Thursday, September 25, 2008

Implementation a common debate

Perusing public transit headlines around the Internet, I came across a debate similar to Ottawa's current discussion of how best to begin our transit plans. The areas in and around Indianapolis, undertaking a similar project to upgrading their transit infrastructure, are also debating whether to begin North-South or East-West, ironically enough. Here's a quick excerpt from their debate, as published in the Indy Star:
One of the most common questions we get from constituents when they hear we serve as CIRTA board members is, "Why are we talking about building a mass transit line to Hamilton County first? Why not go west -- especially when a new airport is about to open?"

The answer is that while we represent the folks in our area, our job as CIRTA board members is to do what's best for the region. Starting with the Northeast Corridor is indeed what's best for the region. The good news is that it's also what's best for the west side.

The best way to prove that mass transit can work in Central Indiana is to start in the area of greatest opportunity and lowest cost. After plenty of study and discussion, it was decided that running a line from Downtown Indianapolis to Hamilton County offered the winning opportunity-and-cost combination.
Certainly an interesting debate. It also deals with the naturally opposed viewpoints of NIMBY people (not in my backyard!) and the WIMBY people (when in my backyard?). Most important for Ottawa to keep in mind is beginning with the most effective route--whether that prove to be north-south or east-west--in order to get off on the right foot, and to prove to funding partners (federal and provincial) that their money is spent wisely. Another part of the story, preaching lessons learned from improperly-implemented Nashville transit plans:

The Hamilton County-to-Downtown line is seen as the first leg in a region-wide system. Success there will give us a track record on which we can build a system that will reach in every direction.

That initial success is important to attracting federal funds for expansion. Our counterparts in Nashville, Tenn., started with a route in an area that was not ideal and, as a result, have seen ridership well below projections. It's unlikely that it will attract federal support for future legs.

Some lessons to learn from, to be sure.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Clashes over Parkway LRT

Some Ottawa residents have made their dislike of plans for rail on the Ottawa River Parkway well known, as reported in the Ottawa Citizen and Metro. The Save the Parkway coalition rallied some citizens outside of the Nepean Sportsplex to protest the current transit plans' inclusion of the Parkway as a light-rail corridor.

Not many of the protestors quoted were able to convey their reasons for protesting, only that they were staunchly against rail on the Parkway. Resident Patty Walker, as quoted in the Citizen article, said:

"We love the parkway. ... I think it is a matter of a quality of life and I don't think the cheapest way is the best way to make it happen."
Mayor Larry O'Brien, also quoted in the Citizen story, said that he's been happy with the directions the open houses have gone to date. He has discusses beginning rail to the south and the east, allowing more time to explore the Parkway and other westbound options.

"All in all, I think we are starting to reach a pretty good consensus that we have to start with the downtown core, solve the downtown problem first," the mayor said.

"Now, I am starting to get some pretty good feelings that we will be able to solve some of the problems for people in the east and we should be able to solve problems for people in the south.

"The west, they have got a pretty reasonable transportation system set up, (so) we are going to be able to work around that for a while."

I'm not going to editorialize on O'Brien's comments, but I think he may be leaving out what residents of the west communicated his way in the Glen Cairn open house.

Finally, Transit Committee Chair and Bay Ward Councillor Alex Cullen, quoted in the Metro, tried to ease some of the concerns of the Parkway rail opponents:
“There is a misconception that light rail along the parkway would bring fences and gravel roadbeds, but that’s the last thing the city wants. We want to retain as much of the greenery as possible, but you just can’t ignore the public investment at Scott Street and Lincoln Fields,” he said.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bike-share program in the works

According to the Ottawa Citizen, the cities of Ottawa, Gatineau, and the National Capital Commission (NCC) are looking into a bicycle-sharing program that would allow users to rent bikes and return them when they reach their destination. The idea is similar to those already existing in Paris and Lyon, which have been discussed previously on this blog. A quote from Marie Lemay, the chief executive officer of the NCC, from the Citizen story:

"There will be about 400 bikes in Montreal next spring and I noticed when I was in Washington, D.C., for three days that they have them there. The idea is to replace cars when you move from one place to another."

