NCC to Quebecers: Back [on the] Bus

Proposed modernist Bayview LRT station is elevated and long. The proposed STO bus terminal would be off the left. Click to enlarge photo.

Planning in a Federal capital region is not just about good planning on utilitarian “planning’ terms. A good chunk of it is political planning and symbolism too.

In the past,  separatist elements in Quebec made hay from the disparate images of the Quebec side of the river (low rise, lower income housing, industrial mills) and the Ottawa side of the river (shiny high rises set high on a green hill). They drew a direct line to the federal purse, discrimination, second class status, etc.

The response from the Feds was politically / symbolically motivated. The Portage Bridge appeared, the Ottawa River Parkway was rerouted so that Wellington appeared to go directly to Hull while Ontario users had to “turn” to continue in Ontario. High rise cubicle farms sprouted on the Quebec side. Museums and prestige buildings materialized. Confederation Boulevard.

The major planning decisions for roads, transit, and buildings, in the Ottawa-Gatineau area have traditionally had a strong Federal political element.

Today, I fear the Feds are about to step in la merde in a rather big way.

Ottawa planned and built its transitway (bus rapid transit, or BRT) a few decades ago. It was a reasonable decision for the size of the city as it was then. It was always designed to be convertible to LRT, which is where we are heading now. On the Quebec side, the City is now planning and constructing its own BRT system called Rapibus. I presume that Gatineau is making a rational decision given its population density, geographic area, costs, etc.

The problem comes in the downtown area where the two systems — LRT and BRT — will meet.

There is currently a front-running proposal in the NCC-chaired interprovincial transit study to bring the Rapibus system over to a terminal in Ottawa. If the Prince of Wales railway bridge is rebuilt as a two-lane BRT for STO buses (a repeat of the Alexandra Bridge solution adopted almost half a century ago) the national unity optics are terrible: English commuters ride sleek and shiny LRTs to the downtown, French commuters ride old-technology diesel buses to the periphery where they are then permitted to transfer to the LRT.

Election 2020: If I were the PQ, I’d be snapping pictures of the two modes from an aerial point over the Ottawa River looking south, ie the view from Quebec. It would show the Federally-funded bright red trains entering the modern very long elevated glass and steel Bayview Station, and Quebecers shuffling past bus shelters on their traipse through wind-whipped snow to get to first class transit.

Of course, the national unity side could score with a slightly different system: build the LRT line over the POW bridge to stop at Terrace de la Chaud and then run along the surface of Rue Principale to Place du Portage. Then the picture shows Federal money delivering the smart-growth green technology of the future to the voters of Quebec. I’d even paint the LRT vehicles on the first part of this great circle loop in STO colours, regardless of who operated them.

Which picture will the NCC be setting up?