How “secure” (or disruptive…) will the OLRT be?


Barcelona, Spain.


Look ma, no fences!



We are in the process of replacing the transitway with LRT. In the Scott Street cut, this won’t matter much. But at either end of the cut, it matters a lot.

The City is preaching two totally opposed messages on how the track will interact with the community. 

On LeBreton Flats, they claim that anyone getting near the tracks will be imminent mortal danger so great that six foot high chain link fences will be constructed on both sides of the tracks. For pedestrian safety, of course. So there will be no crossing of the tracks through the Flats. 

City staff are  insisting that the current pedestrian crossing of the transitway at the Preston Extension will be closed before construction starts. The PAC is advising that it be left open, on a temporary basis, until the permanent grade separation is constructed in the future to connect Preston to the ORP at the Vimy Drive intersection (the intersection there is already in place, complete with lengthy stacking lanes).

PAC members, along with the ward councilor, Holmes, argue that it will be safer to cross the OLRT tracks than to currently cross the transitway. The City isn’t buying that argument.

Yet … yet just a few blocks away, another City-sponsored PAC and consultation process is underway for the westward extension of the OLRT beyond Tunney’s Pasture out to Lincoln Fields (watch for this to be built simultaneously or very shortly after the first phase LRT). Where that will run through the Ottawa River parkway lands, it will be set in grass, and with only a thin chain, mounted on posts, rather like a “bank line up”, to gently alert peds that they are approaching the tracks. Yup, that’s the City’s story for there and the Byron linear park.

OLRT along the parkway

And along Richmond, the tracks will be set in grass, just a foot or so back from the edge of Richmond Road, and open to the dog walking zone so beloved by Mckellerites. This layout will certainly be familiar to the Spanish consortium bidding to build our LRT.

No fences. Certainly not a 6′ chain link on both sides running unbroken from station to station.

I think it is time for the City to decide which it is going to be: Fenced or Open. They lose credibility by telling people two different stories. And I think it is important to community acceptance of the LRT that we know in advance some basics, like how much of a barrier it will be.

Similarly, they need to pledge to maintain a few standards. For example, through the Flats they propose a rather industrial-looking railway track roadbed set in gravel. Like the OTrain. For Mckeller Park, they wave images of a beautiful grass boulevard. Which is it? Will the nicer treatment be reserved for affluent areas only? (Thank heavens it is not going through Rockliffe Park).

And no, I dont buy the idea that landscaping can be upgraded later. Not in this city. If we don’t get it done right at the beginning, it will never be enough of a priority to “prettify” it later. Heck, this city doesn’t even have a budget for new sidewalks!

Downtown Oslo unfenced tracks.Aren't cyclists on the seg.path to the left in mortal danger?


grass right of way transitions to paved piazza in front of Oslo city hall


I am reminded of earlier NCC and City rail efforts.

In the early 1960’s the Feds spent millions of dollars to relocate a number of railway lines out of the City. The reasons? Lines were a barrier, a blight, they were industrial.

The main east-west rail line was replaced by the Queensway. The Scott street line was replaced (eventually) by the transitway. The north-south line parallel to Champagne was dropped into a deep cut. The passenger lines to Union Station became Colonel By Drive and the Alexandra Bridge (god, I wish the CBC announcers could say that right) became a road bridge.

Alas, technology changed, and the diesel engine removed from rail most of the “blighting” influence. But the replacements for the rail lines, predominantly roads, simply replaced one barrier with another noiser one. Pedestrians were not necessarily better off. Nor were neighborhoods.

It is important that we deal with the conversion of the transitway to LRT with some understanding of the consequences for adjacent communities and for ped/cyclist movement UP FRONT.

And don’t get me started on the consequences for Carling Avenue when LRT is built down the centre there. The general public has no idea how disruptive that will be, picturing some bucolic toy train running down the existing median. It wont be like that at all.

11 thoughts on “How “secure” (or disruptive…) will the OLRT be?

  1. Another great post. Access for pedestrians and cyclists does need to be thought about from the planning phase of any big project like this. It would be much cheaper to do everything at the outset than trying to figure things out later. This would also let the people of Ottawa and visitors from across Canada fully enjoy the project from the day it opens.

