Friday, July 30, 2010

OC Transpo's customer service appreciation

According to the Ottawa Citizen, OC Transpo is going to hold a series of customer appreciation days in August, at the following locations:
  • Aug. 9 - Terry Fox Station
  • Aug. 11 - Fallowfield Station
  • Aug. 13 - South Keys Station
  • Aug. 17 - Hurdman Station
  • Aug. 19 - Place d’Orléans Station
Refreshments, prizes, free stuff... but sadly, no free rides.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Another look at Ottawa's future light-rail stations

a station concept for Los Angeles' Expo line's downtown LRT station

Although we've seen a sneak peak of what Ottawa's underground light-rail stations might look like, it still remains to be seen what we might get for the stations at-grade, to the east and west of downtown. Back in May I took a look at a few transit stations in other cities, from the huge multi-modal station in San Francisco to a more humble--but still beautiful--bus station in Detroit. But since we're still years away from the construction of Ottawa's LRT stations, we haven't really seen much in the way of station designs.

The photo above is a concept drawing for LRT stations in Los Angeles, California (which I wrote about recently, too). As you can see, the station isn't just a station; it's within a larger building, part of the transit-oriented development planned for the site. And I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks it's one nice looking LRT station.

Ottawa is a city with ample opportunity to work transit-oriented development into our transit plans. The federal government is always looking for more office space; maybe they'd be interested in further expanding to Ottawa's east end, around Cyrville or Blair Station?Residential development was barely hit by the 2008 recession in Ottawa, and condominiums are shooting up all over the city; would developers be interested in a partnership at Bayview Station? And we're the nations's capital; would the NCC consider adding the now-homeless National Portrait Gallery to LeBreton Flats, to complement the Canadian War Museum and make that station a year-round destination?

Maybe. All of the above are maybes. The NCC has indicated an interest in working with the city on LRT stations, and this seems like one area where cooperation might actually be possible, and would certainly be mutually beneficial.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

2010 Election: Bello on transit fares

Over the course of the 2010 Mayoral Election campaign, Public Transit in Ottawa will be sitting down with as many mayoral candidates as are available, discussing their platforms and thoughts on transit in this city, and what they hope to achieve during their mandate, if elected mayor.

César Bello thinks transit fares are too expensive. Simple as that. However the city can lower them, he thinks council has to find a way. In our face-to-face discussion, Bello suggested that maybe the city should be investing more money into the service, in the form of tax dollars.
In my opinion, $91 or $93 for a bus pass is not affordable.


There is a social responsibility to make this affordable to the residents. We have to put more, to find a way to put more money into this service. The point is to lower the fares for users.
(It's worth noting that on his website, Bello says the city is already paying too much for transit: "paying a split of 50% is way to [sic] high. If Grey hound [sic] can run for profit with out subsidies then why not the city.")

Bello suggested that OC Transpo costs more money that it needs to because of, in his words, inefficient management; "This is a matter of administration, it’s not a matter of money." He suggested that the city would be able to offer a better service with better administration.

Atypical transit: Moving sidewalks

Last week,the online magazine Slate discussed the possibility of solving some urban transportation problems in North America's biggest cities with a long-established, but rarely acknowledged, for of transit: Moving sidewalks. Author Tom Vanderbilt, in his "Nimble Cities" series, suggested that while long-distance transportation is solved by technologies like airplanes, trains, buses, and automobiles, the shorter-haul runs haven't been addressed by them. Maybe moving sidewalks are a possible solution to that problem.

The moving walkways in most airports, as the Slate article outlined, would probably be of limited use in terms of urban transportation, because the cost would be hard to justify based on the actual speed of transportation. There are, however, high-speed moving walkways, which have a consistent surface composed of different sections, and people embark and disembark using variations of the on-ramps and off-ramps you'd use on a conventional highway, so there is a gradual buildup to the high speed. Wikipedia explains one such high-speed moving sidewalk, the Speedaway:
"The entrance to the system was like a very wide escalator, with broad metal tread plates of a parallelogram shape. After a short distance the tread plates were accelerated to one side, sliding past one another to form progressively into a narrower but faster moving track which travelled at almost a right-angle to the entry section. The passenger was accelerated through a parabolic path to a maximum design speed of 15 km/h (9 mph)."
At 15km/h, that's more than twice the average walking speed, and if commuters walked on the moving sidewalk, it would just add to the speed improvement over regular walking. It's not appropriate for long distances, and walking is fine for short distances, but it might be good for medium-length distances.

So where might this be good for Ottawa? I discussed the option of light-rail on Bank Street last week, but given the relatively short distance between Billings Bridge and downtown Ottawa (about 4 km, a 15-20 minute ride on a high-speed moving walkway) and the large number of small retail outlets and the well-established residential zones in behind much of the retail on Bank, it would likely be well-used. Or maybe along Wellington and Rideau Streets, running in front of Parliament Hill, over the Canal, past the Rideau Centre and the Westin and Lord Elgin Hotels would be a great draw for tourists looking to see the sights in Ottawa.

Obviously, though, there are huge question marks about moving sidewalks. First and foremost is the actual practicality, and the cost v. benefit analysis, but Slate does outline some others: maintenance costs and issues, and possible weather problems (although maybe a moving sidewalk could take care of its own snow removal?), not to mention the fact that walking from the bus, train, or car to work is some of the only excercise some people get. But it's still fun to think about.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Voluntary census could hurt transit policy-making

The debate surrounding the federal government's decision to revoke the mandatory participation in the country's long-form census is all over the news, and seems to be growing. Although this website isn't the place to get into detail about the debate (read this article for a run-through), but it's worth noting that some critics think making the process voluntary will negatively impact the development of certain programs, including transit and transportation.

Tim Weis, the director of renewable energy and efficiency policies at the Pembina Institute, an Alberta-based environmental research group, said public transit agencies that want to plan new services, routes or incentives for commuters, also benefit from answers to questions on the long-form census that ask people how they get to work.

"When you're looking at programs for energy efficiency or programs for public transportation, some of the things you need to know are the sizes of houses, how they're living in them and how they're getting to work," said Weis.
It is fairly straightforward to see how this would happen, at least if we assume that people won't fill out a voluntary census as eagerly as they would a mandatory census. The city of Ottawa, for instance, is targeting a 30% modal share in public transit users, a statistic readily available in the federal census. Establishing benchmarks for transit policies as well as measuring the city's progress against those benchmarks will, in all likelihood, suffer is the mandatory census is made voluntary.

