Westward Ho ! (part iv) in which Fantasies come to the fore …

ORP overview


In the previous three stories I’ve tried to review what is planned, what some of the tradeoffs were, what the consequences area, and slip in just a teensey tiny wee bit of my opinion.

So what would Eric do if faced with the same starting situation,  of the City insisting its Western LRT had to go down the parkway space; and the NCC insisting that people using transit is incompatible with their revised greenspace plan? (note I am not considering other completely different route options).

The physical plan

My goal going into the conflict would be to keep rail on the surface, as that is a better customer experience, its much more equitable, after all why should the view be reserved primarily for people who drive?  I’d let motorists continue to use a parkway too, but it would be two lanes only west of Dominion. This can handle the same number of cars as the current parkway does with 50 gazillion buses a day on it.

The surface rail option is so much cheaper, we’d be able to extend LRT further out into new neighbourhoods, which would also increase potential modal share for transit. That rail alignment through the parkway would need to be fenced, but anyone who has visited a Frederic Law Olmstead park from a century ago can only marvel at the subtle techniques he employed to divert the eye, focus the view, and steer park visitors to the desired path of least conflict with other modes. I bet no one would notice the “fence”, which would be run through shrub beds and in some places take the form of attractive retaining walls or stormwater ponds – it would not take the current  restriction that it has to be glued to the edge of the LRT roadbed.

I’d relocate the current westbound parkway lanes for people who drive to be more curvy, and closed in by landscape features, more like Queen Elizabeth Driveway, to do away with the freeway-in-a-frustrated-golf-course look that typifies 1960’s parkway planning. This would deliver the same 38% more shoreline parkland the NCC wants, but at NCC expense. They can earn their dollars by selling the rights of way to the city, as they currently intend to do.

I’d reallocate the east bound lanes to the surface LRT, which would require some realignments of the roadbed and lowering it by about 2-3′.

Without the LRT tunnel, it would be possible to install many more underpasses — say every 300 – 400 metres — to improve access to the waterfront; and I’d use careful berming and shrub planting and stormwater ponds to gently direct pedestrians toward the underpasses so they wouldn’t even miss the up-and-over trek dodging cars. Indeed, many more parkway visitors would likely stay on the now-neglected south side of the parkway space because it will be made interesting to enjoy with a wider variety of plantings, ponds, and amenities such as nearby washrooms. Our greenspace is too valuable to be ignored like the south side is now.

Both Dominion  and Cleary Stations would be treated as gateways to a wonderful waterfront experience. Bright glass-lit stations would have inviting views of the waterfront parkland, with a restaurant or cafe on the second level to take advantage of views, Instead of waterfront space being taken up for parking lots, the station-area parking would be on the south, more urban side. People would actually go to transit stations because they are hubs of urban conversation and activity.

Cities like Portland celebrate transit stations; the NCC must stop being embarrassed they exist.

Those no-longer-buried stations will be much cheaper to construct, so we might even be able to squeeze in another one without blowing the budget. Station locations should be based on transportation need and neighbourhood planning rather than budget rigidity.

As gateways to a recreational wonderland, and to take better advantage of the cycling paths, I’d make it possible for people who find it too far to cycle into town from the the farther suburbs to take transit to a waterfront station and switch to their own bike stored in a locker or use a shared bike. Those starting their bike ride at Dominion would have a choice of the water’s edge bikeway or the BikeWest route along Scott-Albert.

These crystal-palace stations would have public washrooms  — perhaps privately operated —  to serve the travelling public and the parkland users. They would provide a refuge from bad weather, a place to buy a chocolate bar or get a coffee, and other amenities. They would both serve the parkland users and attract more people to the waterfront.

Convincing the NCC

The NCC has a raison d’etre and strategic objectives. I’d focus my arguments on showing how surface rail and the related changes above attain all their objectives much better than their current anti transit attitude. The yawning gap between their overall goals and their articulated parkway position is a weak point that needs to be emphasized.

I’d call out the NCC every time it commits another gross verbal discrimination.  it could start phrasing its pronouncements with people who use transit as “users” of the parkway, instead of reserving that phrase just for people who drive cars. As they get weaned off their vocabulary of abuse, their attitudes will change.

