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COVID-19: NCC opening up Ottawa parkways for active use as city plans park restrictions

Pedestrians and cyclists use the closed Queen Elizabeth Driveway and the neighbouring multi-use pathway near the Flora Footbridge in Ottawa on Saturday, April 18, 2020. Bill Dagg / Submitted

The National Capital Commission is opening up its parkways in Ottawa for pedestrians and cyclists for the second straight weekend under Ontario’s stay-home order as the city hammers out the details of new COVID-19 restrictions coming to municipal parks.

The Crown corporation in charge of federal amenities in the nation’s capital reintroduced its pilot program last weekend to close sections of the Queen Elizabeth Driveway and the Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir George-Étienne Cartier parkways to motor vehicles.

The NCC announced that the program would continue for the weekend ahead.

Read more: COVID-19 has changed. Should our outdoor behaviour shift too?

The move to open up more public outdoor spaces for recreation comes as the City of Ottawa mulls new restrictions on so-called “problematic parks.”

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City staff first announced Wednesday morning that councillors will be able to shorten opening hours in some parks that have been host to large gatherings in recent days. Parks deemed problematic, of which staff said they had a dozen or fewer in mind, would close at 9 p.m. under the new rules rather than the traditional 11 p.m. starting this weekend.

The new rule would apply only to parks under the city’s purview, but Ottawa’s general manager of emergency services Anthony Di Monte said the NCC is planning to “adjust their posture” to align with the city’s stance on parks.

The NCC said in a statement to Global News that it won’t be scaling back hours at its sites but will be upping enforcement, leaning on the RCMP at times to make sure park patrons at complying with provincial orders.

“Although the NCC does not have the legal ability to enforce a curfew on its property, the NCC’s conservation officers, with the support of the RCMP as needed, will continue to both monitor and ensure compliance with provincial health orders and NCC regulations, particularly in areas identified as problem spots,” said Valérie Dufour, senior manager of strategic communications, in an email Thursday.

Ottawa Public Health, meanwhile, is planning to issue a section 22 class order that would regulate use of some park amenities such as basketball courts and play structures.

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Details of the order are expected to be issued before the weekend, but deputy medical officer of health Dr. Brent Moloughney said Wednesday that it will likely look similar to a version seen in the winter, which made masks mandatory and placed capacity limits at certain outdoor sites.

Hours for NCC parkway closures:

  • Queen Elizabeth Driveway, from Fifth Avenue to Somerset Street on the west side of the Rideau Canal: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, westbound, from Booth Street to Carling Avenue: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Sir George-Étienne Cartier Parkway, from Aviation Parkway and St. Joseph Boulevard: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The NCC asks all users to stay home if they are feeling ill, maintain two metres of physical distance at all times and wear a face mask when required or when keeping distances isn’t possible.

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