Ms. Lemay said commuters could swipe user cards to pick up bicycles at a network of stations and leave the bikes at the station closest to their destination. The bikes would probably be free for a short period, but cost money afterward to encourage commuters to use them briefly instead of renting them for a day or more.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Kanata councillors rail against beginning LRT to south and east

At the Transportation Master Plan Open House in Glen Cairn on Thursday night, all three Kanata councillors--Shad Qadri of Kanata West-Stittsville, Peggy Feltmate of Kanata South, and Mariannce Wilkinson of Kanata North--spoke out against the favoured implementation scenario of city staff and council's Planning Committee.

The third implementation scenario outlines a first phase which would see light-rail transit (LRT) east to Blair Station, south to Riverside South, and west to Tunney's Pasture, as well as bus-rapid transit improvements in Kanata, Barrhaven, and Orléans. As the Ottawa Citizen reported on Sept. 12, Scenario 3 (S3, for brevity's sake) "got the quick endorsement of some influential city council members yesterday, including Mayor Larry O'Brien, transit committee chairman Alex Cullen, planning and environment committee chairman Peter Hume and River Councillor Maria McRae."

Councillors Wilkinson and Feltmate, however, felt that this third scenario was simply reliving the old argument about whether to begin rail by moving east-to-west or by moving north-to-south. Much of the southern leg of the third scenario, critics say, is a reflection of the rejected North-South Line was such a huge issue--possibly the biggest--in the last election. (You can read a bit more about that debate in a previous blog post here.)

Both Feltmate and Wilkinson supported implementation Scenario 4 (S4), which includes in the first phase LRT east to Blair Station and west to Baseline as well as an extension of the O-Train southwards. The estimated cost is $2.4B, compared to $2.6B for Scenario 3.

One issue Wilkinson outlined specifically is the cost-effectiveness of S3 compared to S4: according to the City's own Evaluation Summary (PDF), S3 meets 'fewer' of the city's cost-effectiveness goals, whereas S4 meets 'more' (their words, not mine). Wilkinson predicted an 8-9% increase in property taxes to pay off the deficit S3's operating and capital costs per passenger-mile would, according to Wilkinson, bring about. Wilkinson also suggested that the time it would take to complete the downtown tunnel and east portion of the plan would be more than enough to answer the NCC's concerns with development on the Ottawa River Parkway, and to explore other options (Wilkinson suggested the Byron option as one alternative).

Feltmate had similar arguments to Wilkinson. She suggested that "bringing back the south plan is wrong at this point in time" because the last election was fought over whether to start with north-south or east-west transit. Something in favour of S3 is the Ease of Implementation (as outlined on the City's Evaluation Summary once again), in which S3 achieves far more goals than S4. Feltmate countered, however, suggesting that "just because it's ready doesn't mean we should be throwing good money away [on it]."

Although I didn't speak to Qadri personally, he was very vocal at the open house. He has also released e-mails and circulars stating his opposition to S3. You can read Qadri's stance on his website, but I think an e-mail that he sent to constituents sums up his position well:
I cannot support such an endeavour, as it closely resembles the original north-south proposal drafted in 2006, which I campaigned on defeating.

While the proposed third implementation scenario is the first phase in a long-term transit vision, it is imperative we properly capture the needs and demands of our entire City.

The west-end of Ottawa is growing at a rapid rate, both in terms of residential units, as well as employment. With this in mind, a reliable, fast and efficient transit system is vital to maintaining, and advancing, the infrastructure needs in Ottawa’s west-end.
--Shad Qadri
To learn more about the implementation options, I highly recommend you visit the City's Transportation Master Plan website, especially the section on Implementation, and look at the graphics on the various implementation scenarios. Although it seems to be a two-scenario race at the moment, there are certainly dfferences worth examining. And that Evaluation Summary is a great synopsis of the numbers behind the options. Feel free to e-mail with any questions, or offer your comments in the comments section below.