Last of an old guard is retired

We all remember them: The OC Transpo buses with pink vinyl seats. Simultaneously slippery and yet unrelentingly sticky, and brutally hot in the summer. According to user ikarus8737 on the OC Transpo livejournal, they're now a thing of the past:
This is slightly old news but worth noting: The old school, white with red stripe livery, slidey yet sticky, peach colored seat bus era has ended with the retirement of the last of the MCI/Novabus "Classic " model buses.
I can't say I'm overly disappointed, but it's a funny note. Read through the journal thread; many operators and other staff, most of whom are pretty nostalgic about the "Classics". It's also worth noting that the OC Transpo fleet, according to the same user, is now a very modern one.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Smiths Falls looking into commuter transit

The Town of Smiths Falls and Lanark Community Transit (LCT) are working on putting together an arrangement to offer commuter transit for residents of the town, according to the Kemptville EMC.
A Carleton Place-based and managed not-for-profit organization, LCT has been offering bus service to and from Ottawa since May 3. And now, if it is feasible, it would like to expand that service to neighbouring Smiths Falls.
The LCT currently runs a return trip from Carleton Place to Ottawa four times in the morning, and runs the opposite route for the evening. Spacing Ottawa had a great article about "The Green Corridor", as it's called, back in May.

Friday, July 23, 2010

High-speed rail in Canada: Where to begin?

Possible HSR in Canada (click to enlarge)

Welcome to Canada: The only G8 country without high-speed passenger rail, and one of only four G20 nations similarly lacking. High Speed Rail Canada, a lobby group pushing for the federal government to invest--and invest heavily--in HSR in the country called it Canada's "High Speed Rail Embarassment". But with the United States government investing so heavily in HSR ($8B earmarked as a "initial investment" under the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program [HSIPRP]), and some of the selected HSR corridors including Canadian cities in their plans, can Canada afford not to invest into this?

The U.S. HSIPR project map includes two Canadian cities in their plans: Montreal within the Northeast Region, and Vancouver within the Western Region. But it would only be natural for the Canadian government to look for ways to include other Canadian cities, especially Toronto but also Ottawa, Quebec, and Hamilton in the Northeast Region, and Windsor and Winnipeg in the Midwest Region. The HSIPR project doesn't include programs in the north-central United States, but Canada would obviously also want to look at the cities of Regina, Edmonton, and Calgary.

Over the last few months, High Speed Rail Canada has taken a look at a few different corridors on their website: Montreal-Boston, Montreal-New York, and Toronto-New York. In the process, they also outline the three most pressing issues in building cross-border high-speed rail: The many stakeholders (federal, provincial, state, and municipal governments), customs and the border, and Canada's status as an HSR laggard. They also outline the other potential barriers to each individual line, while also discussing the current state of them, and (of course) the potential benefits to be gained from their implementation. (If you think HSR isn't necessary, read John Parisella's recent chronicle of the 11-hour train ride from Montreal to New York.)

If the Canadian government decides that HSR is a good solution for us--and I've seen very good arguments in favour of HSR--then they would be well-served to take some initiative in the process. Rather than following the US on this ticket and extending American lines across the border to certain cities, Canada could move forward in building Canadian lines to take advantage of the technology that the rest of the G8 nations have enjoyed for so long. Such as a line bringing together the "Tor-Mon-ttawa" mega-region popularized by the work of author Richard Florida (who I've written about before). Uniting the cities of Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa would bring together the first, second, and fourth most-populated municipalities (respectively) in the country, and almost five million Canadians (by 2006 census numbers).

If Quebec and Windsor are included in the line, it's a grand total of 1,267 km by roadway (according to Google Maps), making the three stops en route. It certainly wouldn't be a minor project; a cost in the billions of dollars is fairly certain. But built in phases, as an investment into the future of some of our country's largest and most geographically important cities, it's easy to imagine the many benefits politically, environmentally, financially, and personally.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Light-rail transit spurs development in Los Angeles

artist's rendering of L.A. Expo Line's Trousdale Station

The city of Los Angeles has had light-rail for 20 years, some at-grade, some underground. Still, according to an article in the New York Times, new projects are still paying off for residents of the city. Early in June, the Times published an article about the business development along the Expo Line, the newest addition to the Los Angeles County Metro Rail system. Along the Expo Line, transit-oriented and mixed-use development that will not only revitalize some stagnating neighbourhoods--and bring money and jobs to those who need them.

From the Times:
In addition to removing tens of thousands of cars from the road — 64,000 daily riders by 2030, according to transit authorities — the 15.6-mile Expo Line is expected to spawn a variety of mixed-use real estate projects, as some of the city’s previous rail lines have done. A project including more than 500 units of housing and a 300-room W hotel was recently completed at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, and a rental and retail complex was built at Wilshire Boulevard and Vermont Avenue in 2007.
The Expo Line's first phase (from Culver City to downtown Los Angeles) runs 8.6 miles, or almost 14 km--a little bit longer than the 12.5 km LRT plan in Ottawa. One end of the line begins underground (the 7th Street metro center), which quickly emerges and runs at-grade for much of the route, with the exception of "aerial stations", one over La Brea Avenue, and the other over La Cienega Boulevard. The budget was initially supposed to run USD640M, but delays pushed the cost up $220M and pushed it back by a year, and now sits at mid- to late-2011. Still, even though we're comparing apples and oranges, it's a little reassuring to see an LRT line cost USD860M (about CAD890M) when ours is budgeted at CAD2.1B, even if it is concerning to hear of yet another LRT project with massive delays and cost overruns.

Still, it's worth noting that many of those delays and cost increases have resulted from changes to the plan, including specifically the decision to add a station at the University of Southern California. Makes it all the more important for the City of Ottawa to keep in mind--cancelling or altering a transit plan once it's underway will often lead to cost repercussions, so it's important the plan is the right one before it's started.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

2010 Election: Cullen on ParaTranspo

Over the course of the 2010 Mayoral Election campaign, Public Transit in Ottawa will be sitting down with as many mayoral candidates as are available, discussing their platforms and thoughts on transit in this city, and what they hope to achieve during their mandate, if elected mayor.

