Community Newspaper Columns

What can LRT do for Capital Ward? Quite a bit, actually

January 2013

In December, when City Council approved the construction of Ottawa’s first Light Rail Transit line (LRT), it was very clear that the overwhelming public sentiment was to get on with it. That Capital Ward residents felt this way too — despite most of us not being directly served by the line — illustrates just how big a step this will be towards a better city for everyone.

On the surface, the new Confederation Line just barely touches the ward — the only station within our boundaries is Lees, in the far northeast corner. I suppose one could have said the same of the O-Train line, with its sole Capital Ward station, Carleton, on the very western edge. Not much use to us, some have said — and perhaps still do.

Yet the impact of the O-Train has been remarkable, if subtle. Despite its limited capacity and frequency, it has been embraced by thousands of regular riders, especially but not only Carleton students. It is a pleasant, bright and efficient way to travel, even if just part of a longer journey. Plans for an extended O-Train line and doubling service frequency by 2014 will be noticeable and almost entirely positive (although some Heron Park residents may experience more noise and vibrations).

I think the New Year is an opportune time to consider how rail transit can and should benefit Old Ottawa South residents.

Fewer cars on Bank and Bronson: How does that work, when neither the Confederation or O-Train Line serves Bronson or Bank — or Main, for that matter? Simply, many drivers currently using our north-south arteries will have a better option for the east-west segments of their trips, which may encourage them to start and finish their trips by bus or maybe bike. A lot of drivers are looking for a compelling reason to not be tied to the stress and cost of daily car trips. This is a good one.

Transit-oriented development: Many of the new stations are slated to become focal points for Transit-Oriented Development. TOD — you’ll be hearing that acronym a lot — means new “town centres” sprouting up around transit hubs. For us, that means a new community at Hurdman and significant redevelopment at Lees and on the eastern stretch Carling (near the O-Train). This urban intensification will drive demand for improved services as the “within walking/cycling distance” customer base grows. But the higher population density will put pressure on existing parks, daycare, schools and recreation facilities. We need solutions.

Better bus service: Success breeds success. As more people shift to train use, demand will grow to expand the overall network, fill in missing links with bus service, and provide better connections and higher frequency. It’s a virtuous circle: More riders leads to better service, leading to more riders.

Increased cycling appeal: Cities with highly developed transit and cycle networks have noted that bikes and trains can act as highly complementary modes, allowing cyclists to greatly extend their range. The idea is to cycle to and from stations, or even bring the bike on board so it can be used at both the start and finish of a trip, skipping the long middle portion. Excellent bike parking (ample, convenient and safe), bike sharing (i.e. Bixi), train cars equipped to carry bicycles, ramps on stairs, and bike-friendly elevators/escalators are all key pieces that must be built into Ottawa’s LRT.

Less congestion downtown: The LRT tunnel should deliver less vehicle congestion downtown and more space for expanded sidewalks, cycling routes, plazas and public spaces. The end result will be a downtown geared more to people than to moving and storing vehicles.

A good reason for a canal footbridge: This may not be obvious, but the combination of Lees becoming a major transit hub and town centre, more transit ridership, better bus service, improved cycling facilities and new Bixi stations means greater demand for a complete network of walking and cycling routes. An Ottawa that is less car-dependent will want and use great new infrastructure like the proposed bridge, filling in gaps in the mobility network.

More ways to get to and from Lansdowne Park: The real transportation challenge for Lansdowne Park and those of us living nearby is simple: Bank Street. You just can’t squeeze more cars onto Bank Street in this area if it is congested with cars, and you don’t want them cutting through residential streets. The Confederation Line and O-Train, combined with bus service enhancements, walking/cycling improvements and a shortage of parking spots, will entice many visitors to shop, cheer or play at Lansdowne without the hassle and costs of driving. New rail, increased service on routes 1, 5, 6, and 7, the footbridge and excellent cycling routes would help address the feared Lansdowne “carmaggeddon.”

That’s my wish list for 2013 and beyond! What’s yours?

Councillor David Chernushenko