A number of speakers at the recent City Hall open house on the Western section of the new LRT line (WLRT) favoured the Carling route. That route has a number of advantages, including distance from many of speakers favouring it over the Richmond Road options, a belief that there is more intensification potential there, and a firm belief that the WLRT should take priority over any other future LRT routes, so if the Carling-OTrain route knocks out the attractiveness of future southward or northward LRT routes that would have otherwise used the OTrain cut, well, too bad for them.
A lot could be written on each of the above arguments. But today lets do a thought experiment. It takes a number of assumptions, and hostile readers can surely throw up a lot of objections. But if gentler readers will bear with me, follow along.
The Richmond Road options are currently costed at under a billion dollars. The Carling-Otrain option at more than two billion. That’s OK, some people say,Carling is still better because there is more intensification potential along Carling.
But, it is also true that the Carling option is way more expensive right out of the gate. So the first chunk of intensification is required just to pay the additional cost of the more expensive Carling option.
The cost can be calculated per rider for Richmond Road (the underground route, or green line option) and compared to the Carling option. The cost per rider for the Carling option is 2.45 times higher than the Richmond option.
So how many new riders do we have to get on the Carling section of the WLRT * to bring the cost back down to the Richmond option?
The answer is we need 313,000 new residents along Carling. These people are going to be much more likely to use transit than the average resident, so the assumed modal split is 40% (rather than the target 30% for the city as a whole, up from today’s 23%). This assumption gives us 125,000 new daily riders. And their farebox revenue brings the cost per rider of the Carling option down to the same cost as the Richmond green line option would have.
The spreadsheet showing how that can be figured out is shown below. It is NOT my spreadsheet, and it is NOT my intention to argue endlessly with commentators as to how the equation works. Please be satisfied that I found it, and am sharing it with you.
And because the fun part is beyond the table:
So, we need 125,000 new daily riders to get the Carling option to the same cost per rider as the green line under Richmond Road. And the 313,000 new residents along Carling coincidentally happens to be the population growth for the entire city out to 2031.
So we are going to have to ban any and all new residential construction in Kanata. And Barrhaven. And Ottawa South. And Orleans. Which probably means no more commercial construction in the ‘burbs either. Instead, every single new resident of the City between now and 2031 will have to live on Carling Avenue. And presumably we can retrain all those low-rise construction people how to build high rises, because we can’t fit all those new residents into low rise wood-frame construction just along the Carling corridor.
The Carling corridor from the OTrain track to Lincoln Fields is about 23 traffic-lights long. I’m using traffic lights because its a number I have handy, and makes for a fairly understandable way to break up Carling into a lot of little segments.
Let’s further assume that a 50 storey condo tower can hold about 250 apartments, or 500 people. To house those 300,000 new residents, we will need SIX HUNDRED new 50 storey apartment buildings.
Assuming they were evenly spaced between the intersections, that’s 26 new 50 storey buildings between every set of traffic lights along Carling Avenue. We might actually be able to get 26 into the Carlingwood Mall site. And maybe 13 into Westgate. And six into Hampton Park Plaza. And maybe a bunch south of the Canadian Tire, if we get rid of the industrial stuff that’s there now.
I’m afraid we might have to take out the two kilometers or so of Experimental Farm, running along the south side of Carling, to build more condos. Perhaps the Civic’s helicopter pad can be relocated to the roof of one of them.
And many of the lots along Carling are rather shallow, where the next street back is Woodroffe Park, or the south side of McKellar Park, or Carlington, or the Civic Hospital neighbourhood. Those residents will surely be thrilled by a “wall” of fifty storey buildings all along Carling.
And don’t forget, our increased modal split wasn’t just because the residences along Carling were nicely along a transit line. Carling simply cannot handle the 60% of residents that will drive to work (180,000 vehicles/day…). I guess they’ll have to drive north to Richmond Road or south to Baseline before heading east or west.
And for the 40% who take transit, their workplaces have to also be along the transit corridor. So a high proportion of all new jobs in Ottawa between now and 2031 will also have to be on the Carling corridor. This will be the equivalent of several Tunney’s Pastures (which is our third largest employment node in the city ….). Until 2031,maybe all those jobs will be building new condos along Carling, but after that… or for people who aren’t planning to be in construction … we are going to need a lot of tall office and commercial buildings. To quote our mayor, “a lot more tall buildings. Very tall buildings.”
And once we have built those 600 new 50 storey condo towers, killed suburban growth, and figured out how to force all new residents to live in said towers, we are exactly where? Well, right back at the 2013 starting point, since all this was required just to get the Carling route down to the same per rider cost as the Richmond green line. Now, we can start exploring those intensification opportunities that are so lauded as being easily found on the Carling corridor.
*all the new residences are put on the Carling segment of the LRT line rather than along its total length, as the choice is between the Richmond green line and the Carling line. If we reallocate the Carling intensification to the whole line, then where are we going to get the intensification we were otherwise expecting to get from building the other segments of the line?