Monday, February 2, 2009

DOTT - BUZZ article Feb 2009

Implementing the LRT – Impacts on Dalhousie


Eric Darwin – 4 Feb 2009 - adapted from the BUZZ article

The public attention has been focused on recent service disruptions to Ottawa transit service. Meanwhile, planning continues on the light rail transit (LRT) Downtown Ottawa Transit Tunnel (DOTT) study. The study team has identified a number of route options, station designs, and operational choices. These will be presented to the public at an open house to be held probably in the next month. The original meeting scheduled for January 29th was postponed due to the transit strike.

Late in 2008 city council authorized the DOTT planning group to expand the scope of the study further west from Bayview Station to Tunney’s Pasture and Holland Avenue. As a result of extending the first phase LRT to Tunney’s, it is highly likely that most bus users travelling between the downtown and west end will change between buses and the LRT at a transfer station to be built at Tunney’s Pasture.

The Tunney’s transfer station would be large, similar in magnitude to Hurdman or Baseline stations. A lot of buses will have to be stored and turned at the station in preparation for their runs back out to various west end destinations. The station and bus storage is most likely to be built on the north side of the existing transitway. There are parking lots and vacant lands extending from Banting Drive to Holland Avenue, behind the existing Tunney’s station. There is room here for landscaping and noise abatement fences. The facility will be adjacent office buildings and parking lots, but within the sight line of some residences. Most buses would come and go to the site along the existing depressed transitway.

Some of the buses from the west end would not terminate at Tunney’s, but would continue along Scott to the Bayview Station for those users who transfer to the O Train line, and perhaps on to Gatineau (Hull) via Booth Street.

As a result of this new scenario, the Bayview and Lebreton Stations might be scaled down a bit from what was previously envisioned. Initially, the Lebreton station will probably be an outdoor station. But it will be designed to be enclosed within a building, like the other downtown stations, as the Flats are developed.

The DOTT team is also looking at the desirability of moving forward construction of Preston Street out over the Flats to join the existing intersection of Vimy Drive and the Ottawa River Parkway in front of the War Museum. If built sooner it would open new options for avoiding total traffic chaos during construction of the complex Lebreton LRT station and grade separation at Booth and the aqueduct. It would also preserve resident and cyclist access to the parkway lands during and after LRT construction, which I have been constantly lobbying for as part of the DOTT consultation process. There will be other traffic consequences from constructing this new road. We must be diligent in ensuring increased traffic will not be dumped into our communities.

The westbound LRT will leave the downtown underground tunnel through a portal to be located somewhere just northwest of where Albert St intersects Bronson Avenue. From there, tracks head west across the Flats approximately along the existing transitway alignment. For about two years, the existing bus transitway which runs between Empress Avenue and Tunney’s Pasture will have to be closed to permit construction of the LRT tracks. Where will all these buses go? Current options include rerouting all of them along Scott/Albert Street. The planners think at this point that they can repaint Scott and Albert to include bus lanes (leaving only one lane in each direction for all other traffic). Residents and commuters more familiar with the area will be forgiven for their skepticism, given the congestion and intersection failures currently experienced.

And just how happy will residents along Scott/Albert be when a thousand buses per day appear on these streets? More thought and community consultation is required along the corridor. Residents should express their opinions to their councilors and at the upcoming transit open houses.

Obvious measures to reduce the impact might include running some of the buses along the Ottawa River Parkway (the original transitway did just that), or building a temporary transitway a few metres south of the existing transitway where it goes across the flats between Bayview Station and Empress Ave. Keep in mind that even after the two year LRT construction period, some new bus routes will continue along Scott and Albert in order to service the Bayview O-Train Station and to provide permanent bus service to Gatineau via Booth Street. Of course, none of the ongoing bus service would be required if the O-Train was simply extended to Hull.

As a community representative to the DOTT study group, I continually express my concerns to the planners and their consultants that residents must have uninterrupted access to the riverfront parklands and easy walk-in access to the stations proposed for Bayview and Lebreton (these are not just ‘transfer’ stations!). I also object to traffic measures that will be bad for downtown residential communities, and for improved cycling and transit including north/south linkages from the airport to the downtown, and to Gatineau via the sadly underused and neglected Prince of Wales Bridge over the Ottawa River.

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