Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"As the Train Turns":
Ottawa's transit drama

Today Ottawa was filled with the twists and turns of soap opera-like transit drama; not of epic proportions like in Toronto, but enough to drive someone mad.

Now let's set the scene for this drama. As you all know every soap opera needs a conniving villain and that good guy everyone loves that usually comes from a powerful yet beloved family. Like the Buchanans, Newmans or Forresters.

On today's episode of As the Train Turns, Jeff Gillin from the beloved Gillin clan offered $2 million to help pay for a transit station at Elgin Street (or entrance, depending on what news source you read) and asked the city to postpone a vote on the LRT project for 30 days so he could raise more money.

The city villain Jim Watson, who in real life left the show for a few years to play a bigger role on another show and recently returned, then rejected the offer without any debate at city council or consultation with the public.

Then residents of Ottawa heard the NCC, the most powerful corporation in town, would be releasing a report on inter-provincial transit proposing that their mandate be expanded to include transit so they could almost function like a regional transportation agency (I'm not even going to touch this one yet; that's for another post).

I really don't understand what our city leaders are doing. There are some areas in which I think they're doing a great job, but I don't like the decisions being made on this LRT project as of late. Again, moving Rideau Station to the east end of the Rideau Centre makes complete sense, but not having a station at Confederation Square is ridiculous. Not giving a local business person the chance to raise more money, at no expense to taxpayers, to help fund another downtown station is even more ridiculous.

The mayor mentions the tight timeline as one reason to reject Jeff Gillin's offer. On other projects I would agree with him, but considering the LRT tunnel has a life expectancy of 100 to 120 years and you only get one chance to get it right, I believe it's more important to get it right than to meet some self-imposed timeline.

On a side note, I found this report by Alex Carr of Carleton University published last year by the Queen's Policy Review. He compares the Ottawa LRT to a proposed Ottawa-Gatineau LRT system covering the downtowns of both cities.

What stands out is his list of parameters for a successful LRT system:

1. Financial Cost
2. Increase transit ridership and mobility
3. Enhance economic and environmental vitality
4. Encourage inter-modal transportation
5. Address Ottawa's regional transit needs
6. Passenger requirements
7. Address tourism

Here's what Carr has to say:

"Perhaps the most important factor for a successful LRT system is meeting passengers’ specific needs. Key variables are speed, reliability, safety, user cost, convenience, stop amenities, aesthetics, and accessibility for the disabled and elderly. Meeting these requirements is crucial to ensuring ridership."

With Ottawa's LRT line it feels like the Financial Cost is the most important factor and not what passengers need from the system which Carr seems to think is the most important. If the project doesn't meet people's needs you may not get the ridership you need.

Carr also talked about how LRT systems could enhance tourism:

"Finally, in light of Ottawa’s unique position as the nation’s capital and the importance of our tourism sector, any new LRT project should specifically address tourism by connecting key landmarks, museums, events, and neighborhoods."

He praised the LRT line for reaching the National Arts Centre, Rideau Centre, ByWard Market, Train Station, and Parliament, but regrets it doesn't serve attractions on the Quebec side and in south Ottawa (i.e. Lansdowne Park). The NAC and Parliament can now be added to the list of attractions that will not be serviced by the LRT line.

But I hope this transit drama has a happy ending. As for me, I'm changing the channel to watch less stressful programming. Let me know if Victor Newman shows up.

Kevin Bourne

No comments:

Post a Comment