West LRT, part iii, Ottawa River corridor

It might be best to read part i and part ii, already posted. If you are a keener, the comments received are also worth reading. Now, for part iii …

The Bayview Station is located at the top right. It is a future transit hub, with service extending south along the OTrain corridor; north via the Prince of Wales Bridge (possibly as rail, possibly doubled in width as a STO rapibus BRT route with a station at Bayview); east to the downtown; and west to Barrhaven and Kanata. Usually ignored, is the walk-in potential of Bayview Station: because there are no houses immediately adjacent, in my experience city planners view this as a transfer station only. This ignores its future potential as LeBreton Flats is redeveloped, Bayview yards build-out (stadium or not), and the industrial lands immediately south are to redeveloped into housing and commercial projects. And of course, there is already lots of walk in traffic there, myself included.

The LRT route along Scott Street would be in the existing transitway trench. This is a valuable re-using of existing infrastructure, although some suggest the trench is fully paid for and can be discarded without lost value. The route also serves Tunney’s Pasture, a major employment centre that is expected to grow its number of employees by 300% as the government redevelops the site with more office towers ( I would love to see it redeveloped as a more urban landscape, with some condo towers thrown in, and restaurants along a main street, rather than the current Corbesian office-park design of towers amid the parking lots and bunny-populated lawns).

There is considerable redevelopment and intensification potential along Scott. There are numerous small lots that could be developed with low rises (the people at WestVillagePrivate fought off a small condo at Lanark, but are unlikely to succeed in the long term, expect more condos of the Salus house size or the new mansard-roofed condo near Churchill). There are some lots suitable for much larger transit-oriented developments ( there are sites near The Beer Store, the CBC Lanark site is already planned for multiple mid or high rise condos, the curling rink site near Athlone is also big enough for a largish building).

One shortfall of the Scott route is that it is parallel to but misses the Richmond Road/Westboro commercial area. While the walk from Scott to Richmond is not far when measured on a map, it doesn’t feel part of that vital main street atmosphere, it seems out of the way to condo dwellers and a community focussed along Richmond.

The major controversy with the Scott/parkway route lies in the area west of Dominion Station. From that point to Lincoln Fields, the route follows the NCC parkway lands along the River. Opposition seems to concentrate on several factors:

  • its sacred parkland that cannot be touched (albeit all man-made “nature”)
  • LRT overhead wires are a greater indignity than the existing commuter expressway
  • there may be additional restrictions on ped crossings/requirements for additional ped underpasses
  • all redevelopment (along Richmond) is some distance back  from the actual LRT line

I am assuming that aesthetically, the line can be constructed and landscaped to a high standard.

On the other hand, there are some “good” points for this option:

  • transit users are not put in a ditch, but actually get scenic views otherwise restricted to private motorists
  • LRT is likely much quieter and less smelly than existing BRT and cars
  • the route is within easy walk-in distance from redevelopment sites and existing high-density sites (eg Cleary Ave, McEwen)
  • probably the least costly route to build (no expensive tunnels, no cut and covers, nor any complex interchanges) and the fastest to build
  • it is the shortest route; and likely offers the fastest travel time for the long-distance riders who make up the majority of users
  • if an existing car traffic direction is converted to a LRT alignment (there would have to be some changes because the LRT geometry is not the same as that desired for the car lanes) then a significant car commuter link is removed (which the consultant’s  modelling shows will NOT be a rush-hour catastrophe) , which will shift some vehicles onto other routes and induce some additional ridership on the LRT, while minimizing the impact of the LRT on the “natural” landscape

Of course, this route also requires the greatest cooperation from the NCC. For decades the NCC has been very car focussed with its “parkways” that function as commuter expressways, restrictions on truck and bus usage, etc. There are signs that this attitude is changing, and the NCC may be more open to non-automotive uses of its lands. For daily commuters, transportation of people is what counts, more than the mode they use, so it would be beneficial to switch the parkway to higher capacity LRT. However, tourists still come to Ottawa and a major part of the NCC mandate is make their experience beautiful, which is why at least two lanes of the ORP will remain.

With a parkway route, the existing Lincoln Fields station would remain in place, with its bus transfer facility, proximity to high rises, and potential intensification sites (esp. the mall adjacent). The LRT would then parallel the BRT southwards to the Qway or College Station.

The use of the parkway lands for transit is a hot issue, usually couched in emotional terms. In my view, the “environmental impacts” of a project come in two forms: short term, and permanent. Digging up a street, cut and cover a transit trench, is a a short term pain for long term gain, and the site can be remediated to a similar or possibly better condition. This applies to road allowance cut and covers, and also the the Byron trench.

The Scott street trench is a more permanent environmental impact. The former rail right of way was greenspace, became an open trench, the subject land is permanently altered. I asked the consultants why, if we could consider cut and cover for the Byron dog park in an affluent, well-greened neighborhood, couldn’t we cover the Scott trench so the tracks would be frost-free, the wires ice-free, and the surface could be re-used for parkland in lower-income neighborhoods desperate for parkland. Ah, cost. Not class distinction.

