chooses what he needs, then returns to the bike.
For those looking to start commuting by bike, but nervous to drive in downtown traffic he said, “Take your spot in the right-hand wheel track … go as fast as you can safely and just be visible, just be lit up. Have a visible helmet and maybe a traffic vest of some sort or just bright clothes.”
“I know the apprehension about it,” he added “but you’ve got to do it a couple of times in order to alleviate the fear.”
Downtown workers rush to food trucks and coffee shops on their lunch breaks, quickly lighting cigarettes and making personal phone calls on street corners. No one wants to spend their time talking to a reporter.
“That smells really good,” I say to the man sitting next to me. He looks up without smiling, his mouth full of fries, then turns back to his food, filling his mouth—within seconds he chews the last bite.
He’s wearing a neon yellow vest, a hardhat sits next to him on the bench, and he balances a small cardboard box filled with a hot dog, a can of Coca-Cola and French fries. The smell of ketchup and grease comes as much from his meal as from the nearby food truck, The Best Fries in Town.
The corner of Queen Street and O’Connor Avenue is a stopover point at noon on a Thursday. The line-up at the food truck has a short, stocky man in military uniform, a businessman in a dark pressed suit, and construction workers with bright vests. Small groups of government workers from nearby buildings stream past, wearing summer skirts, sandals, short-sleeved dress shirts, polos, and pressed trousers. Their ID tags are tucked into pockets, hung around their necks, or clipped onto belt loops.
The construction worker sitting next to me leaves as soon as he finishes his hot dog, carrying a paper bag of fries and his hardhat up O’Connor toward Parliament Hill. Cranes and scaffolding loom ahead and new copper roofs shine in the sun.
Steady lines of cars and pedestrians create a white noise of voices and engines improbably blending together into a single sound. Aside from an occasional car horn and a pedestrian yelling, “It’s my right of way, asshole,” to a passing truck, the sound is constant.
Another man sits down and sets down a tall Starbucks coffee beside him. He’s bald and tall, wearing a dark grey, well-tailored suit, with a lit cigarette in-hand. I try to talk with him, and he smiles, but angles his knees and torso away from me as he finishes his smoke.
More workers stop, consume and hurry off, unwilling to talk for more than a moment.
At The Best Fries in Town, the staff have even less time to talk than the people on break. Between taking orders, the woman at the window gives me a smile and a nod before turning to lift a fry basket.
As 1 p.m. approaches, the streets start to empty.
“Alright ladies, I’m out of here,” says one woman in a groupitting nearby. They’re each wearing brightly-coloured knee-length skirts—green, orange, yellow—and they’ve been talking about a wedding in Quebec.
“It was more like a commitment ceremony,” the woman in the orange skirt says.
They each get up, not quite letting the conversation go, as they continue talking and walk toward the World Exchange Plaza.