Fact or fiction: Light rail

Similar to Ottawa, Kansas City is having discussions about light-rail in the city, and the Kansas City Star recently printed an article exploring the common myths and realities related to installing a light-rail system in the city. Because it lends itself so well to our situation, I'll reprint some parts of the story, but be sure to check out the full site and read all they have to offer if you're interested in more information.

Issue: Light rail would take cars off the streets as some drivers become riders, thus reducing traffic congestion.
Fact or myth: Myth.
If there is one truism about traffic congestion, it is that it consistently grows throughout a metropolitan area. That is because populations and the number of vehicles and drivers keep growing.


Issue: Light rail would be dangerous for riders because it attracts criminals and would lead to a wave of crime.
Fact or myth: Big myth
... light rail opponents cited some fights and stabbings on the Portland, Ore., MAX system, including one story that quoted a police sergeant saying “the MAX has been a living nightmare for us.”

Yet those critics can’t name another city where crime has been a problem on light rail besides one section of Portland’s system.


Issue: Light rail, by taking some vehicles off the streets, would lower pollution and improve air quality.
Fact or myth: Fact, but barely.
Light rail runs on electricity, powered by overhead lines, so an American Public Transportation Association report called light rail “the most energy-efficient mode of public transportation.” The report found that once gasoline and electricity were converted to standard BTUs, light rail required less energy per passenger mile than automobiles.


Issue: Light rail would get you to your destination faster than a car.
Fact or myth: Largely a myth.
There could be times when light rail would be faster than a car. It would just depend on where you are going.


Issue: Light-rail projects tend to run over estimates.
Fact or myth: Fact
Light rail is like any major public infrastructure project — it is bound to run into complications that can drive up costs. A number of cities such as Dallas and Denver are dealing with large increases in project costs driven, in part, by the rising price of asphalt and steel.

--Kansas City Star

Light rail on the Parkway: The Issues

Emerging as one of the most contentious issues in Ottawa's transit planning is the use of NCC land along the Ottawa River Parkway to run light-rail alonside the river. The NCC has expressed a reluctance--to put it mildly--and have implored city planners and councillors to explore other options before committing to the Parkway option.


  1. Scenic route allows for a pleasant train ride.
  2. Arguably less environmentally damaging than buses.
  3. Least disruptive to current roadways and residences.
  4. Likely most cost-effective (due to lack of residential and road disruptions).
  5. Possibly a shorter distane travelled.

  1. Difficult to cross when walking to river.
  2. Low population density, so people need to walk to get to train stations.
  3. Arguably disruptive to greenspace.
  4. More banked curves for rail car to negotiate.
There are obviously opinions on both sides of the debate. Recently in the Ottawa Metro, columnist Nadine Doolittle argued in favour of running rail along the Parkway:

I’m assuming the only “buffer” residents will accept is the four-lane strip of tarmac affectionately known as the Ottawa River Parkway. Originally designed as a scenic route, it now functions primarily as a downtown commuter artery for west-end residents, where speed limits are routinely ignored and the air is always scented with exhaust fumes.

But hey, this is NCC land and it’s their call. For its part, the commission wants every other option exhausted before they’ll consider giving permission to run light rail along the route.

Apparently they can accept 250 diesel buses per hour currently bombing down the parkway, but a clean, quiet train has them puzzled. Which means three years of environmental assessments, consultations, studies, open houses, possible expropriation, and so on—all at a cost to the city—before the NCC can render its verdict.
Doolittle also mentions a number of Federal politicians in opposition of rail on the Parkway. Ottawa Centre candidates Penny Collenette (Liberal), Brian McGarry (Conservative), and Paul Dewar (NDP) all suggested that they wouldn't stand for it. Ottawa West-Nepean Conservative candidate and incumbent John Baird has been quoted as being strongly against the idea. Without federal will, it might be difficult to secure the permission of the NCC to go ahead. Difficult, but not impossible; it would be a shame if the Parkway turned out to be the best option, but political posturing forced the city into other alternatives.

