Warning: long post. Go pee or get your coffee before you start reading.
After so much huffing and puffing, the City has detailed its final LRT route and station locations, and their costs, to Council and the Public.
The most noteworthy change has been to move the tunnel from the “cross country” deep alignment under Albert Street, then Queen Street … to one that traverses the downtown always under Queen.
I have read the available material from the City justifying the move. It is a very political document, light on the technical stuff. It’s way more PR oriented than the previous reports.
Getting the stations “shallower” is obviously a significant and good achievement. But the devil, as they say, is in the details. This change of course for the downtown OLRT will be great fodder for a MA or PhD thesis in a few years. The student will have to be good at spotting missing information and changes in what’s considered good, between the original tunnel routes and the new one.
1. the shallower tunnel is under Queen. Funny enough, the original reports considered numerous tunnel route options, including Queen, Sparks, and Wellington. Queen was rejected back then. Why? It was too far north. The original studies drew “catchment area” circles around the stations, and identified the route that captured the largest market. Those circles are conspicuously absent from this revised route and report. Is that because they capture lots of area inhabited only by feral cats and fish in the Ottawa River? How much of the rapidly developing condo belt south of the office building core, and centretown itself, is now further away from the stations, and thus less likely to find them convenient and useful?
I would like to see the catchment circles of the old route compared to the new route, just to be sure that we aren’t getting a cheaper route at the price of a less useful route. (And yes, I would like both sets of circles to either include or exclude the descent time, for consistency).
2. One of the oft-cited advantages of the deep tunnel was that the station accesses could come up to the surface in a sort of stepwise procession, arriving a block or two away from the end of platform. Thus while there were two downtown stations, and four entrances, the entrances could be blocks apart rather than 120-150m apart. For many users, this would put the apparent proximity of a station closer to their place of residence or employment.
This is not as likely for a shallow tunnel. The advantage is now that entrances will come up short, vertical rises. But this is at the price of users having to walk further on the surface to get to the entrances that will be barely 150m apart, in the same block, and on the same side of the street, in the case of the downtown east station.
For the downtown west station, the document shows the station under Queen at Lyon as having one entrance on the sidewalk by the front entrance to Towers A and B of Place de Ville (in front of the Ticketmaster Office windows) and the other would have been just meters west at the Crowne Plaza (now Delta Downtown) parking ramp. Hmm. How useful is that?
To avoid this, they have instead called for a one-block-long underground tunnel running horizontally south four stories down under Lyon, to emerge at … the “old-route” station location at the corner of Albert/Lyon, opposite the Baton Rouge. This is apparently selected to service the proposed development of the block currently occupied, in part, by the CS CoOp building. Note that they bypassed the half-empty block occupied by Barbarella’s Strip Club and adjacent parking lots (now there’s a sponsorship opportunity …). When I asked the consultants why they weren’t tieing this in to the proposed Claridge development for the Queen/Lyon/Albert block (3 tall towers of 27?, 25?, and 20? floors, but the exact numbers keep changing…) they were totally unaware that there were any development proposals for the site at all. Oh oh. My faith is shaken.
The location of a station entrance west of Lyon, and the increased emphasis in the report on Transit Oriented Development, particularly places of employment, makes me wonder how much longer the long-standing divide of offices-east-of-Lyon and residental-west-of-Lyon will remain in place. The Anglican Cathedral and St Peters will certainly rejoice and check the collection plate carefully when the office zone expands west.
3. Much is made in the new report of better connections to the “underground city”. Except … the previous reports indicated that a city the size of Ottawa cannot support two different active pedestrian environments. Other mid-size cities that have tried a Plus-16 pedestrian network (eg Minneapolis) or underground pathways, have found that both the grade separated and sidewalks died, much the way the Esplanade Laurier internal mall killed surrounding public sidewalks and 240 Sparks helped to create a deader Sparks Street Mall. And the pinnacle of Place de Ville’s street level (above the fabled underground city) is … office space and a Tim Hortons. Before we rejoice in having an underground network of shops, we need to know if there is enough life downtown to support two circulation systems. My feeling is no, we can’t, and the current proliferation of empty storefronts, conversion of ground floor spaces to dentist offices and government office space, tells me the death of the current public sidewalk space is marching forward hand in hand with the dominance of the downtown by civil servants (the kiss of death to retail, one leasing manager explained to me).
4. Connectivity in the underground city — NOT. Place de Ville has the biggest underground mall. It was to benefit from the previous tunnel route, and will again from the new tunnel route, by virtue of straddling both Queen and Albert Streets. However, the PdeV mall has never connected with the Delta project to its west, or the 240 Sparks to the northeast, or to Constitution Square or Minto Place to the south, even though architects and building owners in all those buildings designed connections to the PdeV underground and were willing to pay the costs. Basically, PdeV wants a monopoly on the underground connection, to capture the benefit for its tenants of superior connections to the LRT. Even on the “old plan” when Constitution Square almost had a connection to the LRT, it was several stories down, and it would have been very circuitous (and may have required a transit pass or paying a fare) to get from one building complex to the next.
