Monday, March 10, 2008

Exclusive: Peggy Feltmate's views on the transit plans

In the first of what will hopefully be a series of comments on the recent public transit proposals put forward to Ottawa City Council, is happy to offer the views of Kanata South Councillor Peggy Feltmate. What follows is published with the permission of Feltmate's office:
This plan provides faster service to the main destinations that Kanata transit users are going to so it is definitely a step forward. Service frequency would be as good as it is today or better. Of the various options, the two that would have a rail only tunnel make the most sense.

A bus tunnel would be close to capacity from the day it was completed so additional, and probably very expensive infrastructure, would be required to accommodate growth. While the construction costs for the rail tunnel options are more expensive, the savings in the operating costs will rapid make up for the higher construction costs. Based on what I saw in Edmonton, the speed of light rail in a tunnel will more than offset the time it takes to transfer from bus to train.

One of the complaints about the plan is that light rail will not go all the way to Kanata. The cost of building a light rail route all the way from Kanata to Orleans as the first stage means that having Kanata served by the first phase of a plan for light rail will not happen - unless the federal and provincial governments significantly increase transit funding so that it matches what we see with many projects in the United States and Europe.

The other concern is cost. There is no getting around the fact that the total cost of all four options is very high and the city will not be able to afford it without help from the federal and provincial governments. What we need to remember is that there are no effective options for improving our transportation system that are not costly.

Where we most need increase capacity is in the core. The experience of other cities has shown there are no cheap and easy ways to do that.

We would save some money by running light rail along the street in the downtown and I suggested that it be studied as an option in case a tunnel was seen as prohibitively expensive. However, for light rail along the street to be reasonable fast and reliable, a street would have to be set aside entirely for light rail. Doing that would result in considerable opposition from many downtown businesses and was why a majority of councillors opposed my proposal.

Because buses take up even more space, dealing with the congestion problem for buses on Albert and Slater would require more lanes to be reserved for transit than would be needed for light rail. Based on the discussions about running light rail along the street, there would be opposition.

There is not the space in the downtown to increase road capacity. Even if it were possible, when roads are widened or new roads are built, the increase in traffic usually means any benefit will be wiped out after a maximum of five years. In contrast the capacity of a light rail tunnel will mean it will be enough to handle the expected growth in traffic for some time.
It is good that Feltmate sees that it is necessary to increase capacity in the core of the city, and that doing so is a necessary first step towards an eventual plan that would see transit running from Kanata to Orleans as well as one from Barrhaven right to downtown.

I disagree with the idea that running light-rail above ground is a suitable cost-savings measure, and am glad to see other councillors would agree. Running a study would be an unnecessary cost when you look at the counter-points that Feltmate raised in the above argument.

Thanks to Feltmate for the input. If you would like to contact her directly, her e-mail address is and her website is

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