Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Deconstructing the latest transit noptions - Intro and Part I: Parkway?"

Earlier in September, CBC covered the latest level of "options" presented to the City, in a story headlined East-west line to be built 1st in Ottawa's rapid transit network. CBC has a PDF of the four options here.

I received an e-mail five days ago saying that consultation on the Transportation Master Plan update at ottawa.ca/ottawatalks would be over today. I had been wanting to do a detailed post about this latest plan, so I figured now would be the best time to do it.

The site Ottawa.Econsultations.ca has a public-consultey forum on Rapid Transit Implementation Scenarios. They don't have a link to the City's documents on the matter (Click on the blue links along the left.). They don't even have the maps, just a "brief description of each scenario", then ask you to choose which one you like best and comment. They describe the differences between the options thusly:

"Scenario 1 (Tunnel & LRT East) – This scenario is based on constructing LRT from Blair Station to Tunney’s Pasture Station in the first phase of construction.

"Scenario 2 (Tunnel & LRT West) – This scenario is based on constructing LRT from Baseline Station to St. Laurent Station in the first phase of construction.

"Scenario 3 (Tunnel & LRT East & South) – This scenario is based on constructing LRT from Blair Station to Tunney’s Pasture Station and from Bayview Station to a station in Riverside South Centre in the first phase of construction.

"Scenario 4 (Tunnel & LRT East & West) – This scenario is based on constructing LRT from Baseline Station to Blair Station in the first phase of construction."
As with the last round of "options", most of the comments (which, admittedly, I only glanced at) are focused on the differences between the four options, along the lines of "Option X has component A, while the others don't, so we should choose Option X [which also happens to have components B through H]." However, the parts common to all options are just as important, and I'll get to that in Part II of this analysis, and the differences in Part III if I get the time.

Many of the comments discuss the relative merits and detriment of running rail along the Ottawa River Parkway. Here's my armchair analysis of that question.

Rail on the Ottawa River Parkway: Yes or No?

Under a 'temporary' agreement with the NCC, OC Transpo buses currently use the Ottawa River Parkway to connect between the Transitway segments along Scott Street and South of Carling. The City wants to continue to use this corridor for its rail plan, which would involve putting down tracks between the Parkway's two pairs of lanes, or North or South of them.

The NCC and area residents are pretty strongly opposed to this, because they don't like the idea of rapid transit in or near their neighbourhoods (ironic, since proprety values tend to be higher near rapid transit). They also think that rail in this corridor would reduce visual and physical access to enjoying the greenspace (also a weak argument, as it's much easier to cross two rail tracks when one train passes every three minutes than to cross the current four lanes of constant motor traffic). Europe has many examples of rail lines--even in urban areas--where the rail has grass growing along it, and you can only tell there's a rail line there when the train goes over it. This contrasts with the North American view of rail, where you can't put it up without six-foot fencing to keep pedestrians off. Funny that you don't see such fencing along Hunt Club Road or Baseline!)

Councillor Clive Doucet doesn't like the Parkway corridor option mainly because he thinks rail should go along Carling. One reason for this is that along Carling it would run along multiples neighbourhoods, providing better transit access to more people (a goal I agree with). Another reason is that Clive believes the City will only be able to get provincial and federal funding for new transit corridors, and not for converting existing bus corridors to rail (an argument I don't give much gruff, given the provincial and federal politicians' apparent eagerness for the City to develop a plan for them to throw money at).

Detractors of the Carling option say that transit on Carling would be anything but rapid. I've taken the 85 so I can understand where this comes from, but the Transitway running along Scott street isn't as slow as the 18 on Scott street, which is a good analogy to rebut that criticism.

City Staff, the Mayor, and Transit Committee Chair Alex Cullen, on the other hand, say that the Ottawa River Parkway was part of the overall plan "chosen" by Council (despite the fact that the same corridor was in all four "options", and the same trio quashed most discussion on council about anything other than the four "options"), and that the Parkway is the best option.

I suspect the best option would be a variant of using the Byron/Richmond corridor, but the three corridors (Parkway, Byron, and Carling) would have to be studied in greater detail to see which one has the best value for money. I would have loved this growing up just a couple of blocks from Richmond Road. The trainophobic residents of Westboro are strongly against rail transit going anywhere near their residences, and insist that if it were to happen, it would have to be buried underground (making it prohibitively expensive). Their opposition to this and the Parkway corridor means that LRT will be built in other parts of the City first, and they will be stuck with second-class transit access until future phases of the plan (whenever the heck that will be).

The variant I like was informally suggested at a Friends of the O-Train meeting earlier this year. It would involve going straight after leaving the current Dominion bus stop, and traveling along the North edge of the residences (okay, a tricky point there) before crossing to Richmond at Cleary. You'd have to buy and tear down the little strip mall there (back in the day there used to be a Beckers there; I think the 23-hour sign shop might still be there), and/or the (former?) house on the Northwest corner of that T-intersection (which is not a likely option. It would continue along Richmond before turning South toward Lincoln Fields where the Transitway currently goes.

This would allow Transitway traffic to remain uninterrupted on the Parkway while it is being built, and it would give you new Transitway stations near where Dominion is (providing access to Westboro proper), at Woodroffe (providing a close connection for Carlingwood, Our Lady of Fatima church, YMCA, and Park Place retirement condo), and another one further West. Whenever I took the 95 downtown from Baseline, I would always regret the long stretch between Lincoln Fields and Westboro where nobody could connect to the Transitway. I also regretted this every day growing up as I waited at Westboro station to connect with the 18 or the 2, because the five trips per hour among the two routes was timed so that they were always 15-20 minutes apart. (I got much relief when Dominion station was added, as well as with the introduction of Rack & Roll).

But here's my take on the Westboro-Lincoln Fields problem: the City (I think it was Cullen) says that they don't want to study alternatives to the Parkway because it would weaken their bargaining position with the NCC. I think that's just as stupid as the earlier non-decision (among the first set of four "options") to summarily dismiss a rail option out to the suburbs, insisting that it would be prohibitively expensive.

If the City really believes this is the best option, they should (fairly) analyze the alternatives and prove it! Show us the cost projections of each alternative. Show us how fast you can move people, and how many people are served. Don't simply cover your eyes and ears and accuse non-believers of blasphemy!

Coming up: Part II: The commonalities--"noptions"--in the latest choice.

- RG>


Dave said...

Personally, I like the Parkway as a corridor. It's probably the best option to keep transit truly rapid. Richmond\Byron could work, but I can also see it getting bogged down in local traffic, which would be bad all around. And Carling? No way that's a good choice, if you ask me. Sure it runs through more neighborhoods, but it's also a busy corridor with little room for grade-separated tracks which are a must for proper RT.

No, the best bet, in my opinion, is the Parkway, perhaps with an effort made to add a station with connections to Richmond halfway between Lincoln Fields and Dominion.

Anonymous said...

I think politicians should stay out of the whole transit business. We need a clear, unbiased head who is making decisions based on efficiency and profit, not with an eye on elections. Ottawa's transit system is appalling for a city this size. They make the most inane decisions (see: not allowing pets on buses) for the most inane reasons. It's a cumbersome system that's not paying for itself. And, I have difficulty believing they'll actually ever get around to implementing any of these plans...but then I'm a tad cynical