The parkway is somewhere in between. Yup, some bigger trees will be lost. But, we might also get rid of two lanes of the Ottawa River Commuter Expressway, which is a gain. New trees can be planted. It might even look better than the frustrated golf course appearance it now has. While cycling the adjacent paths all summer, I kept an eye out for people crossing the ORP overland, I only saw it happen once. Everyone used the underpasses. If we add rail, we will need to add more underpasses. Safety fences can be concealed in shrubs and berms and retaining walls. The space between the rails can be greened so the rail track will be less visible than the road now is (try grassing the ORP).

As you might guess, I think the parkway option is still do-able. It is not my favorite, either. For that, read on …










5 thoughts on “West LRT, part iii, Ottawa River corridor

  1. Great Series Eric!
    My comment on post #3 is about the NCC parkways that go to Lincoln Fields.
    Never believe the NCC when it says the parkway must be preserved as a pretty way for Canadians visiting the capital to get downtown. Most visitors to Ottawa get into town on the Queensway and up Bronson from the airport. I have been posting on various blogs for years that the NCC would better be able to fulfill this part of their mandate with a swap of the Queensway for the Parkways. I would love to see that happen, but think $$$ will get in the way.

  2. My biggest problem with the ORP alignment option is that it is a sterile environment that is not conducive to transit oriented development. One of the great benefits of doing this project could be that it drives intensity along the path, getting people out of cars and significantly enriching the fabric of neighbourhoods. The ORP is anti-density.

  3. I wonder sometimes about the “lack” of development or intensification opportunity along the ORP or Richmond corridors. The zone for walk ins to the stations is generous. While the ORP has obvious sterile zones along the corridor, there may still be enuf development potential near the proposed stations to make it worthwhile. It is easy to suggest there is more development opportunity along, say, Carling, but in fact huge areas of that route are also as “sterile” as the frustrated hayfields along the parkway. It’s just that the Carling sterile zone includes swaths of single family dwellings intead of dandelions. I have seen no appetite for this city to bravely rezone low density residential neighborhoods for intensification (vacant lots, and changing land uses, yes, but councillors cave in immediately to the calls for neighborhood protection, preserving the character, etc.) so I dont think we will see chunks of McKellar park rezoned for high rises.

    I have argued elsewhere that a big part of our intensification problems come from our insistance that 1. we intensify; while 2: preserve the majority of residential areas for low rise low density. This 3. squeezes all development onto less and less land, raising land prices, raising house costs, and causing high rises to pop up. Much better would be to rezone ALL residential areas as being up to five floors, zero lot line, etc etc and then letting development appear bit at a time all over the place. Gradual change, rather than obvious high rises.

    One part of the LRT planning study I really look forward to is the measure of how much redevelopable space there is around each station and along each corridor. Presumably they will not just measure the surface land area, but consider what is redevelopable, in which case the answers will be anything but obvious.

    1. The easy (and humourous) criticism of the ORP path is that fish don’t take LRT so it has no more than half the potential of any other route, and the NCC protected status does much to reduce the rest.

      It’s a valid point about the zoning along Carling, but I’ve read recently that zoning isn’t the straight jacket I once thought it was. The comment was something along the lines of zoning defining what the land is currently used for, not limited what it can be used for in the future. The Official Plan is the document that really opens doors to developers if a street is defined as something other than a sleepy residential street. And the provincial policies over-ride that.

      So I guess the question would be whether a developer pushing for a significant infill development on a major street served by rapid transit would win their case at the OMB or not. My uninformed speculation is that they would, and that councilors would secretly cheer them one while publicly being outraged.

  4. Covering the Scott Street trench

    I think you raise an excellent point with regards to the existing trench alongside Scott Street – there seems to be no reason (beyond cost) why it could not be covered, especially as an LRT line. For full disclosure, I am a resident of Champlain Park, which is adjascent to the trench, and therefore have a vested interest in seeing it covered. However, I do strongly believe that this is something that should be done as part of the LRT project. It would provide several benefits:
    1) More room for parkland in a part of the ward that lacks it. I would particularly like to see a more effective (i.e. straight, with greater visibility at intersections) cycling route along the expanded greenspace, one which is designed with commuters in mind and therefore seperate from the multi-use pathway.
    2) Less NIMBY opposition to the conversion of the transitway. While I have come to the conclusion based upon available information that LRT will in fact be a quieter and more desirable technology to have in this corridor, speaking to my neighbours there is significant concern that it will be louder & worse for the neighbourhood. Covering the trench & creating a significant benefit to the community in the form of greenspace could mitigate against opposition to the conversion.
    3) Greater desirability & potential for intensification. This is particularly true for areas north of the trench, for example in Mechanicsville, Tunney’s Pasture, and near Westboro Station. (I am not opposed to intensificaiton of Champlain Park, but the single family homes and small lots of the neighbourhood lend themselves to smallscale intensification (ex: townhomes replacing single family homes) whereas more significant intensification seems possible in those other areas).

    While this certainly will be expensive, it might be able to be partially funded by selling the air rights above the trench for development in certain locations – here I am thinking specifically about Tunney’s and the Westboro Station area.

    The time for us to push for the trench to be covered is now. The earlier in the process that it is made clear that this is a priority, the more likely it is for the project to be adopted. And if the trench is not covered when the trench is converted to LRT, I can guarantee it will not be in the future. Why should our neighbourhood deign to accept anything less than is acceptable elsewhere?

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