Special to KT by Mike Redmond –
You might not know it if your only experience with Island Park Drive is to be trapped in gridlock at rush hour, but the venerable street has a long and glorious history. And now, thanks to a newly revitalized community association, residents are pushing hard to preserve its special character and ensure this slice of Kitchissippi ward becomes a little more livable for those who dwell on and nearby Island Park Drive (IPD).
“IPD was built in 1910 by a forerunner of the National Capital Commission, specifically to be a scenic route. Just over 100 years later, it’s become a mess of traffic that ignores safety and speed signs, with 500 commercial vehicles a day flouting a law banning them from the street,” says Heather Mitchell, President of the Island Park Community Association or IPCA.
At an annual general meeting this spring, the IPCA elected nine residents to create a new board of directors.
“It’s great to have the energy of a new board, especially when there are so many issues that need to be dealt with now and in the near future. In addition to the traffic dangers and linked pollution that is killing many trees, the covenants that guide the NCC’s stewardship of the street are up for renewal in a few years,” she says.
Working with the NCC to ensure the special and scenic character of Island Park is protected and preserved is one of the key goals of the IPCA. Mitchell and other members of the new IPCA board have already met with NCC staff and officials. Planning is underway for the NCC to attend a community meeting this fall to brief area residents on the covenants that are slated to expire in 2019. Mitchell promises the IPCA will ensure area residents have notice and opportunity to attend the fall meeting.
It’s no accident that the 1939 Royal visit to Ottawa included Island Park Drive in King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s route through the capital. As well as once hosting a train station, the street was designed to flow into the scenic parkway and driveway system created by the NCC, ending at Bates Island, hence the street’s name. It’s also been the long-time home to a number of embassies and ambassadors’ residences.
“It used to be a Sunday drive tradition in Ottawa to cruise Island Park and try to identify which home hosted which embassy or ambassador by the national flag flying outside the building. Now that tradition has been replaced with a massive flow of traffic, 80% of which comes from the interprovincial bridge,” Mitchell says.
She’s quick to point out that the efforts of the IPCA are not about special treatment for one street at the expense of the rest of the community. The traffic that Island Park hosts spills onto neighbouring streets and has an impact on all Kitchissippi residents. Creative options to redistribute some of the traffic without impacting the neighbouring communities must be explored, she said.
Early indications are that the re-energized IPCA is receiving a warm welcome in the community and having a positive impact. Door to door canvassing is seeing a growing and engaged membership. And, thanks to those early meetings with staff, the NCC has agreed to quarterly meetings with the IPCA and is looking at some concrete solutions that will be implemented soon.
Island Park Drive really is part of the city’s heritage and it can return to being more pedestrian and bike friendly and safe for cars and people both, as it was originally intended. Everyone in the Kitchissippi area wins with that outcome, Mitchell says.
For more information about the association, go to islandpark.wordpress.com.
Mike Redmond is an Island Park Community Association board member.