Those who don't use ParaTranspo are prone to forgetting about it, but it is a social service that contributes to the accessibility of the City of Ottawa. Alex Cullen feels that, as a result of being so easily forgotten by those who don't regular use it, ParaTranspo has become the "neglected child in the transit family", and would make it a priority to assess the service--particularly with new legislation about accessibility apparently in the works.
There is new accessibility legislation around, an expectation that people with mental disabilities have as much right to Paratranspo as people with physical disabilities, we have an aging population--which may be more active, but the numbers of folks who incur a disability with age will increase; it will proportionally fall, but the numbers will increase--so I see a need to look at ParaTranspo, see how it's fitting today's needs, and what we should be doing to anticipate tomorrow's needs.
Part of Cullen's motivation for the review is to bring the utility in line with those new regulations, but he's also concerned with the frustration of ParaTranspo clients.
We have avoided, so far, a human rights challenge on mental disability, but that’s going to have to be part of the debate as well. We have a population that is getting more and more frustrated because of the constraints there, it has not increased in scope for some time. And, quite frankly, it’s very expensive; a bus ride costs between $2.50, $3, but Paratranspo is about $28 a ride. So we have to look at that very carefully. We’ve got a clientele that’s getting increasingly frustrated, we have pressure from accessibility legislation, and we have the cost of Paratranspo. The whole principle behind ParaTranspo is to enable those who cannot use our current public transit system an alternate means of participating in our society. I think that principle is very important, but it’s time to look at how well we do it, and what does it need to better meet our communities needs.

OC Transpo Rack & Roll gets mixed reviews

a 95 bus with a vacant rack & roll setup. photo by Simon Cremer

The Ottawa Citizen had an article on OC Transpo's Rack & Roll program yesterday, and users--or, more accurately, one user and one cycling advocate--criticized the program for it's unreliability and inconsistency.

From the Citizen:
Buses on nine OC Transpo routes are supposed to be equipped with fold-down bike racks over the front bumpers, under the “Rack & Roll” program that runs from April to late October. But cyclists report buses on these routes often show up without racks.
The racks, when present, are handy: Cyclists can take their bikes from home to the bus, and then from the bus to their workplace. Of course, it doesn't always work that way, as not all buses can be outfitted with the racks, not all those that can be outfitted are, and sometimes the racks are already full.

Overall, it can be a difficult problem to address. There isn't really a good reason for certain suitable buses not to have the racks installed (apparently 350 buses have racks on them, and "most trips" for routes 12, 85, 95, 96, 97, 99, 101, 106 and 118 are supposed to have bike racks). But as the service becomes more commonplace, it becomes more popular, and as it becomes more popular, it will become a rarity for cyclists to have a spot in front of their bus. Expanding racks to more than two cycle-slots would have to be a challenge, for the designer as well as the operator who has to navigate that bus.

If Ottawa had the Bixi bike rental service set up in time, though, maybe people wouldn't even have to bring their bikes with them...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bus-rapid transit is a "subway on the street"

A few weeks ago, Robert Sullivan of New York Magazine published a feature article about the resuscitation of bussing in Manhattan as a viable--and sometimes preferred--form of transportation, when it's offered within a bus-rapid transit (BRT) system. It's a really interesting look at BRT from someone in a city which had largely ignored it until today, and Sullivan's perspective makes for a good read.

The article discusses how buses, building on some serious technological and service upgrades over the past decade or so, including rear-door boarding, traffic signal prioritization, reserved bus lanes, and--perhaps eventually--GPS tracking systems to alert riders when their bus is coming, have become a popularly accepted way to commute. Many of those features might sound like old news in Ottawa, where the Transitway was launched almost 30 years ago, but they're not as well-known in cities like New York, where rapid transit has focussed largely on improving subway systems.

From the NY Mag article:
In fact, the city’s urban-planning activists are almost all singing buses. “They’re the smartest possible transit investment there is right now,” says Noah Budnick, the deputy director of Transportation Alternatives.


“The bottom line is buses are back, and people are waking up to the fact that they’ve never really been out of the picture here in New York,” says [Department of Transportation] commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who has been talking buses since her days in the private sector. We [New York] already have the largest fleet in North America—6,250 buses covering 900 square miles of territory, much of it in neighborhoods underserved by the subway system.
That last sentence, though, is telling. BRT systems have a huge number of advantages, first and foremost their flexibility--buses can go on just about any paved roadway, while trains are restricted to their tracks--but also their low up-front costs, in terms of bus acquisition and transit system construction. But there is a point where BRT reaches its carrying capacity, and at that point the more expensive, but more reliable, predictable, long-term cost-effective, and--most importantly--higher-capacity system. And Ottawa, according to city staff, has reached that point.

With Ottawa moving towards light-rail, including a subway downtown, it's important to note that there won't be an abandonment of BRT in the process. Ottawa's BRT system remains one of, if not the, best on the continent in terms of its infrastructure, and the design of the LRT line seems to be one to complement it, rather than to replace it. Which is a nice idea, of course, but time will tell how well that theory translates into reality.

Monday, July 19, 2010

2010 Election: Bello on cycling

César Bello with his bike

Over the course of the 2010 Mayoral Election campaign, Public Transit in Ottawa will be sitting down with mayoral candidates, discussing their platforms and thoughts on transit in this city, and what they hope to achieve during their mandate, if elected mayor.

Another avid cyclist in the mayoral race, César Bello outlined an intention to encourage cycling as a form of transportation for citizens in his platform. Among the measures he proposed were increasing the number of bike paths around the city as well as initiating safety programs in schools, universities, and online.

Although Bello acknowledged that a growing city like Ottawa will need to invest in roads, he suggested some funds be redirected into investing into Ottawa's cycling infrastructure:
Eventually, this city will grow up; to say that we won’t build roads is a lie, because eventually we will be forced to do so. But also, we need to be more creative in order to move to cycling, with more safety [for cyclists].
In encouraging cycling, though, Bello feels that educating cyclists of the rules of the road is necessary--as is educating automobile drivers of their need to respect cyclists.
I understand that people who use their bicycles are afraid to get onto the road, and share with the car owners, but I believe it is a matter of education. Because I know there are some cyclists who don’t follow the rules that they have to follow, so education is a key. [...] And also, [we have] to educate the drivers to pay respect to the cyclists.
Bello suggested that these education programs could be run through schools, universities, and online through social media.

