Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Leadman's DOTT meeting May 26th

Leadman's ward bumps up against Somerset Ward where I live, almost on the border of the two, which is why this blog is named West Side Action, since I try to cover events that happen on the west side of the downtown, regardless of fiefdom. Anyhow, I joined the big turnout for her forum Tuesday evening on the DOTT.

Her presentation and meeting themes covered two things: the DOTT in the downtown area, and the first-phase LRT in her ward terminating at Tunneys Pasture. She was accompanied by Renfrew Morrison, a transportation consultant that we recall was Clive Doucet's hired gun for his Carling LRT proposal earlier this spring, and who was Urbandale's hired gun in August 2007 when the developer lobbied to resurrect the southwest LRT.

What follows is not a report of the meeting, but my impressions of what went on. So, it is personal views, interpretation, and not "objective".

Leadman claims that council approved the Albert St routing for the LRT tunnel, including a surface crossing of the canal using the Mackenzie King bridge, with a sharp turn south, ie the current bus route through the downtown. And that the counsultants have gone off and "surprised" her and "shocked her" by examining alternative routes, and eventually recommending the Albert St - Rideau St - Ottawa U route. She claimed to be shocked that they had extended the terminus of the first phase LRT to Tunneys Pasture instead of Bayview, as council had directed.

Both Leadman and Morrison want an underground city in the downtown, connecting the stations with underground malls under office buildings. I wondered why the underground city idea never dies: council killed the plus-16 version of it years ago, and the city's developers have consistently refused to connect together their own malls. Minneapolis discovered you can have a lively plus-16 network or lively streets, but not both, and got the worst of both. I think Ottawa is way too small to support two lively streetscapes, or three, if plus-16 walkways are brought back in. Please "bury" this fantasy. And recover more of the surface from autodomination.

Morrison surprised me by claiming that 180m stations, capable of handling six car LRTs or future conversion to subway trains, would never ever be required in Ottawa, not in 100 years. I am in part puzzled by this because so many of the other blogsphere critics of the DOTT claim the system will not be able to handle the traffic proposed. Is the system undersized or oversized, on the short term or the long term?

I go to the DOTT meetings held about every two months as member of the public advisory council. The give the same presentation earlier that day to the business advisory council. And I thought they gave it to council members. But both Leadman and Morrison continually surprised me by their poor grasp of what I thought were well-covered items.

For example, Morrison chided the DOTT team for failing to include a spur at Rideau to extend the LRT east (along Rideau, or north to Gatineau), in fact, this has been frequently mentioned by the consultants.

More bizarrely, Leadman claims that by ending the first phase LRT at Tunneys, it forever "precludes any great circle line through Gatineau" (using the POW bridge) and will "eliminate potential for cross river transit forever". I guess this eliminates any potential for a n/s LRT line along the O-Train route too, but elsewhere in the meeting Leadman seemed to support that route, and the Carling LRT, even with the LRT going to Tunney's.

Well, maybe not to Tunneys. Her position alternated all night on that. Certainly building a major transfer station at Tunneys will be disruptive. But it will be very useful for the residential community, local bus transfers to the LRT, and Tunneys employees in the future, during the first phase LRT AND once the LRT is extended westward. Some citizens at the mike expressed appreciation for improved LRT service. It is not a "throwaway cost". It is, of course, perfectly fine to build a major transfer station at Bayview, in the neighboring ward, and she expressed no concern about throw away costs there. So does she favor ending the LRT at Bayview, or continuing to Tunneys? And in future phases, should it continue west past Tunneys? The answers varied all night.

Similar confusion prevailed on the use of Scott and Albert for BRT service. Recall that during conversion of the transitway to LRT service (at least two years) all the buses that use the transitway from Tunney's to the downtown will have to move off the transitway onto Scott and then onto Albert. This will certainly be very negative for adjacent residents, and I too question how the roads can handle all the buses. Staff suggests that the two curbside lanes will be bus only lanes, but I still see congestion hell.

Then, once the LRT is running, in theory most of these buses can be stopped at Tunney's and riders transfer to the LRT if going to the downtown, and for those going to Bayview or LeBreton, every third 95 would provide this service. However, Leadman and many citizen speakers derrided putting buses on Scott, derrided transfers at tunneys, and derrided evil-Kanata residents who want one-bus service from Kanata to downtown. Well, if they dont want transfers at Tunney's, they'll have decades of buses on Scott until the LRT is extended to Lincoln Fields and transfers are forced there. At some point you cannot please everyone, tradeoffs are necessary. There are hard choices here, and more leadership and consistency is required than was evident last night.