  2. Neil I used to live SF, and their streetcars are no system to emulate. Much like Toronto, they’re slow, prone to delay, and not very comfortable. IE, the opposite of a good LRT system. When I lived there, Muni (the OC Transpo equivalent), wasn’t even confident enough to publish a schedule more definite than: “there will be a bus every x minutes between x:00pm and y:00pm”

    My experiences in SF and Toronto have convinced me that grade separated rail is the only way to go.

    1. Matt: you’ve gone from one experience – streetcars in mixed traffic – and jumped to the conclusion that grade separation is needed. If you put light rail in its own dedicated right of way with traffic signal preemption at crossings (i.e. just like regular railways have and LRT systems like Calgary and Edmonton), you can get service that is almost as fast as grade separation but without the high cost of grade separation and without the negative passenger experiences (having to climb/descend stairs at stations, being stuck in tunnels and trenches).

      1. David, you’re absolutely right, I’ve never been to Calgary or Edmonton, but I have been about 10 different places with grade separated transit, and about the same amount with a “streetcar” type system.

        I’ll walk up and down a flight of stairs or two any day…

  3. What is the maximum speed between stops a mile apart that LRT will be able to get up to? In the Scott trench Buses feel like they are going about 80km/hr If we have a multicar train that is going over 80km/hr through the city I think a dedicated pathway is appropriate. At less than 60km/hr it would feel more like a streetcar pace where it could interact with pedestrians on its right of way.

    It has never been clearly explained to me what the expected maximum speed between stops a kilometer apart will be for the LRT. Perhaps that is where the uncertainty is. The people who are designing the LRT east of Tunneys are reducing the number of stops and have the expectation set that the design will move people more quickly through the downtown. The people doing the environmental assessment for the western section do not have that expectation set in their terms of reference and are proposing an LRT that will have more frequent stops than is currently on the western BRT. With more stops comes lower maximum speed that lets them decrease the number of required safety measures.

    1. LRT has acceleration capabilities that are as good or better than buses, so anything buses can do, LRT can do too.

      In the Scott Street trench, buses do indeed get up to 80 km/h (the nominal speed limit) or more.

      It is quite reasonable to be putting in a stop or two west of the current trench exit at Dominion: it’s about 3 km to Lincoln Fields, which is one of the biggest gaps in the system anywhere – it’s comparable to some of the Greenbelt crossings and ironically makes the old west end one of the served areas for transit despite having thousands of buses going through every day. The notion of putting a stop on the Parkway at New Orchard has long existed, but unfortunately the local NIMBY condo* dwellers put a stop to that years ago. So you could easily insert a station or two in that stretch – especially if the shorter, straighter Byron-Richmond route is used – without any real impact in terms of time.

      *this is for edification of the likes of S-Man and WJM who are quick to castigate people living in houses but in truth condo dwellers are little different – you just end up with more of them in one place.

      1. 1. I don’t doubt for one second that condos breed their own brand of NIMBY. I’ve seen it in action.

        2. For the record: I live in a detached house, and have lived in a succession of rented or owned detached houses since 1998.

        3. The idea of an infill stop along the Parkway was kiboshed (I use the passive, since I’m not sure who the kibosher(s) are/were) loooong before the encondification began.

        4. Hell, it was hard enough getting modest little Dominion installed, many years after the western busway went into service.

        5. Hell, for that matter, is was hard enough to get the NCC to allow their precious car path to be used for transit in the first place, and they still refuse to allow transit, other than temporary Sno-Bus service, on the precious car path along the canal.

      2. Also for the record: I can’t ever recall castigating people who live in houses. (Glass houses, maybe, but not houses per se.)

  4. And I also I realize I accidentally told a lie; some of those houses, while single-family non-apartment dwellings, were attached houses.

  5. Before moving to Centertwown I lived in Mckellar park where it was quite common to have to cross the Ottawa parkway, and Richmond Road to access the pedestrian and bycycle paths next to the Ottawa River. The only safe access to the Ottawa river from Mckellar park and Westboro was the underpass at Wesboro beach, which was too far for most residents.

    Restricting access to the Ottawa river further with an LRT fence for a surface LRT line is a bad idea, since it will futher restrict access to the Ottawa river parkway cycle and pedestrian paths. The proposed LRT fence will futher split the Ottawa Core in the same way the Queensway did. The LRT fence will like the Toronto’s Gardiner expressway and effectively cut off access to the water front. The only easy way to see the Ottawa river will be by car.

    So much for the City and NCC goals of promoting cycling and walking.

    Mckellar park and Westboro residents will strongly oppose such a proposal

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