On the Left Track

I’ve skimmed over the Clive Doucet for Mayor position paper entitled “On the right track”. More than a few items in the proposal left me cold.

Plank 1. LRT in 4:  the paper starts with a great headline, it seems to promise we’d we riding LRT trains within his first term. This is great marketing, making hay on the current plan’s long time horizon (riding DOTT in 2019). Except … the 2019 date is very conservative, filled with slop room in the planning and construction process. I think the current DOTT plan could be up in running by July 1 of our sesquetennial in 2017, all the way from Lincoln Fields to Blair, which isn’t much beyond the four-year date alluded to by Doucet (four years from Nov. 2010 would be 2014-15. I say 2015 because Doucet cannot by himself get his plan going on day one should he be elected. See photo above.). So we could have the current plan by 2017, vs his much more modest plan for 2014. Which system will last a century or more?

While I am open to the option of the western leg of the LRT using Carling Avenue, it’s not slam-dunk easy. And I am depressed by the  messages in his platform (plank 2)  that the transitway will continue to run for buses forever. That’s a continued wall of buses through the downtown core, forever. Albert and Slater are pretty ugly and unpleasant now with the current transitway running on the surface, Doucet wants to keep this in place. I’m not thrilled with this vision of a livable core. And just why do we want to provide two long-haul transit services to those in the far west of the city … both LRT and bus transit?

Also unaddressed in this platform is just how he plans to keep both systems open when they use the same rights of way. If the transitway stays in place, the Carling LRT will use the O-Train corridor (what happened to the Otrain??) to Bayview and then — route unspecified — appear on Laurier. Tunnel through the cliff? Mix with all the buses on Albert and Slater at the current bottleneck? Then once the surface LRT runs along Laurier, how does it get from the canal to Blair if not along the transitway corridor which presumably Doucet is keeping open for the bus service? And from Blair, he wants to extend it beyond, but to where is not mentioned: presumably, it is to Orleans. In four years.

I think the Doucet plan founders on two big issues: if he wants to keep both the transitway and LRT running simultaneously, he needs two rights of way, which will be parallel or side by side for significant parts of their length. This is not very efficient. Secondly, the four-year promise strongly implies he will have all these routes up and running in four, when the planning, land acquisition, negotiations with affected businesses and community associations will take at least that time. Then the line has to be built.

The only segment he could get running in the first four years would be an O-Train extension to the airport. This could be accomplished quickly and easily, and should have been done three years ago when the popularity and functionality of the O-Train was first demonstrated. As a city, we should be embarrassed as this missed opportunity that has been staring us in the face for so long while we try to ignore it.

While I understand the city’s planners argue that extending the LRT out to Orleans and Kanata is uneconomic because of the predominately one-way service (inbound in the morning, outbound at evening) is dreadfully uneconomic (read: expensive urban taxpayer subsidy to suburban commuters), Doucet’s promise of LRT to the far suburbs appeals to me as a city building exercise and probably useful as employment nodes continue to grow outside the greenbelt.

Plank 3 in his platform promises to maintain existing roads rather than building new roads. This is a huge difference between his view of the city and that of OBrien and Watson, who favour road building in the suburbs. The city thus far has been all too willing to defer road maintenance and underestimate the full life-cycle cost of building roads. Just like it ignored subsurface infrastructure (sewers) for decades in favour of more glamorous projects visible on the surface (eye candy for voters), the city is risking its road infrastructure by consistently underpricing it, overbuilding it, and undermaintaining it. The current policy will come back to bite us, big, in the future.

Plank 4 is cycling and pedestrian facilities. I agree with what he says, but … how cyclist/pedestrian friendly will the downtown core be with BRT on Albert and Slater, LRT on Laurier? LeBreton Flats and east of the canal will become giant freeway spaghetti’s except we’ll have roads + transitway + LRT all competing for space. What housing?!?  Poorly handled, LRT and transit facilties can be just as much a neighborhood blight as freeways. With Doucet’s plan, there’ll be lots of choices on how to get downtown, but will anyone want to? And where will there be room for cycle lanes in the core with all this focus on surface transportation? I think the best hope for a decent cycling route through the core comes from using some of the freed space when the bus lanes are removed because transit went underground.

The weakest and most surprising plank in the platform is the last. Plank 5 calls for the commuter network of O-Train/GO Train service to Smith’s Falls, Richmond, Arnprior, etc. We already see that the continual expansion of 417 and construction of 416 were boons to exurban growth. Small towns are now getting the worst of suburban growth: low density bedroom subdivisions where everyone drives everywhere. We all love cute village downtowns, but shop at big box malls sprouting on former farm fields on the edges of these towns. Facilitating low-density auto-centric exurban growth is not what I expected from Mayor Doucet. It is a natural consequence of Smart Growth thinking and planning to increase land costs, increase house prices, decrease housing affordability, but to encourage a jump to exurban growth throws away the benefits we are supposed to get in compensation for smart growth costs.  We saw it with the greenbelt, which we have now realized was too small to prevent “jumping” it to the greenfield developments beyond (jumps gladly facilitated by regional council and the OP). That was one of the big arguments for the huge physical size of the amalgamated city, to plan suburban growth. But if we then just build new transportation infrastructure to “leap” the barrier (whether that be freeways or commuter rail), what’s the point?

While I enjoyed reading Doucet’s transportation platform http://clivedoucet.com/en/right-track, I don’t think it is the right track at all.