Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Confederation Line tunnel construction underway (photos)

I hopped off the bus a couple times yesterday to check out the progress of construction of the tunnel entrances for the Confederation Line's downtown subway--which kicked off earlier in July--and snapped a few photos while there. Although not too much has happened yet, it's still interesting to see how things are starting--and it'll be especially cool (I hope) to look back in a little while and see how different things look.

Eastern Portal

Folks riding buses down the Transitway at the University of Ottawa have likely already been impacted by the slight detour around the Eastern Portal of the tunnel, which is right beside the U of O's Arts Building. So far, it looks like there's just a big hole that's allowing the crew to access utilities, like sewer lines.

Western Portal

A bit more has happened at the Western Portal, which is close to Lebreton Station and right beside the Albert-Transitway Station. A couple of dozen piles have been driven into the ground along the sides of the future tunnel to support it during the descent underground. The piles also show the route that the tunnel will take: It meets the Transitway at the unused portion of Wellington Street and begins its downward slope at Brickhill Street, with the tunnel itself angling towards Queen Street. This map might make that description a bit clearer (click to enlarge)...

Here's a photo of the piles, indicating the pathway the tunnel will take, along with a closeup of a pile into the asphalt of Wellington Street...

Finally, while at the Western Portal I met another Ottawan who was interested in documenting the progress of the LRT contruction--and who'd taken a few photos of earlier progress. Courtesy of Jim Louter (thanks, Jim!), here's a comparative photo of the same stretch of Wellington as the piles were being driven, back on July 11:

And here's a photo of what appears to be the archway that'll mark the top of the tunnel entrance, taken yesterday (July 30), again courtesy of Jim Louter:

That's all I've got for today, but I'll try to have periodical updates with photos to show how the project is progressing (although it might be more difficult, as it appears the crew is putting in permanent fencing around a larger area of the site). If you've got photos you'd like to share, feel free to e-mail me (make sure to include the dates they were taken!) and I'll try to include them in future updates!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

OC Transpo's double-decker safety and reliability concerns

photo via CBC

When the City of Ottawa initially discussed the inclusion of double-decker buses in OC Transpo's fleet, I had some concerns about their performance in the city--but was mostly intrigued by the novelty of the vehicles. After a little while with them integrated into the transit system, though, questions seem to be coming up about their suitability in Ottawa's climate and within OC Transpo's system.

Last week, it came out that OC Transpo and the union representing bus operators (ATU 279) has reached an agreement that would see double deckers kept off a section Woodroffe Avenue out of concerns for safety after a couple were blown into the ditch due to high winds blowing across the farm fields in the Greenbelt on either side of the roadway.

According to OC Transpo's official Twitter account, the agreement only affects a section of Woodroffe Avenue from the Nepean Sportsplex to Fallowfield Station--a four-kilometre stretch used exclusively by out-of-service buses:

With that in mind, it's not much of a concern from a rider's perspective; the stretch runs parallel to the Southwest Transitway, so the only change we're likely to see (aside from fewer buses in the ditch, hopefully) is more out-of-service double-decker buses running along the Transitway.

As a refresher, Ottawa bought 75 double-decker buses at a cost of roughly $82M a couple years back. These buses offer good "horizontal efficiency," so to speak, because they carry a comparable number of passengers to articulated buses but are the same length as a standard 40-footer--a significant benefit given the congestion along the Transitway downtown at rush hour. They also have more seats than an articulated bus, resulting in greater comfort for riders (although the upper-deck seats are not designed for tall people, trust me).

However, due to the time required for loading and unloading passengers, the buses are mostly used for express routes--which means that for most of the day, these buses are mostly parked and unused. They are, essentially, reserved for express route use.

Thing specific change restricting double-deckers from a rather small stretch of Woodroffe Avenue doesn't seem to be a very significant cause for concern, but potential problems navigating windy and slushy road conditions certainly are. (Of course, it's also worth noting that articulated buses can sometimes struggle with Ottawa winters, as well.)

I'm curious: Are readers questioning the suitability of double-decker buses for Ottawa's transit needs?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Details of the Richmond Underground LRT extension

Although this is old news by now, the City of Ottawa is moving forward with the so-called "Richmond Underground" option as the western corridor of the city's new light-rail line. It's the second phase of the line, heading west from Tunney's Pasture Station towards Baseline Station.

Here's a brief video of the latest tweaks to the line, from the city:

Much has been made of the National Capital Commission's refusal to budge on light-rail on the Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway, and rightfully so; it's kind of a big deal. But the city seems convinced that their latest plans to bury most of the line in a deep trench should satisfy the NCC. The City has also said that to fully comply with what the NCC is asking for would cost an extra $180M, which isn't in the budget for the city.

Here's an image showing the route from Westboro to Lincoln Fields (click to enlarge); the remainder of the line will follow the existing Transitway infrastructure:

The addition of two new major transit stations, Cleary and New Orchard, is great; the huge distance between Dominion and Lincoln Fields without stops under the current Transitway system is a huge drawback. The catchment area for both stations is quite strong, as well, so it will offer residents of those areas hugely improved transit access.

Given that the first phase of the light-rail plan has just recently started construction, we're still a ways off from seeing this one running. Construction isn't even expected to begin until 2017 at the earliest, so there's still plenty of time for the city to gain the NCC's approval and gain some more community support.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Better pedestrian access coming to Lincoln Fields Station

Lincoln Fields Station is a huge hub of Ottawa's western Transitway through which nearly all buses headed west travel. But it's also kind of isolated by roadways, hemmed in to the north by the Transitway, the west by the Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway, the east by a big field, and the south by Carling Avenue. It was never designed with pedestrians or cyclists in mind, and has used obstacles (mostly fences and barricades) to try and shepherd people along major detours in order to get anywhere.

For example: Someone headed westbound who wanted to go to the shopping centre would be forced to climb a set of stairs on the westbound platform, cross over the Transitway to the eastbound platform, cross over again to the local platform into the main station and then along to Carling Avenue--after which they're finally on an actual street, but no closer to the shopping centre itself than when they initially got off the bus. (Of course, many people simply take their chances running across the Parkway,  a pretty treacherous crossing during rush hour.)

Thankfully, though, that's changing, and the station will get slightly better from a walking perspective, as was confirmed earlier in the week by Bay Ward councillor Mark Taylor:

As you can see in the image at the top of this post (thanks to Taylor for sending it), the NCC finally agreed to install a crosswalk on the Parkway where there's already a traffic light (installed for buses turning into the station) in order to provide a pedestrian crossing where people had been forced to make one themselves. (Note the sections where sod is to be placed in the image, which will cover the well-worn footpaths jaywalkers have established over years of crossing.) It's an overdue but still very sensible move to make, and will hopefully make pedestrian access to the major station at least a little bit safer.

The project is well on its way and, based on what I've seen there, should probably be completed within a couple of weeks.

Of course, there's a larger issue at stake here: The lack of initial consideration for pedestrian access to many transit stations in the first place, especially those near major roadways. It's an issue that caused a fatality two years back at the Eagleson Park and Ride, which was poorly designed for pedestrian access. Lincoln Fields is another station with poor accessibility, and the conventional response to it--installing physical obstructions to block pedestrians--is not sufficient to compensate for these errors. These obstructions rarely prevent pedestrians from crossing dangerous roadways, but almost always make those crossings more dangerous than they were originally.

If Ottawa is serious about encouraging people to walk, bike, and ride the bus, they need to ensure connectivity between those systems is possible--especially walking and using transit. If you make it easy for people to get to stations, you give them one less reason to avoid transit.