Toronto giving parking spots to cyclists

The City of Toronto is running a pilot project right now, replacing downtown roadside parking spots with bicycle racks. It's a small pilot project (two spots on Spadina Avenue), but a good idea: The racks will be removed in the winter, freeing those spots back up for parking when the weather's at its worst.

From the Toronto Star:
As part of a city pilot project, two on-street car parking spots along Spadina have been converted into a small bike parking lot with two racks, each with eight spaces.
Sensible, too: The space which two cars would otherwise have occupied, 16 bicycles can now park in.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

2010 Election: Pioro on public transit

Over the course of the 2010 Mayoral Election campaign, Public Transit in Ottawa will be sitting down with as many mayoral candidates as are available, discussing their platforms and thoughts on transit in this city, and what they hope to achieve during their mandate, if elected mayor.

Of the many mayoral candidates who've registered for the run, Stan Pioro appears to be the only one (at least among those who've published platforms) who is running with the intention of cutting back Ottawa's public transit system. In his platform, a 10-page Word document with little in the way of formatting that outlines the substantial proposed cuts, Pioro outlined his intention to reduce the city's investment into public transit.

Although he declined an in-depth interview with Transit Ottawa, Pioro did explain his position with regard to transit in the city through e-mail, in which he questioned the effectiveness of Ottawa's downtown transit tunnel, assumed a cost-overrun on the project which would at least double the bottom line to suggest its cancellation, and challenged the ability of OC Transpo managers to properly administrate the transit utility. His exact words:
I am philosophically opposed to spending billions of taxpayer dollars on mega-projects that benefit a minority of citizens of Ottawa in the downtown core.

The tunnel project and associated work, with traditional cost overruns of a minimum of 100%, will put the City $4 to $6 billion in debt. This is why this project must be killed.

As well, OC Transpo has an on-time rating of 53%. This is abysmal and unacceptable. It is a clear indication that Management has given up, and employees simply don't care. Basic issues must be resolved.

I don't believe that the taxpayer of Ottawa exists for the financial convenience of a Public Utility.

My interest is to concentrate on core services that will benefit the majority of taxpayers in Ottawa - both rural and urban.
Not everyone is in favour of public transit.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Grey: Tunnel a "transit disaster"

In his weekly column on Wednesday, Ottawa Citizen writer Ken Gray attacked the city's current transit plan, saying that an underground tunnel is too expensive and that it won't help commuters quickly enough to justify its cost. The 12.5km plan is currently estimated to cost $2.1B, and includes light-rail from Tunney's Pasture through a four-stop, $735M downtown tunnel to Blair Station in the east.

From Gray's column:
The current plan, certain to be an election issue over the coming weeks, is not even mediocre. Ottawans, you're massively overpaying. You're buying a Volkswagen with a BMW price tag.

Ottawans need to stop spending big dollars for projects that don't work. The commuting traffic problems in Ottawa are now, not in 2018. And the biggest problem with the current light-rail plan is that is does nothing to solve the problem of commuting. Too much money on a tunnel, not enough line. That's a stupendous miss after spending billions.
Instead of the plan that's on the table today, Gray suggests he'd like to see surface rail through the downtown core, and using the savings from cancelling the tunnel towards extending the line further east, west, and south.

Gray isn't the first person to question Ottawa's current transit plan. Former mayor Andy Haydon criticized the plan in its entirety, saying that bus-rapid transit is better than light-rail for Ottawa. And mayoral candidate Jim Watson--along with a number of other candidates--has been wondering about the affordability of the plan, and the tunnel in particular (although his tone seems to have softened lately).

In cautioning about cost-overruns, Gray may have reason; the plan was originally thought to cost $1.8B, but that number climbed to $2.1B as the estimates were refined. Still, mayoral candidate Alex Cullen is confident that the estimates of city staff are sound, and said that the $2.1B price tag leaves enough buffer room to avoid threatening the city's finances--but staff have been asked to save money wherever possible, in an effort to come in on or even under budget.

It's easy to get scared of cost-overruns when discussing transit mega-projects (the Big Dig always comes to mind), and it's difficult to assuage that fear in Ottawa given the... mixed results our city has had, particularly in recent memory. But what do you think: Can Ottawa afford its current transit plan?

Bixi bike-rental program in Ottawa hits a snag

Last year, the National Capital Commission ran a successful pilot project with Montreal-based Bixi bicycles for a bike-rental service. The program found the service would be economically viable, but the NCC, who wanted the bikes to be available beginning in June, hasn't found a company to take on the contract to manage the service this year.

However, officials say the terms of the proposed contract appear to have scared off bidders.

The NCC wanted the winning company to own the bicycles and locking stations, but companies didn't seem to want the financial risk of that kind of arrangement: No bike-sharing companies responded, including the Montreal company whose Bixi bicycles were used in the pilot project.
It's too bad the system has hit this snag. It gained a fair bit of momentum last year, and seemed rather popular with locals and tourists--one would expect that momentum to have carried into this year. Hopefully the problem can be resolved before all that momentum is lost, and the program has to start over from scratch.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

2010 Election: Taylor on transit fares

Over the course of the 2010 Mayoral Election campaign, Public Transit in Ottawa will be sitting down with mayoral candidates, discussing their platforms and thoughts on transit in this city, and what they hope to achieve during their mandate, if elected mayor.

Chief among mayoral candidate Charlie Taylor's concerns about the city's transit system are bus fares. Stating that Ottawa has the most expensive transit fares in Canada (note: Ottawa [$3.25] appears to have the second-highest regular cash fares among municipalities in Canada, ahead only of Gatineau [$3.30]), Taylor said there was only one way to address fares: To reduce costs.
"There are ways that we can reduce costs; for one thing, making the system run more efficiently. Right now, we’ve got direct buses going from particular suburbs going to downtown; a lot of them aren’t running at maximum capacity. They are a little more expensive, but on the same note, if you’ve got feeder buses going to a central depot and then you’ve got long-haul buses that are full of commuters. You make people do one transfer, but if you’ve got the buses running on a regular basis it shouldn’t be a significant inconvenience."
But Taylor also said that "you can’t address costs without addressing [bus operator] salaries", and suggested that the city needs to find a way to bring them down in order to find a long-term solution. In a city still tender after a 53-day bus strike, angering the operators' union doesn't seem like it would be a popular idea, but Taylor--a self-described "leftie"--thinks the union has become too powerful, and suggested privatization as a possible way to redress that.
"We want to work with the union. If the union doesn’t want to work with us, we want to privatize. Not privatize the operation; the city would still govern the routes, schedules, own the buses, all that; only the labour aspect would be privatized. Basically, companies would bid on the positions, so they say they could provide you a driver for $50,000 a year; we give them the $50,000 a year, and they would then contract a driver for $40,000 a year.

