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Mayor criticizes decision to close Pimisi Station to O-Train riders on Canada Day

Pimisi Station in Ottawa is seen in this undated photo. (CTV News Ottawa) Pimisi Station in Ottawa is seen in this undated photo. (CTV News Ottawa)
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Mayor Mark Sutcliffe is criticizing the decision by the federal security officials to limit access to the O-Train Pimisi Station on Canada Day, insisting the decision is "about traffic flow" to the events at LeBreton Flats and not capacity issues at the LRT station.

With tens of thousands of people expected to celebrate Canada's 157th birthday in Ottawa on July 1, officials are implementing traffic and pedestrian control measures to facilitate the movement of revellers heading to LeBreton Flats for the main festivities and fireworks.

There will be "no pedestrian access" to Booth Street, between Albert Street and the Kichi Zibi Mikan on July 1, and the road is closed to vehicle traffic except for emergency vehicles. People using the O-Train are being told to get off the LRT at Lyon Street for access to LeBreton Flats, with access to Pimisi Station limited to persons with reduced mobility and local residents only.

"It bothers me, and I know it bothers our residents, when there's a train station right there, people want to take public transit to an event and they can't use the station that's closest to the event to get there," Sutcliffe told Newstalk 580 CFRA's the Morning Rush with Bill Carroll.

Federal officials say visitors will only be able to access LeBreton Flats on Canada Day on Wellington Street to "ensure a safe pedestrian flow."  Visitors will have to get off the O-Train at Lyon Station and walk to the entrance to LeBreton Flats on Wellington Street.

Booth Street will be closed to pedestrians between Albert Street and the Kichi Zibi Mikan on Canada Day. Transit riders are being told to get off the O-Train at Lyon Station to access LeBreton Flats Park. (Canadian Heritage/website)

In a statement on social media, Sutcliffe said the plan to limit access to Pimisi Station to persons with reduced mobility only is not "an issue of the capacity" of the station.

"I'm disappointed with the federal government's plans for traffic flow around the Canada Day celebrations at LeBreton Flats," Sutcliffe said.

"Despite the efforts of city officials to propose alternatives, the government's security officials have decided once again this year to discourage public transit users from exiting at Pimisi Station on July 1. I want to be abundantly clear: this is not an issue of the capacity of the station, but the result of passengers not being allowed to use the entire Booth Street Bridge when they exit."

Sutcliffe says city officials proposed alternative solutions to allow transit riders to use Pimisi Station, including a direct pathway from the station to LeBreton Flats.

"So the organizers of the event will be asking public transit users to exit at Lyon Station despite Pimisi being available and able to handle the traffic," Sutcliffe said.

"As everyone knows, our light rail system is not perfect. But these decisions about traffic flow have nothing to do with OC Tranpso or Pimisi Station. I hope the federal government will work with the City of Ottawa on a different approach for next year."

The office of Canadian Heritage says the Security Steering Committee, which includes representatives from Canadian Heritage, the city and Ottawa Police Service, implements the traffic management plan for Canada Day.

"We share the frustration around having easy access to the Pimisi LRT station after Canada Day, knowing that it’s open," the office said, adding the decision was made collectively by security officials.

"The security of attendees is our top priority and the priority of all partners, including the City of Ottawa, who approved the plans put in place. We are working on an alternative solution for next year and the future."

The office of Canadian Heritage notes the plan was presented to the City of Ottawa's Special Event Advisory Team and they approved the plan.

The Ottawa Police Service has jurisdiction for Canada Day events at LeBreton Flats and approves the measures for security.

Pimisi Station in Ottawa. It is built on a bridge that Ottawa police say does not give it many exit points in the event of emergencies. (Leah Larocque/CTV News Ottawa)

Sutcliffe says his frustration with the closure of Booth Street and Pimisi Station is "not about politics and it's not about politicians."

"This is something that's happening at the bureaucratic level and we went through this last year," Sutcliffe said Thursday morning.

"We tried very hard to change that and we proposed different solutions, but unfortunately at the bureaucratic level the same outcome happened this year. I'm a little bit frustrated at that; I invested some time and energy to try and generate a different outcome," the mayor said.

"People want to be able to go to this event downtown and they want to be able to get off at the nearest transit station. This is not an issue to do with the transit station; people think, 'Oh, we built this train system and the station can't handle the volume.' Nothing to do with that at all. The station can handle the volume, it's just the traffic plan that has been put in place does not allow for people to get off at that station for security, safety reasons. It's very frustrating."

The mayor says the Booth Street Bridge will be closed to vehicles and pedestrians on Canada Day so it can be used as an emergency vehicle access road.

"In an ideal world, there'd be a different emergency access. If we didn't need the Booth Street Bridge for emergency access, we could close it to cars and have people just come out of the station and use the bridge, the whole bridge, as pedestrians and that would be able to accommodate the volume," Sutcliffe said. "If you close the road so it's only available to emergency vehicles and there's only the sidewalks for pedestrians, then that's a volume that can't be handled."

This is the second straight Canada Day that the access has been restricted to the O-Train station closest to LeBreton Flats. Last year, people heading to LeBreton Flats for the evening show and fireworks were told that they could not get off the train at Pimisi Station between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Sutcliffe told CTV News Thursday, "It's important for the public to understand that Pimisi Station is fully functional."

Sutcliffe reiterated that the station can handle large volumes of people. "But on Canada Day, the event organizer, which is the federal government, has a plan for how people are going to move around and get to the site. That doesn't include Pimisi Station, and it's not because it can't handle the volume of people. It's because of the overall plan for security and safety in that area."

Sutcliffe said he had tried to come up with a different outcome after last year.

"I know that a lot of people were frustrated with their experience last year when they couldn't use Pimisi Station, when they had to walk further to get to LeBreton Flats. And it doesn't feel right to people that they can't go to the Canada Day celebrations at LeBreton Flats by exiting public transit at the station that is closest to LeBreton Flats," he said.

"We had hoped that there would be a different outcome for this year and we tried to work toward some solutions, but unfortunately it's the same plan as last year. I hope next year there will be more work done to find solutions so people can actually exit at Pimisi Station to go to Canada Day on the LeBreton Flats."

Pimisi Station has a single platform to serve both eastbound and westbound trains.

The Ottawa Police Service told CTV News Ottawa last year that the decision to close the station on July 1 was made in collaboration with Canadian Heritage, OC Transpo and a crowd management consultant. The service added the reason access was restricted was because of the station's design and its inability to handle crowds.

"The current design of Pimisi Station does not facilitate the efficient handling of substantial crowds. Pimisi Station, which is situated on a lengthy bridge, is lacking with alternative escape routes for emergencies," the statement said.

Pimisi Station was open for the 2023 edition of Ottawa Bluesfest at LeBreton Flats, including when approximately 30,000 people packed the grounds to see Shania Twain. The transit service said Pimisi Station handled more than 13,000 people after the concert.

--With files from CTV News Ottawa's Leah Larocque

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