Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ottawa buildith, Toronto taketh away

After the light rail fiasco of 2006, the City of Ottawa went back to the drawing board and came up with a new rapid transit plan. Earlier this week, council approved a $4 Billion plan to convert the most heavily used parts of the Transitway to light rail, and to upgrade and extend the O-Train light rail line south to the airport and beyond.

Ottawa's rapid transit network consists of a very efficient system of bus-only roads and lanes radiating from the downtown core to all corners of the city. Routes 94, 95, 96 and 97 spend all of their time on the Transitway, providing frequent service. In addition, routes 101 and 102 use the Transitway in the outskirts, but use the crosstown expressway to bypass the downtown core during the peak hours. In addition, the O-Train light rail line connects Carlton University with the rest of the network. Built for a bargain price, it was always intended to be a pilot project.

In addition to these high-frequency services, the Transitway is also used by almost every bus route operated by OC Transpo. This allows a rider to get downtown from almost anywhere in the city without the need to transfer. But, the large number of buses have resulted in massive congestion during the peak hours, as the downtown section of the Transitway simply cannot handle the pressure.

The approved plan will see:
  • BRT from Baseline to St. Laurent converted to LRT
  • LRT from Bayview to Greenboro is upgraded and extended to Bowesville and the Airport
  • New BRT from Barrhaven Town Centre to Cambrian and to Bowesville
  • A downtown transit tunnel
  • Future higher order corridors identified
  • Objective criteria for upgrading further sections of the Transitway to LRT

Image Source: Public Transit in Ottawa

I suppose you can say that this project is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, and there is no doubt that this will improve service, reduce crowing and bring downtown bus congestion to an end. However, Ottawa's system of one-bus-downtown will be disrupted. Riders on the 97 will have to transfer at Greenboro or Hurdman to continue further, as well as people comming from Barrhaven, Kanata, Stittsville, Blackburn and Orléans. It will be interesting to see how Ottawa residents take to the act of transferring - something that is second nature to most transit riders in the GTA. Either way, I'm happy Ottawa has an approved plan that is relatively inexpensive. Hopefully, the federal government will come to the table this time.

Meanwhile, WATERFRONToronto, the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation, has recommended that the Gardiner Expressway be removed between the DVP and Lower Jarvis Street to facilitate a better urban design of the area. It would be replaced with an at-grade avenue, similar in width to University. This street would have a landscaped median, pedestrian facilities. While it would add a few minutes (they claim 2, but my intuition suspects that is a low estimate) to the commute, it would allow for the kind of development that will make the area a place for people to live, work and play in. Here are some artists conceptions:

Image Source: WATERFONToronto

Many have claimed that the Gardiner is a barrier to the waterfront, but I disagree. The true barrier is the urban wasteland that lays beneath it and the lack of transit options to get through it. Yes, we can spruce it up, but this limits our options to improvements which can survive in such a hostile place. Plants are iffy, and public art would be difficult to appreciate if it were under a bridge. Realistically, no one wants to hang out under a bridge. I believe that this is a good plan, but it should not be done in the name of removing a barrier to the waterfront. It must be done in the name of transforming the area into a destination in itself. Without the highway hanging overhead, we can build a high-density, pedestrian oriented neighborhood from the ashes of the highway. It has been done in many cities, including Chicago, and has been very successful. Yes, it will be a wide street to cross, but like University Avenue (and almost every major artery in the 905), wide streets and heavy traffic are not something residents of the GTA are unfamiliar with.

The original preferred option was to remove the entire Gardiner Expressway from Spadina to the DVP, with the section between Simcoe Street and Jarvis Street to operate as a pair of five-lane one-way streets. From Jarvis east, there would be eight lanes with a median. The cost of this proposal was too high for the city to bear, so I suppose the mayor is endorsing this plan as a compromise. If the Jarvis to DVP successful though, I have a feeling that the full proposal may be resurrected. However, the Front Street Extension was always considered necessary for taking down the other half of the elevated Gardiner, and that project is DOA, according to the grapevine.

It could be eight years before this project is complete, due a full environmental assessment being required. The car lobby isn't happy, but I suppose that since this area is almost completely brownfield there won't be very many local residents to be opposed to this project. The waterfront may seem like an isolated area, but it is very clear that decisions we make have far reaching effects on other areas of the city. Perhaps that is why the original report was titled "Transforming Toronto" and not just "Transforming a Few Blocks Here and There."

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2 Comments:

At 6/10/2008 10:53 PM , Blogger Peter said...

Hi Andrae, thanks for the link, you've got a progressive blog here--good to see. I'm going to link to your site from TransitOttawa.ca, by blog about public transit in Ottawa, and I'd really appreciate it if you could return the favour. Thanks a lot, and best of luck.

 
At 6/27/2008 10:30 AM , Anonymous Hilário Godinho said...

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