Monday, November 17, 2008

Light Rail Now @ the Gladstone

This morning, Councillors Clive Doucet and Christine Leadman held a press conference at the Gladstone Theatre on their proposal called Light Rail Now: Our Path Forward / Vision for Ottawa's Transportation Master Plan.

I went there to not only take in the subject matter (discussed below), but also to get an opportunity to photograph the inside of the redeveloped theatre, as a follow-up to my previous post on the reconstruction of the facade.

The inside foyer is simple in format and elegant in decoration, with two chandeliers, tile floors, a nice bar and coat-check.

Red carpets on either side take you in to the main theater, which for this press conference was crowded with people. (Pardon the blurry photo)

The main thrust of this plan is to build Electric Light Rail with eight stations along Carling instead of the Ottawa River Parkway, and to do it in the next five years. Both Councillors Doucet and Leadman presented their take, followed by transportation expert Morrison Renfrew, who reviewed the technical details and how they got to the estimates.

Councillor Doucet started off introducing the reasoning behind this proposal, including the increasing the usual (though still valid) arguments about how peak oil will cause operating costs of urban transportation systems to skyrocket. His presentation was punctuated with bouts of applause from the audience.

Councillor Clive Doucet presenting his vision for transit.Doucet pointed out that their system will build everything inside the greenbelt in five years, and everything outside the greenbelt in ten years. By comparison, in 2018, City Staff's plan will have built only the downtown tunnel, with spur lines to Tunney's Pasture and Blair. He also added that most Councillors will be dead by the time the "full" system, which still doesn't send rail to the suburbs, will be built. (To which City Transpotation Committee Chair Alex Cullen, who was in the back of the audience, drew a raucus laugh from the audience by asking if that was a death threat!) In addition to Cullen, Councillors Diane Deans and Diane Holmes were also in the audience.

Councillor Leadman followed, discussing the price tag and where the money for this will come from. Because their plan makes earlier and more extensive investments in rail transit, there is no need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on buses and busways, and the operating cost of the system is also lower (namely because a bus costs $80/hour to operate and can hold 100 passengers, requiring another bus and driver when ridership increases; whereas a double-articulated train can carry 250 passengers at a cost of $125/hr, and is a smoother ride whether you're sitting or standing). They specifically designed their system to fit within the budget envelope of the current plan, in order to show that you can get much more for the same price.

Following the presentations by the two Councillors, transportation expert Morrison Renfrew outlined the project.

He started by referring to Jane Jacobs' mantra that transit drives development, and illustrated it with the following two photos of Toronto's Yonge Street in 1950 and 1985. 30 years after the construction of the subway line, the street had plenty of development.

This is a key aspect to the Carling Avenue corridor: not only is there plenty of activity already there throughout the day (driven by the many hospitals, clinics, hotels, etc. along this corridor), but there is plenty of room for new develompents to be built. This will bring in funds to the City in terms of Development Charges, which are a considerable source of revenue for the City, and which will help pay for the rail. Compare this with the Ottawa River Parkway, which is in effect a protected space that will never see any development: it will be a "drive-thru" transit corridor, completely useless to the people who travel through it.

He also went through a section-by-section review of where the train would go and how it would be built. For example, in this photo below, he explained that you could cross the Queensway (Hwy 417) by merely tunneling through it. You'd need only to make some adjustments to the Westbound onramp.

As shown in the map below (as always, click to enlarge), the train would go between Lincoln Fields and the O-Train, and would go up the O-Train line to Bayview (which would be converted to Electric Light Rail for that section) and continue through downtown. The O-Train would remain in service and would be extended North to central Hull, removing the need for many buses to cross the Ottawa river carrying Gatineau-bound Ottawans. Mr. Renfrew said there are a dozen or so different ways to accommodate both the O-Train and ELRT on the same stretch.

The trains would be kept at the Bowesville rail yard site, which has already been approved, but would get there via the Southeast Transitway, saving the cost of converting the O-Train. Keeping the O-Train as it is (though extending it) and having the rail from the south come in along the Southeast Transitway (which was designed to be converted to rail) and into downtown from the East will help provide alternatives to people who want to travel between the East and South ends without necessarily going downtown, and will balance the passenger load coming into downtown from the East and West.

It will also provide rail sevice to the developing South-end communities, which is something demanded by the area's residents and Councillors alike.

It is refreshing to hear Councillors think for themselves and not be spoon-fed by Staff. This is the type of plan that Ottawa needs. There are a few details that need refinement, but it has a much more aggressive (and beneficial) timetable than the bus plan proposed by City Staff. I hope that Council will take this and run with it.

Councillors Leadman and Doucet will be presenting this plan as part of the Transportation Master Plan discussion at this Wednesday's Joint Transporatation & Transit Commitee meeting on Wednesday morning at City Hall. They'll want your support there!

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