There was consistency though, in several aspects: Tunneys transfer station: bad; buses on Scott street: bad; LRT to Tunneys: good; no: bad; Kanata riders shouldnt be worried about making transfers at nice indoor stations; local riders wont stand for forced transfers; put the transfer station at Bayview, the city owns all the land around it (points to PPT slide that highlights land that is in fact owned by other parties like Phoenix DCR who have applied to build a condo on the land); its dumb to put LRT on the Ottawa River Parkway; the solution is to run all the buses on the parkway all the way to the downtown and not along Scott; look at the big picture, plan for the future and the whole city, but make decisions based on short-term local impacts. The tunnel selection should be based on city-building criteria, but give us the costs of each option first (so we can choose the cheapest?)

And the STO buses ... Leadman claimed the study ignores the STO buses on Ottawa's downtown streets, and claimed that there are more STO buses than Ottawa buses downtown. In fact, the DOTT projections always have counted all the STO users as being DOTT tunnel users, which gives some hint about the future of STO surface buses in the downtown, and some hint about the direction of the interprovincial transit study.

The audience asked many intelligent questions, and some whoppers. Members clearly disagreed as to whether transfers were good or bad, generally it seems Kanata residents should be prepared to transfer but local riders should not. The Byron right of way is useless for LRT, claimed a speaker, because it goes no where (gee, and I thought it ended so close to Lincoln Fields...). The LRT should run along Carling because there could be many stops serving local businesses and institutions (but no mention of why Kanata commuters would want such a milk run service). Use Byron, on the surface, no, put it underground. Leave the parkway only for cars, remove the buses, dont put LRT on it. No, keep the buses on the parkway. Even extend them all the way to the downtown on the parkway. A number of people spoke to the idea that the current transit planning too oriented to long-haul commuters at the expense of local transit (I agree heartily, but we still gotta deal with the folks in Barrhaven and Kanata). Keep the buses off Scott (cheers !) (how? by putting them on Albert, but hey, that's not our ward, it's someone else's problem).

Oh, that Bayview station, great place to put it, its in a field surrounded by no one. As for the Blair terminus, its stupid, its out in the middle of nowhere with vacant space around it, move it into a built up area. Morrison: London transit cited as doing great innovative tunneling work using the Austrian mine technqiue, and we are not considering it. He ignores that the tunnel-boring consultants for DOTT are from London Transport. Dont build the DOTT near the Langevin Block ... running it under the War Memorial would make a "nice" terrorist target ... but not to worry about running it along or under DND ...

Conspiracy theories abound, and are some of the reasons why going to public meetings can be so much fun. Did you know the LRT is intended for the Ottawa River parkway because they want to rezone it all for condos? That Hintonburg is always "targetted" because its poor? (I nod my head at that one ...) That it should be run on Byron so locals can use the LRT, but not on Byron because it is no longer a right of way but a park? That the urban core is the victim of suburban dominated council? (allright, I've gotta agree with that one too). Or that city staff is so incompetant that they continually bamboozle councilors and go off on their own tangents regardless of council direction and staff is secretly running everything ...

In summary, there were a number of valid concerns raised, in particular how well the DOTT will work at the great depth proposed; and how buses will be handled during construction and between phase and phase two. Yet if we are to focus on the big picture, the city-building one, we cannot continually nitpik on local impacts. The transit system has to serve a variety of needs and users, and cannot exclude the long haul, short haul, peak or off-peak users.

Leadman was listening, and giving people a chance to vent, and that is admirable. But she made no effort to reconcile her own mutually-conflicting options, and offered little leadership. I would have preferred her to have expressed some preferences for moving the system forward instead of just agreeing with every expressed concern. I think it is a leader's role to also temper public opinion, to acknowledge that with change comes disruption as well as opportunity. There will be some pain along with the gain. She could also try to reactivate the Carling-Bayview CDP so that vulnerable chunks of the neighborhood are prepared for change as the LRT is built out. She could also attend some more of the DOTT briefings (or send her staff, or get more community association people attending) because the significant factual gaps and misunderstandings undermine the quality of decisions and leadership we expect.


  1. There are at least five ways to keep buses off of Scott, obviously some not very likely:

    - Build all the way out to Lincoln Fields/Baseline in the first go, and avoid the whole question.

    - Use Staff's proposal for the rail and put buses on the Parkway until Phase II is built

    - Use Staff's proposal and force ALL buses to end at Tunney's, which will be tremendously difficult, considering (a) Feds want to build more stuff at Tunney's closer to the Transitway, (b) the station geometry doesn't allow high bus traffic at Tunney's, meaning lots of buses will have to get onto Scott at Westboro, and (c) this adds extra transfers for people transferring N-S at Bayview (going South) or Lebreton/Booth (going to Gatineau)

    - End the line at Bayview instead of Tunney's and have the bus-rail transfer station at Bayview instead of Tunney's

    - Keep the end of the rail line at Tunney's and the bus transfers at Tunney's and Bayview, but embed the tracks between the two stations, so that buses can continue to use the Transitway from Tunney's to Bayview and can do their turn-arounds and lay-bys there, all without going on Scott/Albert OR the Parkway. This will cause disruption during construction, but at least it won't be a long-term disruption between the end of Phase I and the end of PHase II.