"It would be regrettable, because nobody’s a big fan of privatization. Well, some people are big fans of privatization, but I’m a big leftie. I believe in labour unions, I believe in the value of unions, and I believe in the values of organized labour. But once the union begins to act more as a special interest group, that’s working for the interests of this particular small, privileged group at the expense of the working class, then you have to re-evaluate what their value is. They’re basically a lobby group now, working for a privileged group of people. They’re not actually a labour union fighting for the working class. So if they don’t want to work with us, then we’re going to work without them. We can’t have everybody in the City of Ottawa held hostage and paying ridiculous transit fees."

City won't ask for discount on land purchase from feds

An artist's rendition of LRT trains emerging from an overpass. © City of Ottawa

According to the Ottawa Sun on Wednesday, City Council voted against issuing a formal request to the Federal Government to buy federally-owned land for Ottawa's LRT project for $1. Instead, the city is going to budget $40M for land acquisition. The mentality of the decision:
Deputy city manager Nancy Schepers said staff fear the request could “skew” discussions for the light-rail project and others.
One can perhaps see why, during discussion of the project, the city would be well-served not to expect the city to make this request. And a decision today doesn't preclude Council from, in the future, making the request, nor does it preclude the Federal Government from making some sort of concession during the negotiation process.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Calls for Ottawa to build fewer roads, more transit

A few sources have recently spoken out about the City of Ottawa's plans to expand and add to roadways in the city, and instead re-direct that money to public transit and cycling infrastructure. The first is a report written by University of Ottawa political studies professor Matthew Paterson and released by Ecology Ottawa (which you can download in .PDF format here), proposed an outright moratorium on new road projects over the next 10 years, which would result in $1.5B cut from the budget (and, one would assume, significantly increase congestion on roadways in the city). From
"The report, prepared by the non-profit environmental group Ecology Ottawa, argues the high costs of roads needed to service urban sprawl are directly related to spiraling taxes and increased greenhouse emissions."
Mayoral candidates have also spoke out about the issue, coming on to either side of the debate. In the Ottawa Citizen, Clive Doucet suggested that the City of Ottawa is in need of a "road diet", and Alex Cullen has also said that expanded roadways are not the only, or even optimal, way to reduce congestion in the city's transportation system. Incumbent Larry O'Brien, however, noted that Ottawa's size makes new roadways necessary in order to allow people, especially in suburban and rural areas, to move about the city. Although not quoted in the Citizen's article, mayoral candidate César Bello has outlined "a halt to the steady growth of the city's road network" as part of his platform.

Halting new road construction would help the city encourage public transit use, and would be a stiff-armed way of forcing people to reconsider single-rider car commuter. But it's a difficult line to walk, given the fact that Ottawa's transit system already seems to be bursting at the seams. It will be interesting to see the shape that this discussion takes through the election campaign.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

2010 Election: Cullen on Lansdowne

image of the winning Lansdowne redevelopment design by Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg

Over the course of the 2010 Mayoral Election campaign, Public Transit in Ottawa will be sitting down with as many mayoral candidates as are available, discussing their platforms and thoughts on transit in this city, and what they hope to achieve during their mandate, if elected mayor.

As councillor for Bay Ward, Alex Cullen has been a vocal critic of the redevelopment plans for Lansdowne Park--mostly because of the questions marks surrounding transportation on the site. Redeveloping the swaths of land devoted to parking is great, Cullen said, but without being served by public transit, building a huge number of destinations at Lansdowne is contrary to the City of Ottawa's goals of building a more sustainable city--and, he says, is a "disaster".
Lansdowne, in my view, is making a huge mistake in terms of urban planning. It’s taking an example of a site which has tonnes of uses, and not "walking the walk" when it comes to transit. The whole notion that you have a 24,000-seat stadium, a 10,000-seat arena, 1,700-seat cinema, 340,000 square feet of commercial retail located at a site with no access to rapid transit; if someone came into this town with a 340,000-square-foot shopping centre in Orleans, Riverside South, in Kanata, we’d obligate them to be located by the Transitway. But we’re not doing that here. On top of all that, it’s an area that doesn't have sufficient parking, so you’d think transit would be the solution--but there’s no access to transit. [...] It’s a disaster, and it’s just bad urban planning. [...] Why create this obligation to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to fix a mistake that you can avoid?
Instead, Cullen has suggested perhaps using a different site to house a stadium for pro football (or even soccer) in Ottawa, one that lies along existing transit lines.
We have an inventory of football sites in this town, there are about 30 other places that meet the criteria of being on rapid transit. Bayview Yards is one example, it’s not the only one, but there it is: City-owned site, right by the Transitway, with proximity to downtown, and it just meets those criteria that are there in our official plan, and has the hierarchy of walking/cycling/transit that respects smart growth. But you’re not dealing with rationale here; you’re dealing with the emotion of football glory days.
Although Cullen has suggested an alternative site, such as Bayview Yards, to house an outdoor stadium for Ottawa, there hasn't been much political capital invested in building the stadium elsewhere--much of the energy has been directed at stopping the Lansdowne development. Still, Cullen thinks it's feasible for a brand new stadium to be built at Bayview Yards.
For $130M, you could certainly put a sports stadium up at Bayview Yards, and you’re on rapid transit. You could marry in some trade-show space, as well, to make better use of the facility—that makes sense—so that would help offset some of those costs. It’s not a startling new idea, this idea has been debated around the Council table during this Lansdowne proposal, but the lobbying by the developers has put it on the backburner. The developers are going for the bird-in-hand, and the bird-in-hand is that the city puts up the money, refurbishes the stadium, and gives them the keys to the whole site, and they have access to land for 50 years for commercial development, and that commercial development will pay for the football franchise. Great for them, but it’s a horrible example of urban planning, with all these uses and no access to rapid transit. It’s council that has the obligation for good urban planning, and it’s council that’s dropping the ball.
After Cullen spoke with Public Transit in Ottawa, city council debated the redevelopment of Lansdowne and, after rejecting Cullen's motion to defer the decision on the site to the next council, ended up supporting the current plan. Still, with some councillors suggesting legal action may be taken, it seems unlikely that the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park is a done deal.

