Are existing Ottawa River bridges really at capacity? We traditionally measure capacity in vehicles carried, and by this measure some bridges are very busy.
But if we measure capacity by people carried, the story changes. Typically, in North America, bridges carry fewer people each year because the vehicles get emptier. With driverless cars, we can expect a number of vehicles to be carrying no one at all.
The focus should first be on carrying people. Sometimes this is best done in cars. And sometimes it might be most effective on LRT transit. The scarcer the infrastructure, the more important it is to prioritize the number of people carried rather than the number of containers they are in.
New bridges to the east or west will effectively promote single occupancy car travel and suburban development. The City will get a lot less accessible to all those who haven’t cars (about 30% of us). Life will get much more expensive for all those that find they need a car or multiple vehicles per household to get around in a car-centric city. Congestion won’t be reduced, anywhere.
Before we go that route, I hope we look at some alternatives to a new bridge.
First, consider the structurally sound Prince of Wales Bridge that extends north of Bayview Station where the L1 and L2 meet. The bridge only needs upgrading to be put in use carrying LRT trains to and from Gatineau.
It doesn’t even need to be “double tracked”.
The bridge has Lemieux Island in the middle of it. There is plenty of space for a passing siding here, should one be wanted. The bridge has a 16′ width between the trusses, there is room to put an ‘evacuation’ surface beside the tracks. [If a desired add on, a proper bike and pedestrian facility would require an additional cantilevered deck on the downstream side of the bridge, but that isn’t required to use the bridge for transit.]
Single car Citadis trains carrying 300 passengers could depart every 2 to 3 minutes in each direction (same frequency as the Confederation Line). This is 6000 to 9000 passengers per hour. On an existing bridge that the City owns and currently isn’t carrying anyone.
This is the equivalent to 4000 – 6000 cars on a road bridge. All of which have to be handled with high capacity roads on each side of the river. Traffic and roads that no one wants anywhere near them.
It would take a LRT train less than a minute from leaving Ottawa’s Bayview Station to get to the passing track on Lemieux Island, and less than a minute to reach the Quebec shore. It would be easy to double track the “shore” portions into each station. The Gatineau end would most likely be their Alexandre-Tache Rapibus Station.
Once popularity is established, it would be easy to employ 2-car trainsets, doubling the capacity. Without building more bridge(s)!
Physically, it would be possible to continue the Prince of Wales bridge LRT service to the south on the Trillium Line, or north on a Fleur de Lis Line. But for various political, jurisdictional, linguistic, and economic reasons that shuttle on the POW is likely to just run from Bayview Station to Gatineau.
And this huge increase in river crossing capacity could be up and running, even with bridge “upgrading”, before any study on a new crossing could be completed, let alone a new bridge built.
But wait, there’s more !
The Alexandra (Interprovincial) Bridge is reported to be in bad structure condition due to neglect. The bridge design is vulnerable to catastrophic collapse when it fails, so repairs or replacement is urgent.
A new road bridge is likely to have more vehicle capacity than the existing bridge. But why do we want to bring thousands of cars an hour into the ByWard Market area? Or to build a fabulously expensive Big Dig tunnel under Lowertown and New Edinburg? To take people in cars where??
Why not just run a surface rail line, call it a LRT or a “streetcar”, from Gatineau’s Rapibus transitway past the Museum of History/downtown Hull, over the bridge and along Mackenzie Avenue or Sussex?
The Alexandra bridge is fairly short, so there would only be one track on the bridge, carrying either a northbound or southbound train at one time. The bridge would still be available for promenade decks and views, and still usable for motorcades should that still be a NCC must-have. At 50kmh, it would take less than a minute for a train to cross the river on the single track section.
On the Ottawa side, this interprovincial street level line could possibly terminate beside the Chateau, with a new entrance in the Daly Building Plaza down into the Confederation Line Rideau Station.
Or, it could even be continued a bit further south along the Colonel By right of way to stop at the underpass of the Ottawa U Campus station, which would surely be a major destination for users on that route.
Ironically, this surface rail line between Gatineau and Ottawa would be restoring the cities to the pre-Greber plan days, when the Alexandra bridge had trains and streetcars, and the Colonel By alignment passenger trains.
If rail could be converted to roads in the 50’s, maybe we can turn them back to rails before the next 50’s.
It would be interesting to see how making better use of existing bridges, along with a focus on moving people rather than cars, would compare to building new highway bridges to the east or west. I suspect politicians are a bit further ahead in their thinking than the general public, in realizing that it is physically impossible to grow the city and somehow magically stuff 30-50% more cars onto existing roads. Capacity is what matters for our city now, and capacity comes from transit.
For keeners on the Prince of Wales bridge being LRT, here are some more helpful pictures.
First, the City’s illustration of the Trillium Line right of way which extends to Gatineau’s University du Quebec campus and within a few metres of the Alexandre-tache Rapibus station:
Here is an aerial view of the line running across Lemieux Island today. A passing siding would be located just west of the existing tracks, along the fenced parking lot:
And lastly, an aerial photo of the line running under the Sir John A Macdonald Parkway. The overpass here dates from the 1960’s and is likely to be replaced. But that isn’t a condition of running the train, nor is it required to bring the double track right to the Ottawa end of the POW bridge, as the cycle path was pushed right to the abutment edge specifically to leave enough space for double tracking:
So how do we convince the politicians to make better use of our existing bridges before building another road bridge?