I’d push a lot harder on the NCC to justify their current no-rail position. Why are 20,000 people a day going along the waterfront in quiet-ish non-fossil fuel burning vehicles with giant picture windows to enjoy the view,  worse than people going along the waterfront in personal automobiles using fossil fuels when most of them cannot get much more than quick glimpse at the scenery (they are already driving and maybe multi-tasking aren’t they?). Why this retro-fetish with the private automobile? It’s unjustifiably inequitable. 

I’d challenge them on the environmental impact on the parkland itself of a 100% rain permeable railbed vs asphalt roadway with storm sewers dumping into the Ottawa River. The impact of salt. The impact of snowbanks. The impact on wildlife.

I’d compare the danger for people who arrive from south of the parkway to cross the four traffic lanes vs the improved access that could be attained with surface rail and several more frequent underpasses. Isn’t improving access to the waterfront a goal? Wouldn’t more underpasses  drastically improve safe access to the NCC’s revised shoreline experience?

In short, I’d use all the criteria the NCC uses to evaluate its own wonderfulness.

The City of Ottawa, of course, should hop on board this scheme because it so much cheaper to construct, while maintaining a grade-separated LRT that could be automated.  The other benefits from improved waterfront access to a better transit experience to less greenhouse gases, should also appeal to Mayor Watson and Council, even if they can’t save actual budget money by doing it. Mind, I think they’d fret a lot about the possible downsides to having tenants (restaurants, bike shops, even toilets! etc) in their stations. I’d also like some acknowledgement from the city that long tunnel segments will be noisy for riders inside the cars, if that is indeed the case.

I expect it might be harder to get adjacent residents to listen, since they are emotionally invested in the status quo. It’s hard to question the present arrangement as the environmental drawbacks and inequitable access are now accepted and considered “normal” or “natural”. The loudest objections focus on access to the waterfront, potential noise, and wires.

I’d use aerial photographs to identify “goat trails” where people often cross the parkways, and make sure the several new underpasses reflect current and future likely desire lines. I am confident talented landscape architects could program the space to make it almost impossible for visitors to sense they are being steered along (not to say they aren’t being steered around today, but people just accept it as “natural” or the way things are). Net result: much better access than the current plan.

While the rail tracks would be at grade, I’d try to put a 24 – 36″ wall along their south side, and build it into the landscaping, to absorb and deflect wheel noise. Tree clustering and shrubs can also reduce or mask noise. With any skill, the main noise generators will continue to be the rubber tires on wet asphalt that dominates the soundscape today. Net result: much less road noise, some new rail noise.

The overhead wire for the LRT can be dealt with imaginatively. I’m sure the NCC would demand expensive nifty poles. While some would be stand alone, others could be incorporated into landscape features. I don’t find LRT wires objectionable in modern systems I’ve seen installed in other cities. But if the McKeller folks are still anti-wire, perhaps we can go for no net increase by removing the overhead wires that festoon the adjacent city streets. Sort of “net wire neutral” result by removing the wire in one’s own eye — or front yard —  first.

grass tram2

Mission accomplished? 

But only in a fantasy world. In the real word, the City is too unimaginative; the NCC too mired in the past, the neighbours are too unchanging.

Instead, the current NCC-City plan has many drawbacks. People who drive will have a wonderful, faster waterfront drive. People who take transit will have … a long dark noisy tunnel, and will be safely preserved from seeing greenery or water. The City will have an expensive LRT. The NCC will have a revised shoreline park and myopically won’t miss the better options. The neighbours will continue to think its all about preserving a “natural” environment installed by the taxpayer.  For future LRT extensions,  every neighbourhood group will now have the license to demand it be buried at huge expense.





13 thoughts on “Westward Ho ! (part iv) in which Fantasies come to the fore …

  1. I totally agree with you Eric. I have been thinking and writing along these lines myself. I cannot fathom the incredible waste of funds for this section of our systems, foe which there really is no justification. I suppose the city will need little convincing, but we have to get the NCC on board.
    I used an image form Barcelona to explain my view, a system that uses the very same rolling stock as we will have here.(Too bad I cannot include this image here). .There is time to start a campaign for the “surface solution”.