The Stanley Cup loves public transit

© Chicago Tribune

You've got to love this almost surreal photo of Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews (along with his cousing Madison) lugging the Stanley Cup around Winnipeg last weekend. I was actually fairly certain is was Photoshopped at first, but it turns out it's the real deal. I'm not really sure what I'd do if I saw the Cup on the bus with me, aside from take a photo.

The Chicago Tribune has a slideshow of Toews' trip home with the Cup. Check the rest of the photos out, there are some other great shots (like one of Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz casually mowing down a sandwich while the Cup sits on his desk).

Monday, July 12, 2010

2010 Election: Bello on transit as an essential service

a rally during the 2008-09 transit strike

Over the course of the 2010 Mayoral Election campaign, Public Transit in Ottawa will be sitting down with mayoral candidates, discussing their platforms and thoughts on transit in this city, and what they hope to achieve during their mandate, if elected mayor.

César Bello is certainly a dark horse in the 2010 mayoral election in Ottawa. And although he has gotten little media coverage (aside from a feature in Metro, a quick note on Greater Ottawa is all I could find). And although his platform is difficult to navigate (one long web page with ideas interspersed with letters and scattered commentary), his passion was evident during our interview in early July 2010. And his passion was most evident when discussing the Winter 2008-09 transit strike.

Noting the struggles citizens went through during the transit strike, Bello was inspired to enter the mayoral race, and wants to make public transit an essential service if elected mayor.
Positively no more strikes, not here. [The strike] was so painful for the residents. That’s the reason I entered this race.
Bello doesn't think that an essential service designation would necessarily increase costs of transit, suggesting that Ottawa's transit costs--which are the highest in the province--are high because of poor administration, not a lack of money. (A past poll of Transit Ottawa readers showed huge support for an essential service designation, but both the transit operators' union and the city said there was no need for the designation.)

Light-rail transit makes for healthy commuters

According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in August 2010, the presence of a light-rail transit system in a city meant people had higher physical activity (due to walking to and from stations) and, as a result, better physical fitness. There's a pretty good argument to go ahead with Ottawa's light-rail transit plan, if we needed another one.

The paper, entitled "The Effect of Light Rail Transit on Body Mass Index and Physical Activity" by John M. MacDonald, Robert J. Stokes, Deborah A. Cohen, Aaron Kofner, and Greg K. Ridgeway, looked at the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, polling citizen before and after the construction of that city's light-rail transit system (the LYNX) concluding that (according to Science Daily):
LRT reduced BMI [body-mass index] by an average of 1.18 kg/m2 compared to non-LRT users in the same area over a 12-18 month follow-up period. This is equivalent to a relative weight loss of 6.45 lbs for a person who is 5'5. LRT users were also 81% less likely to become obese over time.
So, by the time 2019 rolls around and Ottawa has a light-rail transit system in place, we can all look forward to reaping the health benefits resultant therefrom. If we're not all replaced by robots by then, of course.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Can we have light rail on Bank Street?

A little while back, Spacing Ottawa published an op/ed piece by Dwight Williams with a suggested way to link the City of Ottawa's two biggest public construction projects: the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park, which is currently not served by rapid transit, with the construction of an east-west LRT line with a tunnel under downtown. Williams' suggestion? A light-rail transit line that tunnels underneath Bank Street at some points, and parallel to at others.

The system map presented above (which you can click to enlarge, and was made with information from Spacing's image) is a rough (and not nearly to scale, I realize) estimation of what this integrated system could look like. The blue line is the current O-Train, the red line is Ottawa's current east-west line, and the green line is Williams' proposed Bank Street line, which I've made the executive decision to connect to the Downtown East station (which would likely be between Metcalfe and O'Connor streets downtown). It does connect the "red line" with the "green line" quite nicely, bringing people from downtown to Lansdowne--as well as Billings Bridge, the Glebe, and other destinations--comfortably and quickly. The inclusion of a Sunnyside Station, which would actually be fairly close to the O-Train's Carleton University station, also brings those lines together.

As it stands right now, there is nothing of significance, public transit-wise, for Bank Street. In the city's Transportation Master Plan update released in 2008 (.PDF, network map on page 1), a small portion runs along Bank Street near Greenboro Station, but other than that, Bank is reserved for local bus routes, personal automobiles, and human-powered forms of transportation.

So, can we have light rail on Bank Street? Well, we probably could, and it would certainly go a long way in solving the transportation problems around the Lansdowne Park redevelopment. But it wouldn't be cheap, and it wouldn't be easy. The cost of tunneling where necessary, and to join up with the Downtown East station, immediately raises questions of cost. Actually building the line would be hard, given that Bank Street is pretty much always busy as it is. And finding the political will to push for this kind of project won't be easy: Since Bank Street isn't really identified as a target zone for rapid transit currently, changing the master plan to put a priority on it would take some real negotiating and gesturing--especially since doing so would likely delay the expansion of light rail further east, west, or south into suburbs like Orleans, Kanata, Barrhaven, and Riverside South.

A terrific idea which would most certainly connect Lansdowne to our current and future public transit systems, but not one without significant hurdles to get over.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

2010 Election: Cullen on LRT affordability

Over the course of the 2010 Mayoral Election campaign, Public Transit in Ottawa will be sitting down with mayoral candidates, discussing their platforms and thoughts on transit in this city, and what they hope to achieve during their mandate, if elected mayor.

