Western LRT (part iv) The River Parkway

Perhaps the most controversial and divisive suggestion for converting the transitway to LRT concerned the portion along the Ottawa River Parkway. There seems to be a large crowd that is convinced the parkway would be ruined by letting LRT transit users have a view instead of just motorists. Concerns were expressed about destroying green space, the aesthetics of overhead wiring, and the danger to dog walkers from high speed trains. Spectres of high chain link fences demarking the line where it slashed through mature forests … etc etc.

Recall that two of the Richmond-Byron options covered in the previous post used tiny bits of the Parkway – from Dominion Station to Rochester Field, and from Dominion Station to Cleary Avenue. Both of these options added the rail lines to the space south of the existing Ottawa River Commuter Expressway lanes. No car lanes would be removed.

For the options that use more of the Parkway, the City proposes removing the two eastbound car lanes, and replacing them with the LRT tracks. The alignment would have to be modified slightly to smooth out the curves. The City is allocating an enormous sum (compared to landscaping for other sections) to “restore” and grade the areas along the tracks.

The rationale for replacing two car lanes with transit tracks is interesting. They have not advanced the argument that it is better on environmental grounds to reallocate valuable cultural landscapes from private autos to public transit. Rather, they point out that the Parkway currently functions at rush hour as one lane in each direction for general traffic, and one lane in each direction for buses. Off peak, there is only enough traffic to warrant one lane in each direction anyway. So, they argue, removing the eastbound lanes and converting the westbound lanes into a two-way two-lane road has the same private car capacity as now.

As for the aesthetics, they put forward the position that the new tracks simply reuse a modified eastbound lanes embankment. The tracks will not be fenced. A number of people at the presentation scoffed at this, but the engineers point out that the existing buses travel at 80kmh with no fences, and some people elect to cross the road. The planners suggest that with some berming and careful planting of shrub beds, parkland users can be gently directed towards the underpasses. New underpasses would be added at Woodroffe and maybe elsewhere.

Instead of fence, the engineers suggest a more subtle penetrable warning line might work. For now, they are suggesting posts and a chain, like in a bank lineup, to warn users that they are approaching the track.

The warnings are required since they are also investigating “green tracks”, as used most famously in Holland. There, grass is planted right up to the rails, and the city places trays of grass between the rails. The result is two steel rails apparently running through a lawn.

At the meeting, someone scoffed that dog walkers and others would trip over the rails (and then be run over) so this is more hazardous than a road, but I don’t see why this is any different from six inch high concrete walls called curbs.

In the evaluation criteria (covered in an upcoming post) the attributes of each route option is measured, including the urban intensification potential. Ironically, I didn’t think (judging by the questions) that opponents of the Parkway option  realized that dumping on it for reduced intensification implies they prefer the Richmond corridor as more attractive because of its greater intensification potential. Did the people living along the Parkway realize how much land along Richmond can be developed as high rises? Does Dilawri want to retire rich?

In the illustration below, the top left picture shows a train travelling past Ambleside. The bottom left picture shows how the eastbound berm is higher than the westbound, offering nice river views for transit commuters and transit tourists. The top right picture shows the bike path/car lanes/train track on the same parkway corridor. It also makes the point that a train track doesn’t take up much more room than the bike path. The bottom right picture shows the grass growing up to the edge of the rails, a gentle chain fence, and a membrane over the ties to create a smooth surface. It is also possible to put grass between the rails, in shallow trays.

Tram in Holland on grass strip; picture from the internet


19 thoughts on “Western LRT (part iv) The River Parkway

  1. A major drawback of the parkway idea is that it places the stations far from many potential users. In other words, it draws users only from the south, since no one lives in the river.

    Densification prospects near the stations would also be more limited, since you can’t build anything to the north of the parkway stations.

  2. You are not alone in thinking that way. Yet I don’t hear the Carling Avenue proposal being rejected because a considerable length is along the Experimental Farm, which will not be intensively developed for condos, etc.

    What if the LRT went along Richmond/Byron – are you advocating that the first six blocks south of McKeller Park be rezoned for highrises? If not, then there is minimal room for intensification South of that line … which is the same criticism of no development space North of the River line …

    Whether the line runs on the River or Byron, I suspect the radius circles for walk in potential will cover very similar numbers of people. But I do think walking to Byron is more attractive than walking towards the River, if only because it will be more urban, populated, and less windy.

    As part of the route selection process, the study team is measuring the amount of “up zoning” or intensification that can be built with x meters of each station. I suspect we will be surprised to find out that some routes have more/less than we foresee.

    There was a lady at the last meeting who felt there was little intensification potential along Richmond, as all the lands are already in use. Obviously, she could not imagine a car dealership becoming a high rise… but i suspect the Dilawri clan would love to spend winters in Hawaii … And all those strip malls and other properties are all redevelopable.

    1. Hadn’t thought about the wind.

      That’s another reason I just can’t see the parkway option flying.

      If they built it there and reduced bus service along Holland, I would almost certainly begin taking my car instead of riding the bus as I currently do.

      Whatever route is adopted, there will need to be high-rises built near the stations. That is the only way to get sufficient ridership, reduction of sprawl, and reduction of traffic.

      Otherwise, we will get even more poorly planned, if not random, high-rise clusters, and streets like Sherwood Drive will start to look like the fiasco that is Island Park Drive.

    2. I draw a distinction between intensification and density. In comparing ORP and Richmond corridors, the area between them would be local to the LRT line regardless of which path is chosen. And the area south of Richmond may not have as much intensification potential as we would like, but it does already have a population density greater than zero. North of the ORP the density is zero.

      If a Richmond/Byron corridor is ultimately selected then I hope the official plan treats the properties immediately to the south as suitable for some level of intensification.

