Monday, May 31, 2010

The wonders of second-guessing

The CBC posted a pretty fun article looking at what the $930M recently spent by the federal government to provide security for the upcoming G8 and G20 summits in Toronto this June might have bought if directed elsewhere. For instance, the feds could have nationalized three NHL teams currently for sale (Phoenix, Colorado, and Atlanta) and moved them all to Canadian cities. Or forgiven the student debt for more than 33,000 Atlantic Canadian graduates. Or given every Canadian a year's worth of maple syrup, with more left over.

A few of Canada's biggest cities would have liked the money, too. From the article:
Toronto transit officials might like to get their hands on that security budget. It would've covered the cost of the Sheppard East Light Rail Transit line. But it would've taken the city four years to eat up that budget before the 15-kilometre long route opens in 2013.

Calgary could have used the cash to pay for a long-planned tunnel linking northeast communities and businesses to Calgary International Airport. The city says the estimated cost has gone from $287 million to around $900 million, so it won't likely be built this decade.
The City of Ottawa wouldn't have had a problem getting their hands on some or all of those dollars, either. We're still waiting on that funding pledge for our recent light-rail plan, which we're only asking $600M for (or even a little more, to help offset the price tag that's climbed from $1.8B to $2.1B before getting started), so $930M would have been alright, too.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What will Ottawa's LRT stations look like?

Ottawa is approaching a key moment in city building quickly, as we continue along the timeline towards construction of the $2.1B light-rail transit plan. Along the rail line from Tunney's Pasture to Blair Station, we'll see a good number of rail stations, including a few underground along the downtown tunnel. So if we're fairly certain we're going to see light-rail actually come to fruition, what will the rail stations look like?

Over on Spacing Ottawa on Tuesday, David McClelland took a look at the architecture in Ottawa's current public transit infrastructure, and discussed the merits of considering form as well as function in the design of our next big project. From the article:
"At the end of the day, let's not forget that transit is a fundamental element of public space in any big city, and that those spaces should be enjoyable and perhaps even iconic places to be in. Ottawa has traditionally shied away from truly impressive civic architecture, but the new LRT represents an excellent chance to change that philosophy. After all, it's not all that often that we start totally reconstructing our rapid transit system, so it would be tragic to let this opportunity slip by us."
So... will we get "more of the same", as McClelland put it, in the form of the red and glass and concrete hamster tubes serving as transit stations now, as seen in the topmost image?

Or maybe we'll get stations similar to those at the new Baseline Station: Aluminum supports and roofing around glass walls, which is a bit nicer looking than the red hamster cages, but could still become monotonous if implemented across the city.

A few months ago on West Side Action, Eric Darwin pondered what kind of stations we might get for our light-rail transit stations. He hoped for an instantly recognizable, dramatically designed station, similar to Detroit's Rosa Parks Transit Centre, as pictured below. It's a 25,700-square-foot transit hub that ties in the transit systems of Detroit and Windsor (hey, a station tying two different cities together? That sounds like something Ottawa could use... ). According to Arch Daily, the station had a budget of $22.5M in total; a lot for Ottawa to spend on each station, perhaps, but certainly reasonable for one or some of the largest hubs we'll have.

If we want to go crazy, look towards San Francisco for ideas on how to use our public transit infrastructure projects to bring life back into the downtown core. Below is a conceptual drawing from a few months back of a transit hub for the Bay Area, from Wired magazine:

The $4.2B price tag San Francisco might move forward with is a little pricey, but Ottawa's doesn't have to be the size of San Francisco's; size isn't really the point here, anyway. Finding a way to integrate bus, rail, pedestrian, cycling, taxi, and even personal automobile transportation into a dynamic, functional hub would do a lot for downtown. And it would put Ottawa's transit system on the map.

Realistically, something between the existing hamster tube stations and the San Francisco Space Station is likely the best solution for the City of Ottawa. Finding a shoe that fits is the key to the process of finding a good design for our transit stations.

