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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This parkway/Byron business is a bit of a red herring as far as delaying a rail plan is concerned. We, as a city, have decided, rightly or wrongly, to proceed with a tunnel downtown from the outset. The timeframe for the tunnel is on the order of a decade. Surely we can resolve the westend routing in that time. So what if it takes 3 years to decide on a routing? - there's still 7 more years left to do everything else. If we were going to be using a surface solution downtown it might be an issue since we could start on that within a year, but as we're going with a tunnel it's one giant red herring.