    Staff don't seem to be considering ANY of these options. In response to community concerns, they simply say "we'll consider it", suggesting not only that they have not begun to do so, but that they probably never will.

  2. After reading this, I think I'm glad I didn't go to that meeting. The incoherence embedded in the City's plans have spread to the populace.

    The Tunney's Pasture terminal station is a plain dumb idea. The reason we are even considering it is because staff during the TMP process had the bright idea of not taking the line at least as far west as Lincoln Fields. All this talk of buses on Scott, buses continuing downtown, etc - all comes back to the decision to cut off the west end in the first stage. No sensible rationale has yet been given for not taking the line as far as Lincoln Fields - the only reason given is that of cost. EAs and design studies along with construction can all be completed well ahead of completion of the tunnel. Where the cost issue falls down though is in the willingness to countenance large increases in the cost of the tunnel due to its depth and increased length as well as in overbuilding stations like Tunney's Pasture. In other words, the budget is open ended as far as the tunnel is concerned, but getting a sensible initial system? No budget for that.

    Conspiracy theories always seem to crop up, but frankly staff can take the blame for their plentiful abounding. The TMP update process was an elaborate sham. There were online forums and discussion groups at City Hall but little of that public input appears to have been incorporated into the initial offerings beyond a general rail+tunnel theme and there was absolutely no incorporation of public input into the final version since it was the same as one of the initial offerings. The staging makes no sense. Going to Baseline but not Bayshore - even though more riders are expected from Kanata than Barrhaven - makes no sense. When things make no sense, people are wont to turn to conspiracy theories.

    On a more personal level, as a resident of Westboro near the end of the trench, I'm dismayed that light rail won't be heading this way any time soon. However, I'm even more dismayed at my fellow Kitchissippi ward residents to the west - many of whom seem to like to think they're progressive and environmentally-minded - going all nuts about LRT on either the Parkway or Richmond/Byron. Thousands of buses ply that road every day. At peak periods it's a noisy environment and on calm hazy summer days it's a very polluted one as well. Light rail would end that. It could even take over the eastbound lanes and reduce the Parkway to a two-lane road like the Rockcliffe Parkway. Or on Byron... I find the objections to Byron so amusing because people don't realize what's actually going on. Buried deep in the TMP, under the roads section that Council never got around to examining, one can find reference to a future widening of Richmond Road between Carling and Golden to four lanes. There's also an entry for the RoW being reserved for this widening. And where is it? In the Byron corridor of course. The park is to be reduced to half its current width. At least LRT could be integrated better (it need not go right down the middle) and it would also avoid dumping extra lanes of traffic into Westboro by removing the possibility of ever widening Richmond. But no... clearly LRT with a train passing every few minutes on Byron or the Parkway is the big threat to quality of life in west Kitchissippi. Some people somehow think that putting LRT on Carling will resolve the west end routing problem, but all that does is strengthen the hand of the road builders who keep trying to widen Richmond since a Carling LRT would remove two east-west arterial lanes while opening the door to leaving buses to continue running on the Parkway.

  3. I too am disappointed that the first phase LRT stops at Tunneys. I think it should run to Lincoln Fields or College Sq. I also think all west buses should terminate at Tunneys, except for a few 95s that would continue to Bayview, LeBreton, and Hull for the benefit of commuters going there.

    The western routing is a big hurdle, and it may be wise to build only to Tunneys first, as it is 'less contentious'. Any proposal to use the ORP or Byron will be major election issues at all three govt levels. Just look at other joint lands, eg LeBreton, where it is always in someone's short term interest to come up with some objection/new scheme.And if Byron is a tunnel, a major expense and precedent for all subsequent routes to be tunnels.

    Eric Darwin

  4. I attended, and spoke at, the meeting - and agree with many of your observations. The Councillor was all over the map, her presentation was extremely one-sided and deliberatley designed to skew people's views, and was so last-minute (the night before Council's vote to approve/reject the phase 1 aligment) as to make it impossible for individuals or community associations to formulate and communicate their positions to Council. It was one of the reasons I was the first at the microphone to endorse the idea of the province stepping in to take control over the entire rapid transit project as I have lost all confidence in the ability of the City (both at the staff and political levels) to move any of this forward. The loud applause that followed suggests that I'm not alone on this.

    Wallace B.

  5. have little faith in council. All seem too short term focus, too parochial. No one is looking at the big picture.

    Despite the complaints, most of the "good" things we have in Ottawa come from the only agency that takes the long view, the NCC. Of course, if you read my other blogs, I know big govt makes big mistakes.

    Another excellent reason for the prov agency to take over building the LRT is that they might feel guilty building a cheapo system here compared to the big bucks that flow into toronto/gta. They might actually feel inclined to build it to big city standards.

    thanks for commenting,