Friday, July 9, 2010

Interprovincial Transit Link

Earlier this week, the NCC held a public open house on proposals for improving interprovincial transit. I blogged on my general preferences (a LRT link using the Prince of Wales  bridge) a few days ago,

At the meeting, a number of matters came up that caused me to ponder.

Bridge repairs... the cost of the LRT on the loop was much much higher than that of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). I inquired as to why the order of magnitude numbers for LRT were so much higher since both were surface crossings. Well, to use the Chaudiere, Alexandra, or Prince of Wales bridges, massive rebuilding would be "required" of these older structures. This rebuilding cost was added to the LRT cost.

But wouldn't these repairs and rebuildings still be required if there was no LRT and the bridges continued to be used by cars and buses like they are today? Yup, I was told, they would require the same rebuilding, at the same costs.

So why do the planners add the reconstruction cost into the LRT option cost when it is a cost that has to be met anyway, even if LRT is not built? The bridge repair costs are not unique to choosing the LRT option. [hint: by adding bridge rebuilding costs, costs might be divided three ways - city, province, feds - instead of remaining 100% to the bridge owner. Nice try for shared dollars, but it makes LRT scarily expensive when the bridge cost will be paid whether we stick with roads or go with whatever form of transit we choose].

Something similar comes up for the Preston Extension. Preston is to be extended out meet the intersection of Vimy Place in front of the War Museum. This road link will be built early in the DOTT process so cars can avoid construction on Booth. After LRT is running, motorists continue to benefit from having a new four lane road built across the Flats. Surely this cost should be stuck in the road budget, but no, its put into the LRT construction budget.

DOTT Capacity: In the many DOTT meetings I have attended over the past years, the consultants always use passenger forecasts that INCLUDE ALL THE STO passengers in the tunnel. They do not assume there is any STO bus service left through the downtown.

There are several options for Quebec links if the linkage is by LRT. One is for Quebec-bound residents to go into downtown Ottawa subway stations and take an LRT to Bayview, and then transfer to a separate LRT service to Gatineau. If their destination was other than downtown Gatineau, they would then need to transfer again to bus service.

The other option was for a separate Gatineau-bound LRT train to run through the downtown tunnel, across the Flats, and then over to Gatineau, making the whole interprovincial trip in the same vehicle. This is a more attractive option than having to transfer LRT trains, and ties in nicely I thought with the design of the Bayview Station which allows trains leaving the downtown to go west  or north/south without transfers, ie same car service from the downtown to airport, or downtown to Baseline. I was really surprised then to hear some of the experts at the event declare that the tunnel would be full to capacity with OC Transpo LRT trains and there simply would not be room for Gatineau-bound trains unless another tunnel was bored just for the "loop" service.

While I confess to some scepticism about this advice, I do wonder if the DOTT planning team is planning their station designs so that someday a third or fourth track could be added to the two originally planned, ie, keep the same stations and escalators and mezannines but increase the carrying capacity by adding additional tracks.

Bus noise: I am concerned to see some of the interprovincial transit options including running way more STO buses through the downtown than before. Way to go ... Ottawa residents will pay to go deep underground while Quebecers inherit the streets. Result: despite the reputed superior fashion-sense of Quebecers, there would be no net improvement to the street environment.

And, the NCC evaluation criteria did not seem to consider the noise of BRT on adjacent residents or quality of life in downtown neighborhoods. Traffic noise is a big factor for downtown residents, it is bizarre to be planning for major increases in bus use without even mentioning the noise and dirt and deteriorated quality of life that would engender.

Almost as bad, and taking some sort of prize for short-term thinking, was the suggestion to run STO buses across the Prince of Wales bridge to a transfer station on the Flats at Bayview. It was a mistake made decades ago to convert the Alexandra bridge from rail to car, and now we are looking at mega-bucks to convert it back ... why on earth would we do the same mistake to the POW knowing that in 20 to 30 years we would be converting it back to rail?

Finally, a comment on how we treat transit users. A certain percentage of users have limited transportation choices, due to income constraints. They'll take the bus because they don't have a {second, third} car. They are captive. They will suffer through buses that get caught in traffic. Or are routed into giant ditches, while motorists get millions of dollars spent to have "scenic" routes into the core.

But if we want transit to be a viable, lifetime option for individuals who do not have cars (the young, elderly, lower income, students, enviro-nuts, etc) or who can choose to drive but don't, or if the city wants to shift modal split onto transit to avoid building ever more roads, then it has to offer attractive amenities to induce the ridership that has a choice.*

 For the downtown loop, I love the idea of the LRT taking the Prince of Wales bridge because it offers great views to riders; and if the other part of the loop used the surface of the Alexandra bridge (which was designed and built, like the POW, as a railway bridge) then there would be even greater views. Imagine, taking the loop would be a scenic, attractive activity bringing sensory pleasure to the ridership. It would even induce tourist traffic just because it would be so nice. Sane tourists going to big cities use transit and avoid bringing their private car downtown -- or does Ottawa want to remain small-town with acres of its core dedicated to storing automobiles?

If transit is to be a viable competitor to surface roads and private cars, then it can't always be shoved onto the least-attractive corridors or into ditches. As far as I know, LRT trains won't shrivel up in the sunlight, passengers won't morph into zombies if they have a nice view. Maybe the comatose cubicle farm inhabitants snoozing in their LRT trains will wake up with some of that famous NCC landscaping.

*[I kinda like the Ottawa River Parkway routing option for the west LRT just for that reason: it gives transit users a first class view. And it might even do that by bumping two lanes of the Ottawa River Commuter Expressway off the waterfront.]


  1. The CCCA warned early on in the DOTT planning stages that too few stations downtown will reduce the number of trains that can be downtown at any given time, thereby requiring them to all be six-car trains before very long.

    This will require all stations to be built to accommodate six-car trains throughout the entire system, drastically increasing the cost of further expanding beyond the initial 12 stations. It will also preclude multiple lines on the same track, due to the limited number of trains that can go through downtown.

    Staff's response to this concern--I kid you not--was that this was an operational issue, for OC Transpo management to deal with once it is built.

  2. @Charles

    I must be missing something. I don't see why more stations would add to system capacity. It might result in more trains downtown at the same time, but it would accomplish that by extending the amount of time each train spends downtown. I don't understand why that would have any impact on the throughput.

    If the entire loop is 1 hour, and you've got 2 minute headways then maybe you can have 30 trains running simultaneously. Adding more stations (without extending the line) and slowing down the system so it takes 90 minutes for a complete loop may result in an increase in the number of trains from 30 to 45, but it doesn't actually improve capacity. It's still one train every two minutes.