  2. I agree with almost everything here Eric… if this had been the plan worked out 4-5 years ago when the City and NCC first began butting heads over the parkway. If only the NCC had seen the OPPORTUNITY of the river-route as a catalyst for parkway redesign, much better access to the Ottawa River shoreline for visitors and residents alike, and beautiful views from the trains, while the CITY did a much better job of real, open consultation, education/myth-busting, and creative solution-finding (as opposed to adversarial hard-sell and trying to “railroad” a series of “final” plans while shooting down legitimate questions) I think we’d all be better off – and we’d have our LRT much more quickly.

    A fully-funded NCC with political support from the top to follow through on genuine city-building (as opposed to “capital-building”) would help as well…

    But we are where we are. Let’s get this thing done – and as our designated community gadfly, we need you to keep making damned sure we highlight the remaining flaws and push for better balance. Thanks for this series! I’m looking forward to responses from the NCC, LRT folks, and City Hall. (ahem)

  3. It’s sadly depressing to think of what could be, were we dealing with institutions that had some greater perspective.

    My one quibble with your fantasy world plan is that the underpasses would end up partly below the level of the Ottawa River, much as the LRT tunnel will in the agreed-upon plan. Accordingly, you either need to install pumps or elaborate portal covers (e.g. the pathway rises up before descending into the underpass, within some kind of structure) to prevent water from entering the underpass. One need only look at the New Orchard Ave underpass at this time of year to see the issue caused by a low-lying underpass with no means to drain it. Still, given the savings from not burying the LRT, it would be quite affordable.

    There are a few examples of what can be done with softening the edges of an LRT corridor from Edmonton’s newest south extension.

    Here’s a pathway view with then-very recent shrub plantings:


    A little further north on 114st, we see again shrub plantings (more mature, apparently), and a soundwall behind (it’s also partly a retaining wall, so while it is 6-7′ on this side, it is 3-4′ on the other. It’s also notable that the suburban arterial itself has trees in its median:


    And another on 114st:


    I’ve avoided showing Edmonton’s at-grade crossings in the above Streetviews. They do, however, have one notable pedestrian underpass next to a station complex which also goes under the adjacent street, and is quite a pleasant environment (it does however also have a grade crossing of the line – but not of the street (!)):


  4. Everytime I see the image of the current LRT plan through the parkway, my eyes are drawn to that lovely green ribbon that is the Byron Tramway Park. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was converted back? That way, the LRT would serve actual neighbourhoods, as opposed to being only a commuter line designed for the suburbs?

  5. I have often found that, the NCC’s double standard on what is acceptable on the Parkway System has nothing to do with building a good looking or well functioning city/capital, it seems to be more associated with what is politically expedient. This time most of the local residents are allied with the NCC not against them. However, when the subject of an interprovincial bridge comes along, just about any proposal, in most locations on land they own is a winner, regardless if the locals want it or not.

    On what will be on the same LRT line, it seems perfectly fine to relocate, a pre relocated creek near what will be the new Iris station. This is significant because, the original Transitway project ran through there 32-33 years ago forcing the city to relocate a creek loaded with a naturally large fish population. It took 30 years for that same creek to rebuild the natural fish stock in sufficient numbers to even be close to what was originally lost or so I have been told. The LRT proposal will force the creek to be relocated again and damage the rebuilt fish stock and habitat. Where is the NCC’s artificial outrage, at the city’s callous design, this is after all still their land, no, not a peep! Now I’m not saying the LRT project should be stopped because of this but, I found the vitriol the NCC used to defend their parkway from the city’s evil LRT attack a little lacking, especially when it comes to actually defending a real environmental issue, that they are fully aware of. I can forgive a long time resident who doesn’t want anything to change, that’s natural but, please guys could the NCC drop the artificial outrage.

    I have worked in and observed the transit planning and rail industry for most of my adult life and for the life of me, I can’t see how this design is going to be any cheaper than their previous plans that the city rejected due to high capital cost. Please prove me wrong! A shallow tunnel is still a tunnel, regardless if there are grass and trees or a road overhead acting as the roof. Is the NCC getting a big increase in their road maintenance or capital budget that they are going to apply to this project? How actually are we saving money in any way with this current design?