On this blog, we have explored two other options: One running rail along the Queensway, and the other running rail along Carling. Both of these solve the cons, but have negative aspects of their own. There are likely more options, too, and I'm sure some of them are good ones. Any and all are welcome in the comments section. It is up to the city to determine which is the absolute best, taking all variables into consideration.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Reliving the North-South/East-West transit debate

A story that appeared in Nepean This Week on Sept. 12 summed up the current debate of where to begin the current transit plan, with the north-south leg of the rail or the east-west leg, so check it out or read an entry I wrote about it a while ago here.

The issue is difficult. In favour of beginning with the west-to-east leg:
  1. Ridership from the west is significantly higher than that from the south.
  2. Population in the west (especially Kanata and Stittsville) is already much higher than in the south, and that gap is expected to increase significantly in the next two decades.
  3. The last election was based on cancelling the previous North-South Transit Line after significant public outrage; Mayor Larry O'Brien made it the chief issue of the election.
The chief problem with beginning in the west, however, is that the plan in its current state calls for rail along the NCC-owned Ottawa River Parkway, and their assessment of whether to allow it to proceed could take up to three years. Even then it's not certain they'd allow it. So the risk is waiting up to three years in the hopes of starting the plan where it should, realistically, begin and then having those plans rejected by the NCC.

The mayor and members of the planning committee are suggesting that construction begin heading east and south from downtown. Critics, including West Carleton-March Coun. Eli El-Chantiry (as quoted in the Nepean This Week article), are suggesting this is simply presenting the old plan all over again:
“You’re going back to the original plan basically,” he said. “You have a goat dressed like a sheep now.”
--Eli El-Chantiry, in Nepean This Week

The difference is that this new plan has a much higher price tag, and stops short of the suburbs to the south of the city--namely Barrhaven, wheremost riders heading into town from the south would begin their trips.

This issue will not go away. City open houses, which have already begun and will continue this week, will generate feedback from citizens on their preferences (click here to see the schedule; I plan on attending the meeting tomorrow in Glen Cairn). Time will tell what citizens say, but I have a feeling that many will agree with El-Chantiry.

What seems obvious is that the only obstacle in the way of beginning with the downtown-bound west leg of rail is the NCC considering whether or not to allow rail along the Ottawa River Parkway, and whether or not citizens want the main rail line moving down a sparsely-populated, bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly greenspace. If the answer to either of these questions is no, then the city planners and council will need to find a new route for the west-to-downtown line. An interesting take on the NCC debate was presented in a letter published in the Ottawa Citizen by Ottawa resident Gerald Fiori last week:
I am wondering just what is the national mandate of the National Capital Commission?

Is it to allow pollution of the national capital with policies that encourage more and more cars? Is it to destroy the other rail locations so that its sacred ground is not touched?

Do the NCC officials think the only way to enjoy the parkway and the Ottawa River is to drive on it?

I am sure hundreds of thousands of commuters and public transit riders could enjoy the parkway from a train. In my mind, it is unfortunate that the current Transitway cuts off the parkway at Dominion station going into downtown rather than continuing along the river.
Whatever your opinion of rail on the parkway is, Fiori does make an interesting point. Something for Parkway rail critics and the NCC to consider, at any rate, and I'll leave it at that.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Construction update: Bayshore Station

I stopped by Bayshore Station on Sunday to snap some photos of the current project. Although I can't source any official City documentation, the project appears to be a Transitway extension alongside the westbound lanes of the 417, then running underneath Richmond Road while working its way into Bayshore Station. The image below, based on a Google Map, illustrates the leg from the Richmond Road underpass towards Bayshore Station, where I took the photos:

As you can see, the roadway runs underneath Richmond Road and straight into Bayshore Station. Unfortunately the Google satellite image is quite outdated, and shows none of the construction, or the fact that the Richmond Road 417 on-ramp (the ramp joining the more vertical roadway, Richmond, to the more horizontal roadway, the 417) is now closed. Below are a few photos, and there are a few more on a Flickr album that is open for public viewing.