The required measure, if we want a connected underground city from 240 Sparks to PdeV to Consistution Square to Minto Place and other new towers, will be for the City to require Place de Ville to permit connection (with a cost sharing formula) to adjacent properties as a condition of accessing the LRT stations. If they won’t do that, I’d go to considerable lengths to ensure PdeV isn’t connected the LRT either. Play ball or go home.
5. The flexibility bonus promised in Watson’s LRT programme — contractors could either bore a tunnel or cut and cover, their choice — reminds me of the guy who murders his parents then pleads for mercy because he is an orphan. One of the benefits of the “deep-dive tunnel” was that it could be bored and the stations excavated all from the tunnel itself (except, obviously, for the last bit when station entries punched up to street level). Thus the downtown was spared years of digging, trucks, mud, noise, and traffic chaos. All the excavation material would exit at LeBreton portal, and be trucked or railed away.
Is a cut and cover construction method something we really want? It will mean one to two blocks at a time, maybe even all the blocks, would be closed to all traffic while the contractors dug deep pits, removed the sewers, water mains, Bell lines, and telecom lines, to reach four to 9 stories deep down (remember, the east part is still wa-a-a-a-y down). All that debris gets trucked away at street level. And new, temporary water, sewer and telecom lines would be strung about. If merchants are pissed at the Laurier SBL, wait till they face three or four years of no vehicular traffic on Queen and sidewalks hemmed in by high plywood construction fences.
Is the NCC really going to allow a cut and cover operation to cut through the cliff face at the west end of Queen, beside the Juliana Apartments? Do we want that prominent western viewpoint (sadly underdeveloped right now) to eventually have a five storey concrete band-aid on its face? Is Watson planning to pick up the War Memorial plaza for a few years while someone digs a ditch? If these features are to remain in place, then tunnelling is still required. And if it isn’t a deep bore starting at LeBreton Flats, but is instead a series of mined tunnels, then a series of deep pits, access holes, similar to open pit mines, will be required to haul up and out all the spoil. And those open pit mines will be on Queen Street.
I suspect the benefit of the cut and cover operation is all cheap cost, and has nothing to do with any benefit to the downtown residents, merchants, or cubicle farmers. This report is way to silent on how cut and cover might work, and its consequences. But recall that the original route was selected, in part, because it avoided cut and cover.
6. street width in downtown Ottawa is a problem when constructing an underground system. There isn’t enough room in the public right of way to locate a station, side platforms, and access routes to the surface. The old routing located its stations where there was some vacant lots so access could be designed into new developments. The all-Queen routing follows a street that is almost all fully built out with few setbacks (exceptions include the Podium redevelopment at PdeV where the three storey former cinema building is to be replaced by another highrise office building).
Thus, the ventilation shafts for the new tunnel are shown coming up through the public sidewalks (to be artfully disguised somehow). And the station access entrances are flush with the curb line, forcing pedestrians to detour over the private properties adjacent to buildings such as the Sun Life complex. It is hard to make out some of the tiny drawings provided with the report, but I suspect that in at least one spot the on-street parking has been sacrificed to insert a subway entrance, rather akin to the down-ramps to World Exchange Plaza replaced street lanes/on street parking with an entrance to a private parking garage.
7. the Rideau Centre station is still very very deep, with convoluted access from the surface. I remain unhappy with the previous station design, and this new one. Plus this new one has unaddressed consequences, such as the steep climb for trains required to get up and out of the station when going west. I would like some reassurance that the single deep station won’t have deleterious operating consequences and expenses. Save some bucks today, pay for it forever after Watson’s gone?
Conclusion: the Watson new route documents are very thin on detail, compared to the details in the previous route documentation, which makes comparison difficult. Much is made of the shallower tunnel, without any reference to the changes in service catchment area. Nor is there any hint that the underground connections will be extensive rather than a windfall for Place de Ville landlords. The shallow tunnel could be constructed cut-and-cover, but this has huge negative impacts on the downtown, which like a bastard child, are hidden away in the attic.
Will some student in the future be writing for degree, documenting that Watson traded the better route, the more useful route, the cleaner-t0-build route, just to be cheap?
Note to the reader: Do NOT assume that I favour the old route, and dislike the new route. There is a lot of merit in the new route. But the sales pitch for it reeks of the superficial, the happy headline, the politically attractive. I want to see the old and new routes compared, using the same criteria. And I want to see a lot more detail. This proposed train ride needs the Devil’s Advocate to buy a ticket and have a good poke around. We have to make informed decisions.