    What is wrong with running an LRT line on the surface then applying the savings to the many ideas I and others have already said many times before to beautify the right of way? Belgium has a beautiful long distance LRT line that runs almost the entire length of their coast. Its beautiful, very functional and very much accepted by the public. In a few cases, it has actually stopped development by blocking developers from building on the Belgium beach front saving important park and recreational land for its citizens.

  6. Eric, I completely agree with everything you’ve said. I wish this would get published in the Citizen so that everyone (including the decision-makers) can see it, scratch their heads and think “oh yeah, this DOES make sense.”

    The biggest question is “Why is a 4-lane highway acceptable to the NCC, but high-quality public transportation isn’t??” You barely enjoy the views when you’ve got your eyes on the road. Transit users have nothing to do but stare out the side window.

  7. Our community living north of Richmond Rd Near Woodrooffe is fully supportive of the proposed a buried LRT Solution along the Parkway and Richmond Rd. A surface LRT solution along the Parkway and Richmond would further cut off our community from both the Ottawa river and the community south of Richmond , which is already cut off by Richmond road and the 4 lane parkway. The current solution also provides the future possibility the current parkway noise levels of 70- 80 dBa to 50dBa, which is more suitable for enjoyment of a park; by reducing the speed limits the number of lanes from 4 to 2 and berms

  8. I also agree with most of what you say – keeping the rail on the surface and giving riders a view, making the stations both ornaments and gateways. A couple of months back I came up with a scheme of running the LRT just south of the parkway more or less where the new plan is. To improve the park, I thought of using the fill from the subway section on Richmond to build a series of green islands, spits, marshes and what-have-you in the bay between Westboro beach and Cleary, and then running the MUP along that, a couple of hundred feet out from the road. That would really increase green space, and give all the folk on the train and parkway something to look at. But I don’t suppose the NCC would even consider a plan that they didn’t think of. Forty years ago.

    1. The Original idea of the Parkway in North America conceived by Fredrick Olmstead, the designer of New York’s Central Park , was to give people peaceful walkable access to parks and river fronts; NOT to give the riders of high speed cars and rail a quick view of parks and rivers. High Speed surface travel is incompatible with peaceful walkable enjoyment of parks because it is noisy and cuts off walkable access to the river. The current buried option provides the opportunity to narrow the roadway and use the excavated material to create berms along the roadway to shield people walking next to the river park from noise of the traffic, as well as providing the opportunity to implement some of your ideas for the Parkway.

      The Cleary station could provide the gateway for walkable access to the Ottawa river with restaurants and washrooms as well as bringing back the original Old Orchard Beach which was expropriated when the Parkway was built in the 1960’s

      Reference Book : “River Road and Rail- Woodroffe Memories” published by the Woodroffe North Community Association, 2011

      The NCC will present its plans for the Linear park in May. We will see how amenable the NCC is to your ideas

      1. there will be no berms. the height of the roadways is very clearly limited to the current heights; any higher — or adding any berms — and the view from the adjacent homeowners would be impaired and that is a big No No.

        1. You may right adjacent home owners may object having their lower floor views obstructed. The benefit however is that according to BC studies such berms will lower their adjacent traffic noise levels by between 7 to 8 dBa, greatly improving the quality of their outdoor space.

          I now live near the parkway and I rarely walk on the adjacent paths because of the high traffic noise levels of between 65 and 80 dBa (rush hour). I see very few people sitting in their backyards outside adjacent to the parkway the same reason. They have to enjoy their view inside their houses.

          Now if the NCC is serious about turning the SJAM into a linear park then they will need to find a way to lower the traffic noise levels down to 50 – 55 dBA in park areas; which according to recent European studies is the acceptable noise level for park visitors. They can do this by reducing traffic volumes and speed limits and by using berms around park areas, eg adjacent to Parkway crossings at the new Cleary LRT station. Berms would only be needed around designated park areas and need not obstruct views along the entire length of the Parkway

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