The view of the work from Richmond Road while driving over the 417.

Looking down the Transitway, through the Richmond Road underpass (standing roughly where the Richmond Road on-ramp used to be).

Friday, September 12, 2008

Feltmate on bicycles and students on buses

TransitOttawa recently talked to Ottawa city councillor Peggy Feltmate (Ward 23, Kanata South) for the first time since March. She offered her views on expanded cycling in Kanata and a Universal Bus Pass for the city's post-secondary students.

In June, City Council approved a $24.6-million Cycling Plan. Feltmate commented on the benefits for Kanata of such a network:

"There are whole pieces in Kanata where there are links missing for ... commuting bicycles. It’s very daunting for people to cycle there, and they end up taking recreational pathways, which is not the most direct route or probably even the best route for people who are also using those pathways for walking or running, or those kinds of things.

"I think the Cycle Plan will bring together those missing links that will ... encourage people [to cycle], because at the present time, I’m not sure that when you have the missing links and the kinds of safety concerns that I hear from people, that people are going to take up cycling.

University of Ottawa students voted in February to lobby the City for a $125-per-semester Universal Bus Pass. Feltmate was supportive:

"I met with some students a couple of years ago, two or three years ago, about it. It can make a lot of sense, in terms of being more efficient. I suppose that for some students it would be wasteful if they don’t need it, but, you know, I think if the students are interested than it probably seems to make sense.

"I’m not going to push for it if the students aren’t interested, but if the students are interested in it ... I would vote for it."

Transit plan timeline: Where to begin?

Since agreeing in principle to a light-rail transit plan, Ottawa city council is now faced with the problem of deciding what phases to construct the transit system. There have been a few stories about the problems, with Kanata North Councillor Marianne Wilkinson promising a "war" if Kanata isn't involved in the first phase of the plan, while four east end councillors, Rainer Bloess, Michel Bellemare, Rob Jellett and Bob Monette, declared that they wouldn't vote in favour of any plan unless rail heads east in the first phase.

The current debate, as elaborated upon in the Citizen today, is whether or not the plan should move forward on the east-to-west and north-south lines while negotiating the west-to-east line along the Parkway with the National Capital Commission--who have expressed a reluctance to allow rail on the scenic road--and explore other potential options for the west-to-east route--including Carling Avenue.

This is contentious because a large proportion of commuters are heading east from the west, including Stittsville and Kanata. It also raises the question of why council voted against the north-south rail line that former mayor Bob Chiarelli proposed if the transit plans, now several years later, are simply going to begin with what city council of his era had agreed upon. Still, some supporters of moving forward with the north-south and east-bound legs of the system rather than waiting until the NCC discussions, which may take several years, to be resolved.

Personally, I think it remains important that light-rail start moving forward as soon as possible. The studies, environmental assessments, and land purchases allow for the north-south line to go forward, but it isn't the most pressing portion of the plan. If a decision can't be made on the west-to-east line, however, beginning the plan with other phases while sorting out that one might be the best possible scenario. Then again, the work finished would hardly solve any problems on its own; the north-south line is only realistically positive as a part of a larger plan.

EDIT: To voice your opinions on the planning process of the new transit plan, visit one of the city's open houses (see the dates in this previous blog post, or on the website).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Open houses about Ottawa's Transit Master Plan

Just saw a notice announcing a number of open houses where interested citizens can attend to learn or discuss the city's Transportation Master Plan. Here are the dates and places, all events are from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.:
  • Thursday, September 11: Ottawa City Hall – Main Floor Rotunda Area, 110 Laurier Avenue West (at Elgin Street)
  • Monday, September 15: Jim Durrell Recreation Centre – Elwood Hall, 1265 Walkley Road (near Bank Street)
  • Tuesday, September 16: Bob MacQuarrie Recreation Complex – Orléans, 1490 Youville Drive (near Highway 174)
  • Thursday, September 18: Glen Cairn Community Centre (Upper Hall), 186 Morrena Drive (near Castlefrank and Hazeldean)
  • Monday, September 22: Nepean Sportsplex – Salon A, 1701 Woodroffe Avenue (near West Hunt Club)

