Monday, June 13, 2011

LRT on the Parkway: Simply not happening

The city's current light-rail transit plan has, since its inception, pencilled in the western corridor of the line to run along the NCC-owned Ottawa River Parkway. Despite obvious reluctance on the part of the NCC to allow the line, it's continued on as the default option, even while the city investigates the feasibility of other western-corridor options, including Carling and Byron.

It seems that city staff and planners are reluctant to face an obvious fact: The Parkway option is simply not going to happen.

The NCC is obviously no in favour of the option. Since the plan was approved, the NCC has been telling the city that they'd better investigate every other option available, because they'd need a compelling case to offer the Parkway for light-rail. Although they haven't said so explicitly, they've hinted as recently as last week that they're not convinced.

The Parkway option would have advantages. It's the simplest because there's little development to disrupt; it's the cheapest for the same reason; and it's the current western corridor so there's an ease of transition. (It would also offer riders a pretty sweet view across the river as they ride the train, but that's probably not a deciding factor in the debate.)

But those advantages are based on a fact that is also the most significant criticism of the option: Namely, that it's not surrounded by high populations. It would draw well from the northern portion of Westboro, but on the other side is just a river--not many people live in there. Contrast that with Carling or Byron, which are surrounded on both sides by fairly high-density residential areas as well as retail sites and plenty of employers.

Last week, David Reevely blogged about a letter from the NCC to the city in which their tone changed slightly: They don't want to allow trains on the Parkway, and they see little reason to think that would change.

I'm sure few would argue that using the Ottawa River Parkway land as a scenic roadway is the best use of that land, but using it as a light-rail throughfare wouldn't be much better.

Monday, June 6, 2011

OC Transpo bus lawsuits underline benefits of light rail

According to the Ottawa Sun, OC Transpo has been sued by a couple of local seniors for bus ride-related injuries. From the report:

Two seniors are each suing OC Transpo for $2.1 million for injuries they received after falling while riding the bus, allegedly because of bad driving.

According to their lawyer, these types of claims are becoming more common on Ottawa transit.

“It’s when (drivers) don’t wait for the people to sit down,” Brenda Hollingsworth said Thursday. “There are lots of accidents on the bus.”

Both statements of claim, which also name the city and
unidentified bus drivers as defendants, were filed in Superior Court last week.

The case hasn't been investigated thoroughly yet, so it's unclear at this point how culpable OC Transpo and the driver in question are in the injuries. Still, for anyone who's ridden the bus, it's easy to imagine such scenarios happening--and with relative frequency, although thankfully not always resulting in serious injuries. Many of the incidents may not even be the fault of drivers, but a natural result of growing bus congestion along bus corridors, general vehicle congestion along roadways, and an ever-increasing need to make good time along routes. Some drivers are certainly more aggressive than others, but even the best driver will have to accelerate or decelerate quickly in certain situation to avoid collisions or other incidents.

But do these incidents demonstrate a flaw with bus-rapid transit (BRT)? I believe they do, even if it's not a fatal flaw.

BRT is a rapid transit option that has many advantages, including low start-up costs and a high level of flexibility. But those advantages also have costs, especially to the comfort level of the ride: Bumpy roadways and aging buses can contribute to a rough ride, and the large number of vehicles each driven by independent-thinking operators will inevitably result in some abrupt starts or stops along the way.

Contrast this system with light-rail transit, or other train-based transit systems. They have higher start-up costs and are less flexible, but the tracks lead to a smoother ride and the vehicles accelerate and decelerate at a steady and (rarely) interrupted rate.

Improved comfort is far from the only advantage that a LRT system would boast, but in the face of a couple lawsuits totalling $4.2M, it could be a pretty valuable one.