The second in a series of posts looking at Alex Cullen's thoughts on transit leading up to the election deals with the affordability of Ottawa's current $2.1B light-rail transit plan, including specifically the $735M Downtown Ottawa Transit Tunnel (DOTT). Cullen started by addressing the criticism that the LRT plan, and specifically the DOTT, has no upper limit budget.
I don’t want to fool people; the idea is not $735M come hell or high water, the idea is to get a tunnel in place that meets the need of our community. We think it’s $735M, but if it tends to be $750M, or $720M, that’s not such a big deal for me, as long as we get it in place, because we’re able to accommodate that. What is not sustainable is if a $735M tunnel becomes a $1.2B tunnel; that’s not sustainable. There are limits, and there would have to be limits, because we only have so much capacity. But we’re not in the danger zone of adopting something we cannot afford.
Leading up to and through the campaign so far, Cullen has been insistent that the City would be able to afford the current $2.1B LRT plan without breaking the bank. I asked him where that confidence came from.
We have the financial capacity [to fund this plan]. It does not bring us to our limit, and, as a matter fact, we’ve taken the whole transportation master plan, at $3.8B over the lifetime of that transportation master plan, and we can do it. So that’s where my confidence comes from. We have the revenues identified from development charges—that’s the portion of development charges dedicated to transit, that’s not 100 per cent of development charges—and we have the gas tax rebate, we have our federal and provincial funding partners, and we have what we normally allocate for transit capital, which is about $75M, and that gets us to $900M. And we don’t threaten our triple-A rating on that basis.
It is the biggest single project, it is going to transform our city, but the work that has gone into estimating the costs and estimating our financial capability of handling these costs, gives me the confidence to say that this is a very doable project.

Bluesfest director disappointed with timing of O-Train maintenance

aerial shot of Bluesfest at LeBreton Flats, 2007, from Wikipedia

Last week, we mentioned that the O-Train is going to be pulled offline from July 12-Aug. 14, 2010 for maintenance and repairs. What I neglected to mention was that the Ottawa Bluesfest overlaps with the downtime: from July 6-18, 2010. So for about a week, folks aren't going to use the O-Train to get on their way to Bluesfest, they'll have to take the "O-Train Special" bus that runs alongside it. Bluesfest executive director Mark Monahan said he's disappointed in the timing of the repairs, according to the Ottawa Citizen:
"It's disappointing" because it will inconvenience fans, Monahan said. "People are still going to get here," but the transit authority could have delayed the work for a week until the festival was over."
Although Monahan's disappointment is understandable, the repairs are likely not going to effect the festival's attendees too much; the O-Train wouldn't likely be a main transporter for fans (the Transitway will likely carry the lion's share of commuters), and those who would have used the O-Train are able to use bus service running along a virtually identical--if somewhat longer--route. And with the current schedule slated to finish the repairs August 14, even that is coming close to the beginning of the school year, when the O-Train's biggest ridership base--Carleton University students--begin using the service in large numbers again. Delaying the repairs, even just a week, would run the risk of having a further delay in construction, for whatever unseen reasons, cut dangerously close to or perhaps right into the school year.

Will the repairs inconvenience any readers who plan on attending Bluesfest? Please feel free to discuss your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

2010 Election: Taylor on interprovincial transit

Ottawa's Prince of Wales Bridge. © Padraic Ryan.

Over the course of the 2010 Mayoral Election campaign,
Public Transit in Ottawa will be sitting down with mayoral candidates, discussing their platforms and thoughts on transit in this city, and what they hope to achieve during their mandate, if elected mayor.

Another key part of Charlie Taylor's mayoral platform is an extension of the current O-Train across the Ottawa River into Gatineau, over the currently city-owned Prince of Wales bridge. It's an idea that has come up often (which is why the city owns the bridge), but seems to have been left on the back-burner for public transit in the city. Taylor thinks it needs to be brought back to the forefront.
An integrated rail network tying the whole city together, to me, is a no-brainer. They’re talking about building new bridges for cars across the river. There are, I think, something like 5,000 buses going across the river every day, and surely you could divert some of that traffic if you had a reasonable rail network in Gatineau linked to a reasonable rail network in Ottawa. They’ve already got the infrastructure in Gatineau, and we’re going to be connecting to the Bayview Station shortly—which is where the O-Train runs.
Taylor claimed that Ottawa actually owns land in Gatineau across the river to build a rail station for the O-Train to cross the river, but hasn't pushed the issue after, according to Taylor, encountering resistance from the Gatineau municipal government. Taylor says he would push ahead, whether Gatineau was in favour or not.
If Gatineau won’t talk to us, then I wouldn’t be averse to applying some pressure, saying, “You guys run a lot of STO buses to Ottawa; if you want to keep running your STO buses to Ottawa, let us run our train.” It’s just ridiculous. Tearing up rail line and putting in bus systems is what we were doing in the 1950s and everyone regrets it. The whole world is switching back to rail. We’re the only major city in Canada that doesn’t have a rail-based transit system. It’s more efficient, it’s cleaner, it’s a more comfortable way to go. It’s a no-brainer.
After extending the O-Train into Gatineau, Taylor also suggested the line should be extended southwards to the McDonald-Cartier Airport.

Recap of the interprovincial transit study consultation

On Tuesday evening, I stopped in to the public consultation on the National Capital Commission (NCC)-led interprovincial transit study. Attended by about 30-40 people (at least when I was there, from 6-7 p.m.), the consultation represents the fourth step in the overall process, the results of which will help the strategy team come up with a recommendation for integration of the national capital region's transit infrastructure--in short, better connecting Gatineau with Ottawa through public transit.

The consultation had a number of posterboards (images of which you can download in .PDF form here) and forms for attendees to fill out offering their opinions on the options presented. The options were largely broken down in short-, medium-, and long-term objectives, and dealt with the superficial (common branding and signage standards; shared transit maps) to the practical (compatible or common 'smart' payment cards; coordinated transfer-point route scheduling) and into the technical aspects of the transit integration (bus rapid-transit versus light-rail transit; crossing the river to the east or west of downtown, or a loop with both; and so on). And, naturally, there were forms for attendee comments about any other aspects--including those not presented on the posterboards.

Although an interesting exploration of the different options for interprovincial transit, it's unclear what this study will achieve, beyond the recommendation of an integration strategy. Although the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau are participants in the process, as are OC Transpo and STO (the city's respective public transit agencies), it remains to be seen who might pay for any such project. Ottawa's tied up with the current LRT implementation, which--from the first phase, including the downtown tunnel, to the further three phases--will take decades to build. Still, even if it is a recommendation, that does give the cities a foundation on which to plan future transit construction on either side of the river.

