Opinion: What happened to protecting Byron Linear Park?

Submitted by Anne Boys Hope – 

Light rail is coming to McKellar Park. Good news, right? Well, it’s complicated. 

We’re a one-car family and we’ll benefit from having the LRT just two blocks away. The trains will whisk us downtown and home again in record time and have minimal impact on the environment while doing so.

But it comes at a cost: Cleary Station is going to be built on the Byron Linear Park. The station will start at Sherbourne Avenue and run 100 metres west in an open trench the length of a football field. The linear park will be dug up between two stations—Cleary and New Orchard—removing all of the beautiful, mature trees that line this section.

Kitchissippi resident Anne Boys Hope considers the future of Byron Linear Park after the announcement that Cleary Station was moving. See page 3. Photo by Andrea Tomkins
Kitchissippi resident Anne Boys Hope considers the future of Byron Linear Park after the announcement that Cleary Station was moving. See page 3. Photos by Andrea Tomkins

This decision was made without consultation, and was made public just a few days before city council voted to proceed with Stage 2 LRT in March. The city says it met with a small working group from McKellar Park last fall, but that information wasn’t shared with the rest of the community. The members of the Cleary-New Orchard Working Group, the Carlingwood Community Association, Byron Linear Park renewal consultations, and the people who will live next to the new station—some who participated in more than 50 meetings over two years—had no input into the decision. And these are some of the people who will be most affected by the change.

Residents have long worked to keep the LRT off the park. Until recently, the city agreed. Every previous plan protected the park, and the last we heard the city was building it underground in a grassy berm on the north side of Richmond at Cleary Avenue. Like many of our neighbours, we were surprised to hear that the city had reversed its decision. After learning the news, more than 100 hundred residents from across Kitchissippi and Bay wards attended a public information session to field questions on March 4.

Do we need light rail? Yes. Did the city have no choice but to build on our park? That’s not clear. The Stage 2 LRT report states that: “this was done for technical and cost-saving purposes, and to better accommodate long-term city planning considerations.” All good reasons, but the lack of consultation and communication around the decision doesn’t inspire confidence. It’s puzzling, too, that after a decade of consulting on the Western LRT the community wasn’t consulted on this change.

If this were a Nancy Drew novel, we’d call it The Mystery of the Moving Station.

So what happened to protecting the linear park?

Chris Swail, the city’s director of O-Train planning, told the CBC that losing “a small chunk of greenspace” is “a little bit unfortunate.” Anyone who lives along the linear park knows it’s so much more than that. It’s a 2.5 km long stretch of public parkland that connects the communities along the Byron-Richmond corridor (some have called a “green hub”) and serves as a buffer between two very busy streets. It’s where we walk our dogs, teach our kids to ride a bike, go for a jog, meet up with friends, and meander through a tree-covered path to Westboro Village. It’s lined with beautiful trees that provide shade and shelter on hot days and a home to birds and small beasts. It puts nature very close to people’s homes (the physical and mental health benefits of urban greenspaces are well recognized).

Given the development that is going to rise up around Cleary Station, building the LRT on the linear park means losing access to a large stretch of pedestrian-safe greenspace in an area that needs pedestrian-safe greenspace. The city is planning to develop a more “mixed and more active and dynamic traditional mainstreet” here. Building the LRT on the linear park puts a large physical barrier in the middle of a mainstreet that will be lined with businesses and mid-high rise apartments, and removes parkland that would be enjoyed by the many people living along it. 

Swail says that after construction is complete, the park “will be widened where possible and enhanced with more trees, improved pathways, public art, and additional plaza space for local events.” And for every tree cut down, the city will plant two. Let’s make sure that happens.

There are still many unanswered questions: Will residents have the opportunity to provide meaningful feedback on the new plan and design for Cleary Station, including serious discussion of our concerns about traffic, parking, noise, safety, accessibility and related intensification? 

And since the station isn’t going on Cleary, why not change the name? How about “Linear Park Station” or “Tramway Park Station”? This could signal the beginning of a more transparent and collaborative discussion with the city.

Read Councillor Jeff Leiper’s statement on the Cleary Station move.

Three facts about the Byron Linear Park

  1. The linear park is a long, narrow stretch of land that runs 2.5 km westward from Holland Avenue to Richardson Avenue (with a break between Churchill and Golden Avenues in Westboro). The tree-lined path take you through two wards, Kitchissippi and Bay, and several distinct communities, including Fisher Park, Wellington West, Hampton Park, Laurentian View, Westboro, McKellar Park, Carlingwood and Woodpark.
  2. It was once the site of a streetcar line that operated between 1900 and 1959. In his history of the streetcar, local historian Dave Allston says, “The streetcar opened up Ottawa to the west, making both the city and the suburbs more accessible. Almost overnight it turned vacant farmland into valuable real estate.”
  3. It’s an official city park. The linear park has served as the green hub of the community since the streetcars were decommissioned in 1959. Today it’s used for walking, biking and running and for special events such as the Ottawa farmer’s market. According to the City of Ottawa archives, it was named “The Byron Linear Tramway Park” on December 20, 1985 as part of a larger project to name city parks after the street they’re located on. Today, most residents call it the Byron linear park or simply, the linear park.

Anne Boys-Hope has lived in Westboro for 20 years. You’ll see her on the Byron Linear Park with a poodle in one hand and a coffee in the other.

*This feature is brought to you in part by Produce Depot.

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