Friday, May 21, 2010

NCC willing to budge... no, not on the Parkway

View across the Rideau Canal towards Lansdowne Park. Image © City of Ottawa.

According to reports, the National Capital Commission (NCC) would be willing to re-route the Queen Elizabeth Driveway, its scenic roadway along the Rideau Canal, in order to accommodate redevelopment plans for Lansdowne Park.

The move could be mutually beneficial: It allows Lansdowne Park some frontage on the Canal, enabling scenic pools, ponds, or fountains to be built off of it (ideas that have been bandied about in discussing the redevelopment plans), but it also offers the NCC more space to run their roadway instead of having to squeeze it between the park and the Canal. From the Ottawa Citizen:
[NCC's Executive Director of Capital Planning Fran├žois] Lapointe said the area between Lansdowne and the Rideau Canal is "not that comfortable. It's very narrow.

"If we want to create a new experience, a new meeting place and activity space, it's clear we'll need to create a more comfortable zone in that area. That may include pushing the parkway further away from the canal."
The NCC's willingness to compromise, though, is also relevant to the city's transit planning. Although the city's current plan calls for building the rail lines right along the current Transitway, and thus along the NCC-owned Ottawa River Parkway, the NCC has been reticent to give their blessing to the idea. An environmental assessment is currently underway, examining a few different options for the western portion of the transit plan: the Parkway, Carling Avenue, and Byron Avenue, with perhaps still other possibilities.

While the city might pencil the Parkway as its preferred route--due in large part to the ease of installation and the lower price point--the NCC has other factors which they'll hold in higher priority. And while there are real benefits to moving around the Queen Elizabeth Driveway, there are few (if any) positive side effects to the NCC giving prime riverside land to the City for rail development.

It remains positive, though, that the NCC is willing to negotiate and compromise with city planners in order to find mutually beneficial solutions to these problems. Once the western corridor EA is released, we'll certainly hear more debate about these different options.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Transit writers wanted

Do you have an interest in public transit in the City of Ottawa? Are you a writer who likes to keep informed on transit developments, and wants to be a part of keeping discussion and dialogue on these issues going? Then maybe you'd be a good fit as part of the writing team here at Public Transit in Ottawa.

If you're interested, please send a letter of interest along with some writing samples (a CV is optional) to today. We're looking for writers with a good ability to look into transit news analytically, and who have strong knowledge of spelling and grammar.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

So, about that federal LRT funding...

The City of Ottawa is still waiting to hear the federal government announce their intentions to match (or hopefully exceed) the provincial $600M funding pledge for the city's $2.1B light-rail transit plan. Queen's Park made its pledge back in December, and the general understanding was that a similar announcement from Federal Infrastructure Minister John Baird would come in a matter of days.

And then days became weeks. And now weeks have become months.

Some councillors, including Transit Committee Vice-Chair Marianne Wilkinson, are getting a little antsy waiting for the announcement. From 580 CFRA:
Vice Chair of Ottawa City Hall's Transit Committee Marianne Wilkinson says the environmental assessment is almost complete and she'd like to hear something concrete soon.

She suggests a delay in funding could slow down the project.
The actual groundbreaking for the project is still a ways off, but that date is getting closer, and we haven't really heard a peep since the federal governments most recent re-committing its $200M in transit plan funding--that money that's been on the table for years, waiting for a transit plan to fund.

Hopefully the announcement will come soon; light-rail transit in Ottawa has already been delayed long enough.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Southwest Transitway Extension construction, part two

Continuing from last month's look at the Southwest Transitway Extension construction project, a few more photos have been uploaded to our Flickr account. The top photo is one of the southernmost part of the road that's being built, likely in the area where the actual station will be built. You can see Loblaws, the green building to the left, and other stores in the background, plus some construction equipment farther down. Strandherd Station is far in the background.

In this second photo, you can see the pilings along Strandherd Avenue, driven far down into the ground as support for the underpass that will be built for the buses. Strandherd Station isn't pictured, but is to the right of where the photo was taken from.

