Seven days into 2019, the city is kicking off Phase 2 of a 1.2-kilometre, $36-million dollar construction project to renew Elgin Street.
The completed project is slated to transform 16 blocks between Gloucester and Isabella Streets with wider sidewalks, infrastructure upgrades and streetscaping, among other changes. But in the meantime, it’s going to seriously disrupt traffic in the area.
To help you navigate Elgin Street in 2019 — when the bulk of the construction is slated to occur — we’ve created a guide laying out the changes you can expect, along with a look at how the community is feeling about Elgin Street’s facelift.
Drawing on public consultation and a council-approved functional design plan, the city started preliminary work on Elgin Street’s renewal last year. 2019 marks the bulk of the construction phase, with some final work scheduled between spring and fall 2020.
The changes will include wider sidewalks that conform to accessibility standards, flexible parking spaces that can also be used for streetside restaurant patios, public art, bicycle racks and streetscape elements such as tree planting and seating areas.
Sewers and watermains — some of which are more than 100 years old — will undergo reconstruction. The street’s overhead utility lines will be buried underground, a contested decision that Elgin business owner Minoo Banaei said changed her outlook on the whole project.
“That was my No. 1,” Banaei said, adding that she attended every public meeting on the Elgin Street renewal, and fought to have the hydro lines buried. The cost of doing so was raised as a counter-argument but in the end the city decided it was worth the multimillion-dollar price tag, in this particular case.
“Now I’m just quiet and patient … before I was angry,” she said of the year of construction that will close the section of Elgin on which her business, Bel Fiore Flowers, is located.
“It is a job that has to be done, hopefully they do it on time, that’s all I can say.”
On the streets, pavement and road structure will be upgraded and traffic calming measures such as a reduced speed limit and narrowing lanes will be implemented.
Waverley Street between Elgin and Metcalfe Streets, and Isabella Street between Elgin Street and Queen Elizabeth Driveway will also see some upgrades.
“We’re very happy about it. We’re looking forward to nice pedestrian areas,” said neighbourhood resident Hugh Finsten. “We live around the corner, so we’re less concerned about parking and things like that.”
Area drivers, however, should be prepared for a major change in 2019. Starting Jan. 7, Elgin Street between Somerset and Catherine Streets will be closed to traffic.
Detours through surrounding streets have been established for traffic travelling in both directions. “Please be patient, plan ahead and expect delays,” the city suggests on its webpage for everything related to the Elgin project.
Drivers should also note some impacts between Laurier Avenue and Somerset Street. From Somerset Street to Nepean Street, Elgin’s northbound lane will be closed, while one southbound lane will remain open from Laurier Avenue to Somerset Street.
There will be a number of designated east-west street crossings along Elgin in both directions.
Parking will be prohibited on southbound Elgin between Laurier Avenue and Catherine Street, and on northbound Elgin between Catherine Street and Gloucester Street.
To alleviate some of this inconvenience, the city has offered up free parking at the City Hall parking garage at 110 Laurier Ave. West on weekdays after 6 p.m. and all day on weekends. The arrangement is scheduled to remain in place until the end of the year, which Christa Blaszczyk, owner-operator of Elgin’s boogie + birdie and The Gifted Type stores, called “really huge” for local businesses.
The city started providing this free parking in July when some of the construction was already underway. “So far, even the work that’s been done leading up to Christmas, we’ve seen customers still come out and support their favourite restaurants and their favourite shops,” Blaszczyk said.
As construction progresses, the city will transition to the full closure of Elgin Street between Laurier Avenue and Catherine Street. According to the city, a date for that transition will be communicated once it’s established.
The full road closure is set to lift come 2020, replaced by periodic road closures or lane reductions.
Pedestrians, Cyclists, Transit
For pedestrians, access to both sides of Elgin Street will be maintained at all times, either though a sidewalk or pedestrian clearway alongside building facades or down the centre of the street.
For cyclists, there will be a signed detour route.
OC Transpo routes 5 and 14, which usually travel down Elgin, will be detoured around the road closure with bus stops and shelters temporarily relocated along the detour routes.
Losing these Elgin-travelling buses is a concern, said Julia Norris, manager at The Ministry of Coffee.
“We rely heavily on foot traffic and a lot of people who work downtown take the bus and just get off here and then walk,” she explained. “The buses won’t be coming down this street, so it’s definitely going to affect us.”
Neighbourhood resident Barry Rooke said he’s looking forward to the traffic-calming aspects of the project.
“The road and the driving issues have always been a challenge, especially if you’re a pedestrian here.”
Facing a more than a year of construction and closures on their section of Elgin Street, some business are feeling apprehensive.
Pat Garand is an employee at Sir John A Pub at Elgin and MacLaren streets.
“We’re not really 100-per-cent sure what the effect is going to be, but I remember when Bank Street closed, there was a whole whack of businesses that closed on Bank Street as well,” he recalled. “Bit leery about what might happen.”
In part, it’s this uncertainty that prompted a group of Elgin Street business owners to come together to launch “I Dig Elgin,” the tongue-in-cheek name for a social media-driven campaign designed to support area commerce and community during the construction-filled months to come.
Blaszczyk is one of the people behind the campaign. The idea is to foster a direct dialogue between businesses, consumers and community residents, she explained, sharing information about shops that are having sales, or the location of local trivia nights.
“For a lot of people, this is where they work and live … they come to the restaurants, they come to the gym or their yoga place, because this is their bubble,” she said.
“We want to talk with our customers directly … and say, ‘Why do you love Elgin? Why do you come to Elgin? We still want you to come to Elgin through the whole process.’”
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