The lazy days of summer are over. But for many residents of Old Ottawa South, those lazy days in the past few years have been fraught with tension over increased traffic and parking woes. A few months ago our three young grandchildren and the family dog were steps away from a car accident at Ossington and Leonard; to our knowledge the third such accident to occur this summer. During the first part of the summer a construction trailer had been parked in our driveway and we experienced the daily angst of finding a parking space on the street.
In early July I set out to see if my neighbours in the south west section of Old Ottawa South shared my concerns by drafting a flyer. The questions were simple; “Are you concerned about…cars driving too quickly, stop signs ignored, texting and driving, vehicles driving the wrong way? Are cars parking too close to your driveway and to intersections?”. The flyers made their way into mailboxes from Cameron to Hopewell, Brewer Park to Bank Street.
The responses were filled with resounding ‘yeses’ on all counts. The perspectives and priorities differed from Hopewell to Cameron, and from those living close to Bank and those closer to Brewer Park. But what echoed in all responses was genuine concern that the precious quality of life in our neighbourhood was being eroded, and steps needed to be taken to keep it safe.
A meeting September 1, 2017 to discuss these issues and try to find solutions, hosted by Maria Pierre-Noel, General Manager of the Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club, included some of the respondents to the flyer, Ottawa South Community Association members Sue Neill and Winnie Pietrykowski from the OSCA Traffic and Safety Committee, Ian Grabina from Councillor David Chernushenko’s office, Ryan Strottman of the Ottawa Police, Lael Morgan, Executive Director of the Ottawa Sport and Social Club.
Ottawa Sport & Social Club (OSSC) began its foothold at the Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club (OTLBC) in May 2010. They initially built four beach volleyball courts in the area formerly devoted to Lawn Bowling. This partnership provides an important revenue stream for OTLBC, founded in 1881 and the oldest tennis club in Ottawa. With that distinction comes a club house in need of costly restoration. And their motto of “your cottage in the city” is accurate; the historic club house is not winterized, so the OTLBC operates, and generates income, only 5 months of the year. That means OTLBC’s revenue stream does not match their cash flow needs. It takes almost $200,000 to bring the club back to life each spring, according to Pierre-Noel.
Beach volleyball was hugely popular, but only available in outlying areas of the city until it arrived at OTLBC, according to Lael Morgan, Executive Director of OSSC. “OSSC creates a better community for adults to live, play, work and connect. We provide the largest, most organized and FUN outlet of co-ed sport leagues, tournaments, social events and classes,” reads their mission statement.
Since that arrival in spring of 2010, beach volleyball has seen sufficient demand to expand from the initial four courts to twelve. It opens around Victoria Day each May and the courts are generally active Tuesday through Thursday, with matches at 6, 7, 8, and 9 pm each evening. Most of the activity tapers off at Labour Day, with limited fall registration beyond that.
The importance of the revenue lifeline from OSSC to the tennis club is not lost on Old Ottawa South residents. Many voiced their desire to see the tennis club not only survive, but flourish, in our community. And there was concern that if the tennis club disappears what could replace it would be, at best, far less in keeping with the character of the neighbourhood, and at worst, a condo or other high intensity development. There is a chance of losing both a historic building and club which is open and accessible to all area residents, offers children’s summer camps and outdoor swimming, in addition to tennis.
But twelve active beach volleyball courts with sometimes 6 players per team (and the odd alternate) means at times up to 150 participants. And although OSSC members are encouraged to car pool, ride their bikes or take public transit, many prefer to drive. Beginning at 5:45 pm, cars trickle into the neighbourhood looking for optimal parking close to the tennis club. At 6:45 pm the action gets more intense, as the second group of players arrive before the first cohort have finished playing. It is important to note that there is no parking area designated for the beach volleyball players; the OTLBC parking lot is for the exclusive use of club members only.
Especially during the first couple weeks of each new season, area residents are inundated with cars circling endlessly around 4 or 5 blocks closest to the tennis club, drivers texting and driving, and stop signs being ignored. New volleyball registrants, unfamiliar with the neighbourhood, are more focused on finding parking and notifying team members they will be late than they are on observing stop signs or one-way street signs.
Add into this mix vehicles arriving to park for the 9 or 10 home games played each year by the Red Blacks at TD Place and other Lansdowne events such as music festivals. Like me, other Old Ottawa South residents are not just feeling invaded by cars, they are genuinely afraid for the safety of their community.
The September 1st meeting was a forum to open discussion with many of the interested parties about the concerns of the area residents. The first step to problem resolution is always communication. Not surprisingly, there were no ‘instant fixes’ on offer. But a commitment to ongoing better communication was made between OTLBC, OSSC, OSCA, our Councillor’s office, and area residents.
Better education is also fundamental to community advocacy. For example, I did not realize until recently that Bylaw officers will not ticket parked cars after business hours unless a complaint is lodged. Bylaw and Ottawa police response are fully dependent upon community input, according to Ryan Strottman of the Ottawa Police Service.
A neighbour who lives near Brewer park found that out recently during a Red Blacks home game. He was worried about the number of vehicles driving up Grove the wrong way and called Ottawa Police. A police cruiser arrived within minutes and parked near that intersection throughout most of the afternoon.
Education, communication and community advocacy seem to be the means by which we can protect our precious community. In this spirit, the hope is to launch a question and answer series, beginning with Ottawa Police and Bylaw, and then consulting others in our community newspaper to air some common questions, get accurate answers, and learn about other perspectives . Stay tuned to the OSCAR and the online “News Between The Bridges” for further traffic information and answers to frequently asked questions.
OTLBC, OSSC, the OSCA Traffic & Safety Committee, our Councillor's office, and area residents will meet again early in 2018 (February) to make sure that some of the recommended next steps are in place for a new season at the OTLBC. Between now and 2018, communications representatives from each of the interested parties will meet to coordinate, identify gaps and collaborate on best practices. Changes & recommendations will be shared and brought forward.
I read somewhere recently, “A problem without a solution is like a disease without a cure.” We may crave instant solutions, but need to remember that many cures take long, painstaking years of trial and error to develop. Our symptoms may differ, but my note to neighbours revealed to me that many of us share a general malaise. We are uneasy about our sense of community being eroded. For me it was crazed weeknight traffic and parking problems, for you it may be different. But if we are in any way worried about the safety and future of our neighbourhood, we share a vested interest in working towards a cure, however long it may take.