If you missed Tuesday's open house, you have still got the opportunity to attend one on Wednesday, July 7, 2010 at Gatineau Maison du Citoyen from 5:30-8 p.m.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

On to Baseline: Western Light Rail consultation begins

The City of Ottawa has begun the Western LRT Corridor Planning and Environmental Assessment project. This project is going to determine the route that light rail will take as it leaves Downtown (at Bayview station) and heads to Baseline Station. While the current Transit Master Plan (TMP) chose the Ottawa River Parkway, this study is going to "wipe the slate clean" and look at all the route options. Anything from the Parkway, Byron Avenue, O-Train cut, Carling Avenue, Churchill, and just about anything else conceivable is on the table for review and investigation.

The NCC has not said one way or another that they will permit light rail on the Parkway. But the NCC was a key contributor in designing the assessment, and has suggested a willingness to discuss options if the Parkway is indeed recommended under the Environmental Assessment. The feeling at city hall is that the NCC wants to make sure the City has really investigated alternate routes and is not choosing the Parkway simply because it's there and is the easy "status-quo" choice.

The City is engaging stakeholders by forming three different input groups: agency, business, and public. The "agency" group is composed of government ministries and agencies that are involved because they are a major employer, landholder or provide oversight to the Environment Assessment process. The "business" group is made up of the school boards, hospitals and BIAs in the area. Finally, the "public" group comprises Community Associations, advocacy groups, and members from the city's Advisory Committees.

Monday, June 21, 2010 was the first day of meetings between the City and the consultation groups. The agenda was to get the groups up to speed on how the process will work and to invite the groups to offer feedback on the process itself.

The next meeting in September is where everyone will get into the details of choosing an alternate route. Management consultant group Delcan will be preparing a number of options to be reviewed at that point. Both the City and Delcan have been very up front about the fact that all options are on the table. The process will initially "fan out" to explore the different routes (Parkway, Carling, O-Train, Byron, and so on) and designs (underground, below grade, overhead, etc) then whittle the options down until just one route is selected as the recommended alignment.

More reading:

Monday, July 5, 2010

NCC looking to work with city on DOTT stations

According to an article in the Ottawa Citizen, the National Capital Commission is looking to get involved with the City of Ottawa to offer some input into Ottawa's light-rail transit stations during the upcoming design process.

From the Citizen article:
“As they were explaining the project to us, with the 13 stations, it just seemed like such a wonderful opportunity to put a national or a capital component to it,” Lemay said.

The transit system will be a “capital-changing” project, she said.

“It would be wonderful to be able to involve the provinces. … One of the things we’ve heard from Canadians is they don’t feel represented in their nation’s capital. What a wonderful opportunity to actually give them that opportunity to be represented.”
The fact that there are to be 13 transit stations along the LRT line, the same number of provinces and territories within Canada, is an intriguing coincidence--adding in some design element bringing that home would certainly make for a nice train ride through the core. And although the NCC has said that their offer doesn't come with further funding (they're offering their "expertise" and an ability to connect with the whole country) it's probably not too much to think that provincial and territorial governments may be interested in investing in "their" LRT stop along the line. Perhaps not significant investments, but even a small amount of funding to help improve the aesthetics of the station could allow Ottawa to have some terrific-looking stations without breaking the bank on the design aspect.

Still, the blog Maple Manifesto--a newcomer to the Ottawa blogging scene--is wondering why the NCC is looking to have input in the City's infrastructure affairs when they aren't always willing to cooperate with the City in other areas.

The image at the top of the page (click to enlarge) is of the projected 'Downtown East' station--in the middle of the downtown tunnel, tentatively slotted right in front of Parliament Hill (or within a couple blocks, anyway), and likely the stop most tourists will be disembarking at in order to get to events in the area. Of all the stations the NCC might get involved in, this seems the most likely for them to invest into. And, if we go from west to east along the line as we do with provinces (relegating the territories to the eastern portion, for arguments' sake), Tunney's Pasture would be British Columbia, and Downtown East would be--you guessed it--Ontario.

Friday, July 2, 2010

2010 Election: Taylor on the U-Pass

photo © Simon Cremer

Over the course of the 2010 Mayoral Election campaign, Public Transit in Ottawa will be sitting down with mayoral candidates, discussing their platforms and thoughts on transit in this city, and what they hope to achieve during their mandate, if elected mayor.

Next up is Charlie Taylor. A journalism student at Carleton University, Taylor, 33, has released a series of key platform ideas on his website, from "fiscal responsibility" to "citizen friendly government"--and, of course, public transit.

One of the short-term transit goals Taylor outlined on his platform was to kill the U-Pass, the universal student bus pass which, for $145 per semester, would give any full-time university students a bus pass. One of the key issues debated about the U-Pass as it went through council was an opt-out clause, but it wasn't approved; every full-time student will pay that $145 per semester. Although he said he didn't want this issue to define his campaign, Taylor suggested that the U-Pass is unfair to those students who choose to live close to their campus.
It’s a disincentive for people to make the environmentally-friendly choice to live within walking or cycling distance of school if you charge people a blanket fee. People opt to live close to school, it’s a little more expensive rent-wise, but they’re making that decision to have that lifestyle, and they can invest some of the money that they save in transit into their increased rent. I think that’s a totally legitimate decision, and charging people $300 a year as a tax to walk or cycle is unethical.
The U-Pass, which is valid for bus and O-Train transportation, was brought forth by the student federations of Carleton University and the University of Ottawa, and passed referendums at both schools. Still, Taylor questioned the validity of those student votes.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The red-and-white limo

Funny story a couple days ago on the Change Marketing blog about a group of local high school graduates who chartered an OC Transpo hybrid bus--the red and white limousine--to get to their prom at the end of the school year. And, with the cost spread out over the 25 or so riders, it only worked out to about $12 per person--cheaper, and better for the environment than your conventional limousine.

Charter services is one of a few non-standard revenue generators for OC Transpo. Not sure what percentage of their actual income is resultant from it (I'd wager it's a small percentage), but occasionally you'll come across these types of things--people chartering a bus for a wedding, or a prom, or any other special events. Good for the travellers, good for the environment, and good for public transit? Fine by me.