By Mark Brownlee
Long before last night’s council vote on Lansdowne Park, when Ottawa still had a football team, Phil Marsh was sure the space had the potential to help residents get active through walking.
“I remember on game days, when the CFL was here, a couple of times seeing people parking on Main [located on the other side of the Rideau Canal] and walking that three or four kilometers,” said the regional manager of the Running Room on Bank Street, a store that sells merchandise for both runners and walkers.
The economic benefits and drawbacks of the proposal to renovate the historic space, approved Monday by city council, have by now been debated to death. The council voted 15-9 to go ahead with the public-private partnership.
Marsh believes that the changes to Lansdowne Park, which include building shops, condos, green space and renovating the football stadium, will lead to more Ottawa residents getting active in the community through walking more.
The Lansdowne Partnership Plan promises to create a route for walkers from adjacent Bank and Holmwood streets to the proposed Aberdeen plaza. It will make Bank Street more “pedestrian friendly” by widening sidewalks and adding more lighting.
All this comes at the expense of parking spaces, as planners intend to reduce the number of spots to 380 to discourage people from using their cars.
Clad in orange and grey running shoes and a matching grey sweatshirt Marsh said, “You’re never going to be able to solve transportation problems, but if there is something going on and people know they can’t park, they’ll walk if they want to get there badly enough.”
He thinks that forcing people to walk when they visit the park will encourage them to walk at other times in their life.
Some aren’t as sure the planned changes will have that many health benefits.
“I don’t see how turning it into a shopping mall or even a park is going to make a huge difference in the overall scheme of the walkability of the neighbourhood,” said Donna Sullivan, who regularly walks five kilometres at least four times a week on her lunch break.
She doesn’t want taxpayer money going to the park’s renovations and, as an avid walker, she doesn’t even think the planned changes will have that many people getting active.
The approved plan reflects in many ways some of the priorities the municipality has set to make the city more pedestrian friendly.
“What we’re trying to do when new communities or new developments are being approved is make sure that these plans are being built with pedestrian needs taken into consideration,” said Mona Abouhenidy, manager of strategic transportation planning for the city.
Council will vote in June of 2010 on whether to give final approval to the deal.
Running Room manager Phil Marsh said he’s convinced many walkers in the city will approve of the changes, given how much of his business is now devoted to those who choose walking as a form of exercise. Sitting on a wooden bench in the store’s Bank Street location, he was surrounded by walking poles, gloves, and other items that he markets specifically to walkers.
“I see hundreds of people walking by here every Sunday with bags full of fresh produce. You don’t hear them complaining that the market is down here in the Glebe. They know they can’t park and they don’t worry about it.”