Friday, June 19, 2009

Western light-rail study to include Carling

First, Carling Avenue wasn't an option for Ottawa's western light-rail corridor. Then Councillors Clive Doucet and Christine Leadman suggested it proceed as the option for that corridor. Then that idea was kiboshed by council. Then it was suggested that Carling may be a secondary corridor. Now, according to the Ottawa Citizen, the city staff's study into that western leg of the rail line will include Carling, as well as the Ottawa River Parkway and Byron Avenue--despite the fact that, almost a full year ago, Councillor Alex Cullen was already saying it was "too late" to make such a change.

From the Citizen:

City transit planning officials had originally planned to look only at the Ottawa River Parkway and a nearby former tramway corridor running along Byron Avenue as possible western rapid-transit link to the planned light rail system from Bayview to Baseline Station.

Carling Avenue was going to be looked at separately as a residential light-rail route.

However, after concern was raised on council and in the public over running trains along the parkway (concerns include the effect on nearby residents and whether the federal government will permit trains on the land it owns), the area to be studied was expanded to determine whether the Carling route could serve.

Don't let anyone tell you that your e-mail to and discussions with your councillor were for nothing.

The debate about whether to choose Carling over the Parkway has been one of the most heated aspects of the current transit plan discussions, second perhaps to Ottawa's downtown tunnel. Several months ago, we published an article regarding the merits of running light-rail along Carling Avenue, but the Ottawa River Parkway has merits of its own--most notably the cost. Should the city obtain permission from the National Capital Commission to run rail along the Parkway (far from a sure thing, at this point), that line would cost an estimated one-third of what rail along Carling Avenue would cost (EDIT: Referring to the initial construction costs, that is, not the associated operating costs of any finished rail line).

Which is your preferred option, Carling Avenue or the Ottawa River Parkway? Why?


david said...

I guess the question is who the light rail is supposed to serve.

If it's intended only for people outside the Greenbelt, to get them to and from work downtown, then the Parkway makes sense from a cost perspective.

However, if it's also intended for use by people *inside* the Greenbelt, then it should run somewhere people actually live and work, like Carling, rather than through empty parkland.

RealGrouchy said...

I was at an event yesterday where someone suggested the City might have to buy land from the NCC for the Parkway corridor, which would cost (according to this person) $90M at market rates.

If true, this would definitely impact the cost:benefit ratio of this option, especially in comparison to the Carling corridor, which the City already owns almost completely.

David said...

I say neither.

It should go in the Richmond/Byron corridor. Like Carling, it's City-owned but unlike Carling it will require minimal property acquisition for widening (hello lawyers' fees and delays). It will probably have more utility relocation than the Parkway, but a lot less than Carling.

The corridor has development on both sides for most of its length (like Carling but unlike the Parkway) and like Carling it has decent potential for some further redevelopment. The stations can easily be designed to fit into the surrounding communities and the issue of remote stations far from any other activity with attendant personal security issues, as would be the case for the Parkway, is avoided.

The corridor is more direct than either Carling or the Parkway and has few cross streets where arguing over grade separation is going to be an issue (only Woodroffe and Richmond itself). An LRT line in the Richmond corridor could also avoid having Richmond widened to four lanes, only minimally touches the Parkway corridor and doesn't leave the Transitway trench in limbo (if it's not used for trains, will buses continue to use it? if not buses, then what... cars?).

All and all, Richmond/Byron is the way to go.

david said...

David: Byron is a very interesting idea, since it used to hold light rail anyway (the old tramway).

On the down side, you'll be cutting right through residential streets and school routes the whole way, so back-street crossings are going to be an issue. Light rail on Carling or the Parkway can probably travel 50-70 km/hour, while light rail on Byron will likely average 20-30 km/hour at best, slowing down for every level crossing.

It will also be a fight to get local residents to give up the long strip of greenspace and recreation paths that replaced the tram.

Anonymous said...

I seriously question the concept that the Ottawa River Parkway will be "cheaper".

Sure, to put the rail in the ground, it might be. But, that's really not the important cost. The IMPORTANT cost is the OPERATING COST.

Remember: the only reason to spend capital is to reduce your operating cost. If it doesn't reduce in lower operating costs, it is bad money.

a) If you serve only the suburban->downtown commuters, then you have to dead head trains back in the opposite direction. That's a cost. Stay with a friend in Oakville for a week, and take the GO at 6:30am into the city. (Bring some BTO for your walkman). You'll see the trains going in the opposite direction *empty*. What you are seeing is removal of economic activity from what used to be towns in their own right.

b) the ORP route is gonna be slow, because the route is so twisty, with S curves that prevent super-elevation. The result is that it takes more trains (in both directions), and fails to provide service to the people who are most impacted by the loss of the Parkway.

Peter Raaymakers said...

Thanks for the clarification, mcr. I should specify the 'cost' I'm referring to in the article is the up-front construction cost; I'm not educated enough to speak to the operating costs of any future line, but you make some great points about how they could quickly climb on the NCC line. And that doesn't even include the 'soft cost' of sacrificing some beautiful greenspace, not does it include the possibility of the NCC making Ottawa buy that land, as RealGrouchy suggested as a possibility.

david said...

Here's another point to consider: Ottawa is the only big city I know of without a single downtown hospital. If we build the light rail line along Carling, then at least there will be a fast connection from the downtown to the Civic Hospital.

Then again, people are talking about moving the Civic even further from downtown, because downtown already has too many hospitals, where "too many" appears to be a synonym for "zero".

Keith said...

I second the comment about using the Byron/Richmond corridor. Transit should be about much more than mere rush-hour commuter service.

If Ottawa truly wants to supports urban development then it has to place rapid transit corridors in places that will support such development. Both Carling and Byron/Richmond would meet this criteria. However, the city is right in suggesting that Carling should get its only LRT line eventually. Meanwhile, the Byron/Richmond corridor offers immense potential to build LRT correctly. The LRT could be placed in a trench to offer a fully segregated, grade separated corridor. This would offer the best combination of speed and potential for urban development along that corridor....and it would provide additional stops near actual riders. All the ORP offers is speed, which might not mean that much when you have rail transit which has better acceleration and higher top speeds and uses a direct and notably shorter path.

D Gourley said...

The Byron route grade separated is the best I think. It is closer to people and is in an area that can be intensified in a walker friendly manner. Carling avenue, is very car friendly and trying to be walker friendly when all stores have large parking lots in front of them fails every time.

ByronLrt said...

I live near Byron Avenue and I think that it would be great for lrt since it held the old tramway. My questions is the cost of the trnch and why it cannot be put on the surface with crossings like the Edmonton ETS Lrt. My other question is how the trains are going to get to Byron from Tunney's.

Also, when the trains get to churchill, they are going to run into trouble since the street narrows to go down a hill and the parc does not return until after Golden Avenue.

In general, I think lrt on byron is a great idea which can truly help our city.