You can also visit beforehand to brush up on some of the finer points of the plan. The website has a pretty good breakdown of the components of the TMP, including the section on public transit, talking especially about the recently-approved light rail transit plan (Option 4). It's certainly worth perusing, and it might be interesting to head out to one of the open houses. I'm certainly going to try to get to one, so I will offer an update of what I see and hear there.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The John Baird LRT Saga makes Scandalpedia

The Liberal Party announced their launch of a Scandalpedia website this week, which documents their impressions of the various Conservative Party "scandals" that have occured while that party has been in government.

Political manouvering aside, there was an entry about the cancelled North-South LRT line, and any impact John Baird may have had on influencing the election and subsequent cancellation of that project. It is an interesting article, at any rate.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

NDP would give a lot to public transit: Layton

In his ongoing campaign to announce (seemingly) thousands of "pledges" of millions of dollars to various public transit funds (see: Regina, Montreal (and Montreal again), Toronto, Guelph, Vancouver, Hamilton, and probably more press releases that I haven't seen), NDP federal leader Jack Layton threw Ottawa in the mix recently, too.

According to the NDP press release:

“For Ottawa alone, our plan to dedicate one cent per litre of the federal gas tax to transit would mean $73.6 million over four years,” said Layton. “And Ottawa’s share of the transit revenue from our cap-and-trade plan would mean an additional $64.3 million over four years.”

This is new money that can be used for various local transit priorities – this could mean things like new vehicles, improved security or lower fares. For example, the NDP investment of $137.9 million over four years is the equivalent of purchasing as many as 324 new buses for Ottawa.

Although Ottawa's not really in the market for 324 new buses (the plans are moving towards light-rail more than rapid buses), federal funding is always welcome for public transit. An article about the pledge appeared in the Ottawa Sun on Sept. 3, but didn't really add much to the story.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

And you thought $4B was a lot...

The estimated price tag of $4M for Ottawa's current transit plan looks like peanuts compared with the $55B transit plan that is currently being put forward by the Toronto Transit Commission. According to the afore-linked story in the Globe and Mail, the plan is estimated to run over the course of 25 years, a similar timeline to the transit plan in Ottawa. It is also, apparently, a relatively conservative idea when compared to other plans, including one concept that could have $90B.

Granted, the plan does include funding for "Express GO Transit rail service from downtown Toronto to Hamilton, Oshawa, Brampton, Richmond Hill and Mississauga, running every 15 minutes, all day, in both directions". If Ottawa's plan were amended to include rail from Kanata, Barrhaven, Orleans, and possibly other suburbs the price tag would certainly rise, but $55B?

Best comment on the story comes from RD Lone of Vancouver:
"They should just make a series of long conveyer belts along Eglinton like in the Jetsons. I bet it would cost less than $50 billion."

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

STO gets the boot from King Edward

In a move that is necessary, if possibly not a great way to encourage cooperation with the STO, Ottawa city council decided to give the Gatineau transit company one year to find alternate arrangements than their current use of King Edward Avenue to lay-up their buses. From an Ottawa Citizen article:

After years of inaction, city council voted yesterday to give Gatineau a year to come up with a plan to stop using King Edward Avenue and other Lowertown streets as a parking lot for their public buses.

Residents of Lowertown have lobbied the city for years to do something about Gatineau buses idling while clogging up busy streets. As the years have dragged on, the situation has gotten worse with more buses using the area, but little has been done.

The article went on to say that Somerset Councillor Diane Holmes was open to helping Gatineau come up with an alternate arrangement, which was a solid move in the interests of cooperation. Once the buses stop using King Edward, it should greatly improve traffic flow and maybe air quality in the area. It will definitely make the neighbourhood a little more pleasant for residents.