  3. Did they have any pictures of what the stations at Cleary and Ambleside would look like?
    Would they be more than just bus shelters? One aspect I really dislike about this option is that these are yet more transit stations set apart from the city in splendid isolation. The way the city has failed to put transit stations in locations where development can occur within 100m of the station is very frustrating. Even in locations like Lebreton where you would think there is an opportunity to develop a node of activity for a walkable community around the station, for some reason there is no development for decades.

  4. The parkway makes for an attractive view, but workign with the NCC is long and painful, plus there’s no real opportunity for intensification.

    I’d much prefer one of the Churchill/Byron options (with Carlingwood for good measure), though the beating of the NIMBY drums would be loud indeed – if 4-5 stories at the site of Westboro United was so roundly attacked, one can hardly imagine the furor if similar building were to occur along Byron…

  5. Westboro residents won’t allow intensification, so it stands to reason they don’t want noisy trains running through their neighbourhood, nor the noise from people departing the train at transit stops. They won’t like the train near their neighbourhood, either, so forget the parkway. Best to call this venture dead. Westboro doesn’t like it. You can hear the cries of protest now, and the inescapable lawsuits over their quality of life being impacted.

    1. Ah, here we go again, the fiction of Westboro residents not allowing intensification raises its head yet again. There’s plenty of intensification that goes forward in Westboro with little or no objection. Apparently, being in favour of the level of intensification envisaged in the community development plan but opposing levels above that constitutes opposition to intensification.

      Here’s a challenge for you: find an example of intensification in Westboro that actually corresponds to the intent of the CDP* and that was also opposed heavily. Good luck!

      *and I don’t mean developments in which every imaginable loophole was blown wide open on flimsy rationales, I mean a development which actually corresponds to what the CDP intends.

      Frankly, I don’t know what it is about Westboro that other people love to hate. Westboro is actually one of the most tolerant places for intensification – people are just getting sick of being taken advantage of. If you want loud, hysterical objections to intensification, go propose an 8-storey building somewhere in Barrhaven. They’ll forget that they’ve got a lawn watering ban in place so fast it would make your head spin.

      1. I’ll go back to the Westboro United infill at Edison & Ravenhill – 5 stories, 30 units was the proposal. The neighbourhood consultations saw horror and shock! The roads would be overwhelmed! What about the children across the street? Won’t someone think of the children!

        Even a mild infill, replacing a nondescript bungalow on Byron with a 2-3 unit townhome was met with cries of horror.

        Westborovians (Westboroites? Westboronians?) love intensfication within Westboro unless it’s on their streeet or on their way anywhere – then it’s a bad idea.

      2. @ David P, I think it’s Westborrowers, given housing prices on the West Side 😉

  6. I think we should be watching Vancouver’s Cambie Corridor initiative, where they are examining how to fully develop the south Cambie area along the Canada Line. That area shares many characteristics with the Westboro region in terms of density.

    We can expect that they will be encouraging density, but it is encouraging that they are planning for the entire line as a “region” and trying to build in urban villages around each station.

    1. It would be nice if the city worked to build neighbourhoods with the transit station in the middle of things instead of off in a field somewhere with the rest of the development TBD. Baseline station was supposedly a great place for a station because of all the potential for building a neighbourhood around it in Centrepoint. The result was though that they didn’t build anything close to the station with the nearest building being about 300m from the bus stop. 20years later they are just starting to build something close to the station.

  7. Not sure about eliminating the eastbound parkway lanes and having two way traffic. This is a very curvy road that has always had cars doing 80kph. It would be quite dangerous.

  8. Chris: I think motorists go 80 because the road is wide enough and the sight lines are enormous along with generous broad sloping shoulders. If it was two way, it would require more concentration to drive and I expect traffic would slow down, accordingly. Just like the driveway through the Farm, or Colonel By Drive(?). Or the two lane Gatineau Park roads. There have been mutters that they might have to widen the road by two feet to make the lanes a bit wider to be “safer”.

  9. Something I had not considered until now is that two-way traffic on the existing parkway alignment will make it much more difficult to cycle along the parkway, because cars no longer have an adjacent lane to use to pass cyclists.

    I don’t buy the argument that transit running through the parkway would destroy it from an aesthetic standpoint; scenic views should not require private a automobile to enjoy. I also don’t think that you need a six-foot-tall fence along the entire rail corridor, and I’m glad to hear the consultants are rebuffing this notion. However, like the other commenters, I feel it is a waste to put a rapid transit line down the far edge of a built/developable area.

    The initial reaction to LRT down the Byron corridor was partially based on the concept of the entire linear park being replaced by LRT. In the latest scenarios, the LRT would run along the park but the park would still be there, maybe slightly narrower.

    When I lived in McKellar Park, I would have much preferred the rapid transit line going along Richmond/Byron instead of having to choose between hoping the next bus from Westboro was less than 20 minutes away, walking from Dominion (and seeing the bus go by as Richmond was in sight but not reach), or biking to Dominion and hoping my bike doesn’t get stolen during the day, or hoping the next bus will have a working bike rack that isn’t full.

    When people first said they should run it down Carling, City Staff said it would take too long to get to Lincoln Fields because there would be too many stops. This is only because their plans had rapid transit along the parkway and more local streetcar-style transit on Carling supplementing it, and they insisted on this contrived plan as the only way to put rail on Carling, whether or not there is a parallel rapid transit line.

    Now it seems they’ve gone in the other direction and made the Carling/Byron options still impractical by having too few stations to be worthwhile. As was observed in the one of the last two posts, the number and location of stations along the proposed Byron/Richmond alignments barely makes any difference from having them along the Parkway. There should be at least one more, if not two.

  10. That grassy trammy thing would be a great way to make use of the Aylmer Trail That Used To Be A Train.

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