Saturday, May 16, 2009

Interprovincial Transit Ideas

I attended a few hours of the interprovincial transit study meeting last Thursday. I heard lots of suggestions for improving interprovincial transit experience. Here are some of them:

1. Use the Prince of Wales Bridge. This rail bridge from Bayview Station to Gatineau is a favorite solution to most problems. Many felt it need not be double tracked right away, but could operate for the first years as a single track with passing tracks at each end and maybe at Lemieux Island.

2. Most attendees want a rail solution (LRT or O-Train) not a bus solution or bus on transitway solution; and certainly scorned bus lanes as a very inadequate solution.

3. Note that when the Ottawa LRT goes to Baseline, and if it goes to Gatineau on the POW bridge, that Ottawa U, Algonquin, and UQH (or is it UQG?) will be on the line. Carleton will directly connect on the O-Train. It is logical to assume institutions of higher education will be high transit users, because students are supposed to be poor, professors are supposed to have higher levels of environmental consciousness, and transit could be habit forming for life.

4. The City owns the POW bridge, but has not done any maintenance on it yet. It is deteriorating before our eyes. Will it get used before it rusts away? Where is the City's maintenance plan for this valuable asset?

5. Building a separate right of way transit system also creates additional capacity on surface roads. For example, removing the downtown bus lanes when the tunnel opens, means a 25-50% increase in road capacity for cars. This is seldom mentioned - shouldn't motorists in their single occupancy cars be delighted to get rid of the buses? And willing to pay for this improvement?

6. Reducing capacity: we tend to build transit as an incremental addition of service. We also continue to build roads that compete with transit. If we think in terms of "modal shift", we could put trains on the POW and then cut commuters off their abuse of Booth St as a through-way.

Preston St is one of the few examples in this City of major decommissioning of a road. It should never have been widened to four lanes, they have never been used, and now the road is being rebuilt as two lanes with the former lanes being converted to wider sidewalks and on-street parking bays. Parts of unused Gladstone east of Bronson were also narrowed a few years ago.

7. Convert roads: The Alexandra (interprovincial bridge) was a rail bridge for more than half a century. Then it has been a road bridge. Why not run the LRT accross the river on the bridge (it would have the wide pedestrian/cylist boardwalk, and two rail lines) and loop it around Hull via Allumete and the Rapidbus right of way to the POW bridge to Bayview and back downtown. In short, why do roads have to be sacred? Maybe we need to sacrifice some road pavement for transit. Note, we wouldn't have all the parking problems these commuters cause either.

8. Other conversions projects include: Colonel By Drive could be converted back to rail. The western parkway from Dominion Ave to Lincoln Fields could be reduced from a 4lane commuter road (we call it a parkway, but lets face it, its primary use is a commuter throughway for motorists) to a two lane road, and the southern two lanes converted to the rail tracks for the LRT. No additional green space would be consumed.

9. Why do transit users get put underground and motorists get the street surface and river views? Would a transit service with nice scenery attract more users?

10. some people think the NCC favours a tight, fairly small circle route for transit, sort of like the ceremonial route. This would put LRT on the surface or under the Portage Bridge. Many attendees want a large ring, that intercepts some traffic before it gets downtown (why make everyone transfer downtown?), and so like the POW and another crossing at McDonald-Cartier. A few wanted an even wider ring, that went as far west as Island Park, south past Carleton U, and as far east as Rockcliffe.

11. Go under water. The canal is shallow, and could easily be opened up and a LRT line burried a few feet down, then the canal refilled. Stations would double as canal crossings. Suddenly transit would open up a whole new urban environment that cars cannot access.

A few years ago I suggested during the OMB hearings on King Edward that the simplest solution was to take the McDonald-Cartier off ramps and run them down under the Rideau River and Stanley Park (a very shallow cut and cover operation...) and dump the vehicles onto the Vanier "Parkway". Of course, the Vanier was originally supposed to be heavy truck route but short-sighted councils appeased neighbors by forbidding trucks and thus dooming King Edward and Rideau St to decades of misery.

12. OC transpo and STO run in separate silos. For example, they lack a common route planner, amongst other fare problems. One of the meeting attendees said that OC and STO would have a joint planner up later this year. Yeah!

13. Faith in Big Government. Many participants at the meeting had a charming faith that if only some big government agency would take control, they would surely built this person's pet project. Didn't that big government give us half a century of vacant land in LeBreton Flats? The Qway to Kanata? The expanded 416 and 417 that extends the commuting shed a hundred km further out, so that small towns turn into large suburbs with obviously short-sighted planning?

I am much less certain that more government is the answer. Although only the NCC does large scale and longer time line planning, the City is hopelessly shortsighted and captive to the current modal split and land use model.

Alarmingly, a number of meeting proponents thought it wise to extend O-Train service to Arnprior, to Wakefield, to Montebello, to Smith's Falls or Cornwall. Do we really need to subsidize or encourage exurban development?

14. Replace buses vs service new areas debate. Some attendees wanted to convert existing bus transitways to LRT, and avoid building new transitways in favor of LRT (eg east end transitway, the rapidbus project in Gatineau).

Others thought the best thing was to leave the bus rapid transit in place and convert existing rail lines to LRT, opening up underdeveloped areas of the City, in new planned developments that focus on LRT transit.

I think particularly of Citizen columnists and bloggers on that one. They opposed the southwest LRT because it didn't serve the major population centres in the east-west axis. They oppose the new E-W LRT because it wont add ridership, just shift users off buses. My view was we should build new transit first, for example the southwest transitway, and try to force development along the huge underdeveloped brownlands along the line.

14. The sucess of the O-train. Is it a conspiracy or not? The City avoids mentioning the O-Train like the plague. Yet a demo project, derrided as going from nowhere to nowhere, grandiously projected to carry 7,000 people a day by 2020, carries today over 10,000 passengers a day. Why isn't the frequency being increased (this doesn't require more trains or track)? Why isn't it being extended to Gatineau where it would offer the fastest interprovincial commuting? Why aren't we going to run it into the DOTT ? ( I am not sure if the trains are diesel electric, in which case they would need only a overhead connector, or if they would have to be converted to run on both diesel and electric tracks). The more I hang around the people at transit meetings the more I tend to sympathize that there just may be a conspiracy after all...

15. Cycling. Will the new rail and transit rights of way really have useful cycling and walking facilities along them? We know that nice drawings always show these facilities when the transit project is being sold to the public, but with details missing. Unfortunately, when built, key links in the cycling and walking plans have been removed due to "budgetary constraints", or are charmingly left to built in segments as adjacent lands are developed (what? a bike path built in segments ... surely we should be grateful for disconnected bits). A number of meeting attendees emphasized that the rights of way should include proper bike and walking facilities carefully designed in to maximize their utility. Token bike pavement is so "out".

Summary: lots of ideas. Many of them good and positive. Much approval of LRT, much scorn for busways as yesterday's solution. Not many of the ideas will see fruition.


  1. 16. Rationalize both STO and OCT routes. OCT should move to a true hub and spoke model, taking suburban routes off Albert and Slater, sooner rather than later. And STO needs to make its routes more logical, intuitive, and direct, instead of the grotesque mishmash of inefficient, nonsensical, spaghetti strings it has had for years.

  2. Thanks for the post, I wasn't able to make these meetings to it's nice to have a briefing. I especially like point nine, and--if we have to go along the Parkway--point eight (although I would prefer Byron or Carling).

    I'd like to ask you a couple of questions, too; Do you mind e-mailing me at Thanks again, Eric.