There are a few more photos at the Flickr account, so check those out if you're interested.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Is there an appetite for streetcars back on Sparks Street?

There is a grassroots movement afoot to bring back the City of Ottawa's historic streetcars, more than 50 years after the city tore up and abandoned them. The Ottawa Streetcar Committee talked with some transit decision makers in Ottawa to try and find a way for streetcars to be re-installed along Sparks Street, from the National War Museum to the old train station by the canal. From the Centretown News Online:
The National Capital Commission, Queen’s Park, and the city sat down with the Ottawa Streetcar Committee which aims to draw people back to the beleaguered shopping district by bringing back historic street cars and to reduce bus congestion downtown.

The group estimates it will cost $16 million to get the project on track, a capital investment that David Powers, a city economic development consultant, said would require some integration with the city’s transit plans.
As interesting as the re-implementation of streetcars along Sparks Street would be, I don't know what kind of contribution they would offer to the city's rapid transit infrastructure. They could, if done well, beautify Sparks Street and offer some more options for public transportation downtown aside from Slater and Albert Streets. If done as proposed (somewhat along the lines of the illustration above), the line could perhaps be a very good complement during the construction of Ottawa's downtown tunnel, and a street-level alternative when the tunnel is open. But they wouldn't likely be able to serve a significant portion of the city's ridership.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Good news for Ottawa's light rail

A couple of (city-sponsored) reports were released this week, and they gave out some pretty happy numbers about what the city's light-rail transit plan might reasonably be expected to offer. From the Ottawa Citizen:
The city's planned light-rail project will spur $3 billion in economic stimulus from construction alone, create the equivalent of 20,000 jobs for a year and save 38,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by 2031, according to two city-sponsored reports released Thursday.
Not too bad. It's also, according to these studies, expected to save commuters time (I should hope so) and should increase public transit riders by nine percent.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Building Ottawa and Gatineau together with light-rail transit

According to Randall Denley in a recent Ottawa Citizen column, the National Capital Commission is apparently interested in building and integrating 'The Loop' into Ottawa's forthcoming transit plan. 'The Loop' being a 2001 plan to have light-rail run from Bayview Station across the Ottawa River into Gatineau, along that city's downtown and back across the river, before running parallel to Wellington and back to Bayview Station. From the Citizen:
The federal policy that jobs and museums must be shared between Ottawa and Gatineau means the movement of a lot of people across the Ottawa River every day. More than 5,000 commuters come into the core of Ottawa from Gatineau during the morning rush hour and 2,000 go from Ottawa to Gatineau.
A plan which offer have immediate and significant improvements to the transit systems of both Ottawa, Gatineau, and therefore the National Capital region. According to estimates presented in the same column, the cost for The Loop was pegged at $110-200M; no small amount, but compared to the price tags attributed to other transit plans, and considering the upside the plan has, it would be nice to see something happen--and quickly.

Imagine spending a morning at the War Museum, hopping on a train that whisks you off to the Museum of Civilization for the afternoon, and then catch that train again to check out the National Gallery of Canada in the evening. Not a bad day.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Ottawa to buy 226 new buses for $155M

In what seems like a deal that's almost too good to be true, the City of Ottawa decided to approve a purchase of 226 new diesel-powered articulated buses from New Flyer last week. The deal, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, represents a 19 percent discount from standard costs, and comes after Chicago delayed an order of their own due to funding problems.

Ottawa city council voted 18 in favour of the deal, three against. Although there weren't funds budgeted for a bus purchase of this size, city staff explained how it would work (from the Ottawa Citizen):
Staff say $142 million of the $155.7-million cost would be financed by borrowing the money, and the cost “will be more than offset by savings created by replacing the aging fleet of 2001-2004 models with new, fuel-efficient models.”
The deal comes at an opportune time, less than a month after the Province of Ontario released a budget which outlined a stoppage to their subsidized bus-replacement program.