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Pimisi LRT station not built for substantial crowds, Ottawa police say

The Ottawa Police Service says the reason Pimisi Station was restricted on Canada Day is because of the station's design and its inability to handle crowds.

Questions have been raised about the Ottawa LRT station closest to LeBreton Flats after OC Transpo said it made the decision to restrict access on Canada Day at the behest of police and Canadian Heritage officials.

People heading to LeBreton Flats to watch the fireworks could not get off the train at Pimisi Station between 8 and 10 p.m. OC Transpo encouraged travellers to disembark at Lyon Station and walk.

In a lengthy statement to CTV News Ottawa, Ottawa police said the decision to close Pimisi Station on the evening of July 1 ahead of the fireworks show was made in collaboration with Canadian Heritage, OC Transpo and a crowd management consultant, who police say raised concerns about overcrowding on Booth Street during last year's Canada Day events.

"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 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)

Police said there was a medical emergency on Canada Day in 2022 at Pimisi Station and the safety of the people on the bridge, including the distressed individual and the first responders, was compromised because of the station's design.

"While OC Transpo must look at prioritizing customer service, we must balance the intricate dynamics of managing large crowds with ensuring the safety of all attendees. The lack of planning and preparation for the sudden and fast movement of large events can cause tragic outcomes," police said.

"We understand that these measures inconvenienced some individuals, and we sincerely apologize for any difficulties they may have encountered. Our utmost priority remains the safety and security of all attendees at large events. We continuously evaluate and refine our security measures to ensure the best possible experience for everyone involved."

The city of Ottawa said it would take the public's feedback from the Canada Day closure into account in its future plans.

"We understand and appreciate the frustration expressed by residents regarding the use of Pimisi Station," said rail operations manager Derek Moran in a statement to CTV News. "Our on-site staff worked closely with the Ottawa Police Service to manage and assist crowds and ensure customers were provided with safe and reliable service. We will share this feedback with our organizing partners for their review of this year’s event and for consideration in the planning of future events."

The decision about Canada Day came just days before Bluesfest, which is also held at LeBreton Flats. The city insists the station will be open for Ottawa's biggest summer music festival.

Last year, OC Transpo provided buses for westbound travellers leaving Bluesfest to prioritize eastbound travel on the LRT. There are only two stops after Pimisi Station heading west to Tunney's Pasture, compared to 10 heading east to Blair.

"To reduce crowding at Pimisi Station, O-Train Line 1 will temporarily bypass Pimisi Station when travelling westbound after the festival," the city said in July 2022.

Pimisi Station has a single platform, with LRT tracks on either side. (CTV News Ottawa)

This year, the city claims Pimisi will be open.

"Pimisi Station will be fully open for Bluesfest. Transit fare is included in the costs of every festival admission pass for the event and we are excited to provide our service to all concertgoers," Moran said.

Bluesfest spokesperson Joe Reilly said OC Transpo will have buses on standby for westbound travellers in the event of large outflows.

"Last year, Pimisi station was open full time during Bluesfest and things worked well. Things get crowded, that is what happens when you are running a major event and using public transit," he said. "The city of Ottawa and OC Transpo makes decisions about their sites, they have been good about keeping us informed about their decisions."

The first big test comes Thursday night, when Shania Twain headlines Bluesfest. The festival runs July 6 to 16, with headliners including Foo Fighters, Weezer, and Pitbull. Organizers said an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 people attended Bluesfest last year. 

The issue on Canada Day raises questions about the proposed future arena for the Ottawa Senators. LeBreton Flats has long been a desired location for an arena closer to downtown and the National Capital Commission says it is "quite confident" the team will move ahead with plans to build a new arena at the site.

--With files from CTV News Ottawa's Leah Larocque. Top Stories

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