Baseline Road rapid transit corridor travelling towards opposition

le .

Marjorie Shaver-Jones is opposed to the City of Ottawa's plan to put bus stations on medians in the middle of Baseline Road as part of a plan for a new rapid transit corridor.

 Marjorie Shaver-Jones is opposed to the City of Ottawa's plan to put bus stations on medians in the middle of Baseline Road as part of a plan for a new rapid transit corridor. (Chloé Fedio/CBC)

13.8-kilometre transit corridor requires the partial expropriation of more than 200 properties

By Chloé Fedio, CBC News

The City of Ottawa's $160-million plans for a new rapid transit corridor between Billings Bridge and Bayshore Station could face hordes of opposition at an upcoming committee meeting over concerns of installing bus-only lanes in the middle of Baseline Road.

The proposed 13.8-kilometre Baseline Road Rapid Transit Corridor also requires the partial expropriation of more than 200 residential and commercial properties, as well as the complete acquisition of up to 15 properties, to maintain two lanes of traffic on each side of the road, and include segregated bike lanes for cyclists and sidewalks for pedestrians. 

Marjorie Shaver-Jones, the head of the Copeland Park Community Association, has helped collect feedback from hundreds of people in her three-building condo complex, including a petition with some 500 signatures opposing various elements of the city's plan.

A sticking point is the city's plan to place bus stops at medians instead of curbside pickup.

'We think that the dollars can be spent much more wisely to create a much more user-friendly bus system.' - Marjorie Shaver-Jones, Copeland Park Community Association

The condos at 1465, 1485 and 1505 Baseline Road have a total of 1,800 units.

"The current proposed project isn't the best the city can offer and we'd like something better," she said.

"We think that the dollars can be spent much more wisely to create a much more user-friendly bus system that is an improvement on Baseline Road."

Feedback so far has already yielded a key change to the proposal: a signal to allow eastbound vehicles to turn left through the transit corridor for access to the condo complex.

But Shaver-Jones is concerned the planning and environmental assessment study on the project will be rubber-stamped by the Transportation Committee at its February 1 meeting.

The federal government has already pegged $6 million for the design of the transit corridor.

"We're worried it's a done deal," Shaver-Jones said. 

Curbside vs. median

Plans for the rapid bus corridor are not new: the city held its first open house for the project in April 2012, and it was included in the city's 2013 Transportation Master Plan, which sets out projects to complete by 2031.

The Baseline rapid bus corridor includes 24 new transit stations to link east to west, intersecting with bus and rail stations, without going through the downtown core.

The first phase of the project would have median bus-only lanes from Heron Station near Billings Bridge to Baseline Station, said Vivi Chi, the city's manager of transportation planning.

Chi said there would be "improvements at intersections" to speed up buses between Baseline Station and Bayshore Station, but no median lane all the way through until after 2031.

Shaver-Jones suggested median bus stations would be a struggle for people with mobility issues, particularly in winter when the roads are covered in ice, slush and snow.

"I would like them to abandon the idea of bus lanes in the middle of the road, planning for dedicated curbside bus lanes instead, thereby ensuring that all users, old and young, with or without mobility issues, have safe, easy access to the transit system," she said.

Baseline Road Rapid Transit Corridor median

A rendering of the Baseline Road Rapid Transit Corridor with station on a median. Vivi Chi, the city's manager of transportation planning, said the cost of first phase of the project is pegged at $160 million. (City of Ottawa)

But Chi said median bus stations would actually cut the travel time in half for those who need to cross the street to catch a bus, and added that the city is equipped to clear snow from curbside bus stops and median bus stations, alike.

Chi said that city staff rejected the curbside option for bus lanes mainly because of the challenge of right turns for other vehicles travelling along the road.

Because the option was rejected, there is no cost estimate, but Chi said she believes it's not much different than the median option.

"There's lots of streets where cars want to make a right turn so that would impede the operation of the buses," she said. She added that having bus stations on the sidewalk was also raised as a concern by folks living in homes along Baseline Road.

"We've heard a lot of complaints from people when it's just a simple bus stop from a local route — how they don't like people congregating there, smoking, throwing cigarette butts around and staring into their windows," she said.

"Maybe the condo owners don't care because their buildings are set back but other properties along the way, along the corridor, wouldn't like that."

Ridership projected to grow

Jabbar Siddique, the project manager for the Baseline Road Rapid Transit Corridor, said bus commuters would save 6.5 minutes travelling between Heron Station and Baseline Station once the corridor is complete, or 11 minutes travelling the entire length of the corridor.

Chi said that as the city grows, rapid transit infrastructure is needed to support increased ridership.

There are about 6,500 riders along the corridor now, but the City of Ottawa expects that number to increase to 10,000 by 2031.

Toussaint Smits, who also lives in the condo complex on Baseline Road and has been working with Shaver-Jones to highlight community concerns to the city, is worried about the many unknowns about the proposed project, even at this early stage.

Toussaint Smits Baseline Road bus corridor

Toussaint Smits is opposed to the plan to remove the bus stop on St. Helen's Place that serves hundreds in his three-building condo complex. (Chloé Fedio/CBC)

He is worried about how the changes will affect the many seniors in his neighbourhood, as the westbound bus stop at St. Helen's Place that serves the hundreds of residents of the condo complex, as well as surrounding homes, is slated to move about 300 metres.

Chi said the planned bus stations, which would be at Clyde Avenue and Erindale Drive, are "very well spaced." To add another stop at St. Helen's Place would be "too expensive" and create "too frequent stops" for a rapid bus corridor, she said.

If the plan passes at Transportation Committee, it would go for approval at City Council on Feb. 8.

Chi said the province would have to approve the plan before the city could go ahead with the design process, which would take about two years before construction could begin.

Baseline Road Rapid Transit Corridor

The proposed 13.8-kilometre Baseline Road Rapid Transit Corridor. (City of Ottawa)