Confederation matters (ii) – the Place de Ville Monopoly

Place de Ville is a huge winner in the Confederation Line LRT scheme. Dreams of an “underground city”, or “path” system popular in Toronto and Montreal are now dead. Downtown residents and workers will have to enjoy the minus 40 winters, the high-humidity summers, and slushy in between seasons.

In the City’s proposed design for the Downtown West station, there was an outlier platform entrance to the west and south of the Queen Street alignment. It was basically a pedestrian tunnel that ran west from the Downtown West underground platform to emerge somewhere along the west side of Lyon Street, between Albert and Slater, near the Scone Witch..

This entrance provided a access point for the predominately residential west centretown area. It also bypassed the Place de Ville monopoly. Recall that the Place de Ville complex, originally by Campeau but now controlled by Brookfield, connects the Marriott and Delta Hotels, Tower C, Towers A & B, and the current podium building, which might be replaced by a fourth twenty-something high office tower. The podium building is to be the new main entrance to the Queen Street LRT line.

Their underground concourse provides a nice marketing advantage for the company. They have consistently refused in the past to dilute their advantage by allowing adjacent developments to tap into the underground concourses. Ergo, 240 Sparks has a stand alone underground mall. Neither Confederation Square nor Minto Place was allowed to tap in.

But the City’s proposed underground passageway along Lyon went around the Campeau-Brookfield monopoly. The city proposed only building the first 90m of the north-south pedestrian corridor. It would pop up at the SW corner of Albert-Lyon, near the Scone Witch:

The entrance that WON’T be built, and with it gone, goes the opportunity for an “underground city” or “path” network.

Once running down the series of vacant lots on the west side of Lyon, buildings could tap into the passages at

  • Albert-Lyon-Queen (the Barbarellas site, approved for at least three high rise condos by Claridge)
  • the CS CoOp site, once proposed as a new Public Library megabuilding, and large enough for several high rises either residential or office
  • connections to Consitution Square would be possible (3 office towers)
  • connections to Minto Place would be possible (3 office towers, one hotel)
  • connection to the Minto vacant lot at the corner of Slater and Lyon

The City  could also have allowed for an east entrance to the station at the vacant lot opposite Holt Renfrew, tieing in 3 office towers there, plus a connection to 240 Sparks. While this lot is currently controlled by Brookfield, that could change. And why would Brookfield want to dilute their marketing advantage by allowing 240 Sparks or others to tie into their monopoly connection to the downtown west station?

When the first city LRT route ran down Albert, the station was carefully designed to prevent movement from Constitution Square into Place de Ville (subject of several posts here on WSA). The new station design proposed by the Rideau Transit Group reinforces the Place de Ville monopoly.

I am not suggesting that I think an underground city is a great idea, or that Ottawa can support two circulation modes in the downtown. But we do need to realize that we have given a huge bonus to Brookfield, acquiesced to their monopoly, and largely foregone any chance of an underground city.

Why did the City give up on the Lyon tunnel? Was it pressured by Brookfield, who wanted it gone as a condition of offering access from their lands to the new station? Or was it to save money? The only reason given in the report to council is that the tunnel, having only one circulation path upon opening, wouldn’t meet CPTED principles, which is pretty weak, given the future developments along the tunnel would have provided a variety of access points and destinations, and given the cheerful tossing overboard of CPTED principles for the downtown stations, as shown in yesterday’s post.

The City’s web page has a series of slides showing the downtown station entrances. Their presentation cheerfully shows the above picture of the west entrance as being the future western entrance. But alas, it isn’t. There will be a narrow one shimmied onto the sidewalk at the side door (near Timmy’s) of the new Delta Hotel, an entrance that may be for emergency use only. Some of the posters in the City Hall poster display show the correct Delta station entrance. This isn’t the only error in the slideshow either. 

Above the diagonal line shows the north side of the Delta Hotel where the new DW west stair will come out, but the illustrated station entrance is the one the City won’t be building, and the one that it will, didn’t make the slide show.

Here’s the DT West station that you won’t find in the City’s slideshow:

DTwest secondary entrance

Why wasn’t this station designed with a “knock-out panel” to permit extension of the underground pathways to all the vacant lots on the west side of Lyon? Should you ask the City or ask Brookfield?

7 thoughts on “Confederation matters (ii) – the Place de Ville Monopoly

  1. I believe it’s mostly about money. It all is. This is only one of several short-sighted key decisions being taken on this project with little or no discussion. The platforms have been downsized from 600, to 500, to now 400 feet. This will cut the ultimate capacity of the system significanlty. We won’t notice this for 20 or 30 years, and the mayor will be gone by then, so … And, since the trains will run closer together to make up for the lower capacity, and because Hurdman and Bayview have been designed so as to make it really difficult and expensive to route northbound trains directly into the tunnel, there will be transfers forever from the south.

    The designs are very nice, and it’s all within budget, but it ought to be called the penny wise pound foolish line.

  2. “Dreams of an “underground city”, or “path” system popular in Toronto and Montreal are now dead.”

    Thank goodness. We’re building a transportation network, not a mall. Furthermore, I find those “underground cities” so depressing. Do people actually like them? I see absolutely zero appeal. We have MAYBE two cold months here (said the person who grew up in Edmonton). The weather is nowhere near severe enough to warrant cannibalizing street foot traffic because of it.

    That said, I totally agree that the previous Lyon-street entrance should remain and serve what is sure to be a growing residential community on the west side. People don’t think of transit walking distances in terms of where the platform is — they think of the distance to the entrance (something I think that bears emphasizing with this 3 vs. 4 downtown stations discussion). Can we at least PRETEND that we’re not just thinking of the needs/desires of the weekday morning/evening commuter?

    1. We may indeed be currently aiming merely for a transportation network, but Toronto’s PATH and the underground component of Montréal do have their charms. Also, I’d be interested in opinions on what’s being built under Winnipeg’s downtown core, as well as Vancouver’s situation.

  3. I was talking to the LRT staffer manning the display at City Hall the day after the announcement. I asked about Bayview and whether they expect to have trains from the south head directly downtown. He assured me that they designed the station to support that, if and when the O-Train is converted to the new electric trains.

  4. The person you spoke with at the LRT display knew more than the staffer I talked to. The thing that frustrates me is that I, perhaps naively, think they should be planning a rapid transit -network- that they then build out in phases. I went to the LRT displays hoping to be reassured that this was the case. I was sorely disappointed. It’s not clear they know what the next line/phase/whatever is going to look like.

    Should the Otrain continue north across the bridge into Gatineau? Should it turn east into downtown? I don’t think that question can be answered in isolation. You need to know what’s going on with trains on Carling, on Montreal Rd, on Bank, etc. You plan the network, and then you decide what’s the most logical way to build it out in phases. The current process seems to be to propose/build a line and then say; “OK! What next!?”.

    Actually, what is usually said is, “You mean you want more than ONE LRT line!? Talk to me in 30 years”. The 2008 TMP sure is one depressingly inadequate, conservative, can’t do document…

    1. Indeed! There’ve been several proposals on the table for such city-wide networks, which were expected to be built in stages as resources from money to labour will allow us to build over the decades.

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