A front-row SEAT to the action behind Ottawa’s special events

Published on
July 10, 2024
Arts, heritage and events
Health, public safety and emergencies
Parking, roads, traffic and transit

Feature Story

This story is part of the City of Ottawa Service Reviews: an initiative aimed at ensuring our services are meeting your needs. Visit engage.ottawa.ca/YourIdeas today.

Every year, Ottawa is host to special events that attract crowds of thousands and require an extraordinary amount of planning, coordination, and partnership between the City and the organizers. Today, we’re shining a light on how we work with our event partners to ensure smooth operations for participants and minimal impacts for residents.

Planning the event

Before a major event can take place, the City works with the event organizer to review their plans and coordinate operations. The Event Central unit in the City’s Emergency and Protective Services Department is the primary point of contact for organizers, guiding them through every aspect of the review and approval process. For each major event, a Special Events Advisory Team (SEAT) membership is established, made up of the appropriate City departments and public agencies required to support the event.

Large-scale events such as the CN Cycle for CHEO, which took place this year on Sunday, May 5, require planning with a large number of internal and external partners, including the City’s Traffic Services and Road Services branches, Ottawa Paramedic Service, Ottawa Fire Services, By-law Services, Transit Services, Ottawa Police, the National Capital Commission, and public museums and venues along the route – to name a few.

In addition to being fun for participants, a number of Ottawa’s large special events also raise money for important causes. For example, in 2024, 7,000 cyclists took part in the CN Cycle for CHEO, raising $2,775,240 for cancer care and research.

A group of eight cyclists gathered under a CN Cycle for CHEO sign.
Credit: CHEO Foundation

“Working with the SEAT team for the CN Cycle for CHEO was a great experience” says Tara Reid, Director of Lotteries and Events at the CHEO Foundation. “We feel very supported by emergency services and the City of Ottawa. Given the size of the event and impact of the routes and road closures on the community, it is crucial to work with the SEAT team to ensure comprehensive safety measures are in place and that the event has the lowest impact on the community.

Following this successful event, initial planning conversations have already begun for 2025. Event Central works to collect feedback on how the event went from SEAT, the organizer, and the community, all with the goal of making improvements and providing as much planning time as possible for organizers ahead of next year’s event.

Safety and impact

Two of the most important considerations when planning an event are the safety of the participants and Ottawa residents, as well as ensuring that impacts to mobility around the city will be as low as possible.

In determining a route for the CN Cycle for CHEO, “safety is our first priority and constant focus”, notes Tara. “Making use of the parkways ensures fewer intersections on the route which means a safer experience for cyclists. It also lessens the impact on businesses and results in fewer road closures.”

A large crowd of cyclists and CN Cycle event attendees gathered on a street.
Credit: CHEO Foundation

Residents and participants are informed in advance about any road or transit impacts through proactive communications from both the City and the event organizer, including Public Service Announcements and information on ottawa.ca and on the City’s social media channels.

During the event, the organizer stands up an event monitoring centre with multiple City services present to have live access to event operations, including traffic impact information, the progress of the event, and much more. Having a monitoring centre like this is now an industry standard for large-scale events, and it is something that the CN Cycle has been doing for years.

All of these steps are taken to ensure that residents are able to plan in advance to be able to navigate around the event when they’re out and about on the day.

Your city, your ideas!

Festivals and special events bring our communities together and also make Ottawa a top destination for travellers. We continue to work diligently to provide reliable, safe, and accessible mobility options during special events and ensuring safety of all participants. But we want to hear from you. Do you have any ideas related to this or other City services? Share them at engage.ottawa.ca/ConnectedCity.

For more information on City programs and services, visit ottawa.ca, call 3-1-1 (TTY: 613-580-2401) or 613-580-2400 to contact the City using Canada Video Relay Service. You can also connect with us through Facebook, X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram