Tuesday, September 14, 2010

2010 Election: Doucet's transit alternative

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.

My discussion with mayoral candidate Clive Doucet was a little different than that with other candidates I've interviewed so far: Rather than a one-on-one interview, Doucet held a press conference on transit issues on September 8, which I attended (I was able to ask him a few questions one-to-one, afterwards). The presser dealt with a few transit issues, but the biggest Doucet wanted to discuss was his alternative transit plan, which basically boils down to this: Surface light-rail along Carling in the west, Laurier in the centre, extending the O-Train to the airport and Riverside South in the south, and somewhere to Orleans--all alongside the existing bus-rapid transit system.
At the heart of the election, the defining decision for the citizens of Ottawa will be how we decide to invest in light-rail. Ottawa faces a critical east-west traffic problem, especially on our Queensway, the 417. Building a downtown tunnel will not solve this. We can spend $3B for a 3.4km tunnel in our downtown and it will never do anything to fix our east-west traffic jams. It won’t do it because the tunnel will add no new capacity for east-west commuters. All the tunnel [will do] is replacing an existing service on the surface with enormous bus-rail transfer stations at each end of the tunnel. There is a concern that this tunnel will even make it longer across the downtown.

There’s only one way to increase capacity on our east-west corridor and reduce pressure on the 417: A parallel rail service to the busway and the 417. With LRT running on Carling Avenue in the west and Orleans in the East, people will have a real travel choice between buses, trains, and cars. This is what we must do: LRT in four years from Kanata to Orleans, from Riverside South to Centretown, and the airport. Can it be done? Of course it can.
Doucet said that because the city owns rights-of-way on Carling Avenue, Laurier Avenue, and the other routes he's planning to implement surface rail, the cost would be about "around $2B". The western portion of his plan is very similar to that he presented in November 2008, with his Light Rail Now! alternative promoting rail on Carling. After the presser, Doucet dismissed concerns about the numerous intersections an at-grade train would have to pass on Carling, saying that Morrison Renfrew--a transportation consultant he's cited often in the past--found that there would only need to be two grade-separated crossings along the line (the rest would be, presumably, timed traffic standards).

A few concerns with Doucet's plan have been raised since its launch, most notably by West Side Action's Eric Darwin. It's unclear, for instance, how a light-rail spur will connect from the O-Train station at Bayview to the Laurier rail line without impinging on the BRT service that is to remain in complement to it.

Still, Doucet's main argument is a valid one: If the expense of a tunnel is avoided, the city will have more money to spend extending service further out. It boils down to whether or not you feel surface rail is sufficient. Doucet, obviously, feels it is, and he's given himself an ambitious timeline to implement his plan:
As mayor, I will chair the transit committee, and we will have the contracts in place within six months, and construction underway shortly thereafter.


gordon said...

While there are a couple of elements I like from his plan (extending the O-Train to the airport being the main one), he seems to be operating under the belief that the mayor gets the final say in the matter. He doesn't.

The mayor "preside[s] over Council meetings, control[s] the agenda, recognize[s] speakers for debates and motions and rule[s] on questions of Council procedure." He also "participate[s] as a voting member in Council in setting the City budget and determining sevice fees and tax levels as well as service/program levels to balance the provision of services to City of Ottawa citizens with the maintenance of acceptable fee/taxation levels to pay for programs/service." (those are taken from the City of Ottawa page about the role of the mayor (http://ottawa.ca/city_hall/mayor_council/mayor/role_en.html))

For Doucet's plan to see the light of day, he would have to convince a majority of council to reopen the matter, and I don't think there's there will to do that again. As a tax payer and voter, I do not wish to see this matter reopened in the manner he's proposing.

Anonymous said...

Gordon raises a good point.

Although I like the idea of an LRT down Carling, I don't think Doucet is capable of building any kind of consensus around the plan.

Anonymous said...

Surface Trams/LRT along downtown streets ( Laurier) does not make sense. Ottawa had a tram system during the first half of twentieth century!! It was decommissioned in the late 1950's due to conjestion with auto traffic.

As for running trams/LRT down Carling, this would be worse than what Ottawa had 60 years ago. At least the tram line that ran from Holland to Britannia Park was mostly on a Dedicated Right of Way that ran next to Byron.

A route map of the former Tram lines can be see at http://www.carlingtoncommunity.org/gallery2/main.php?g2_itemId=69