Rapibus excursion – along the line, including a one way bridge

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The Rapibus bus way runs parallel to a rail track. It is very straight. The rail tracks were left in place for (very) occasional trains, preserving some industrial opportunities. And more nicely from our point of view, it facilitates eventual conversion of the bus way to rail. (STO did not go immediately to rail for the same reasons — traffic volume and cost effectiveness — Ottawa went for a busway in the 1980’s instead of rail, a decision that still rankles some transit aficionados).

The rapibus route has a number of intersections at grade with busy cross roads. The presence of a busy parallel road on the ‘other side of the tracks’ further complicates matters. At https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3EANU4FmiI you can see a LRT operation in similar conditions.  The big risk in this alignment is the possibility — nay inevitability — of collisions with vehicular traffic. When it first opened, Gatineau’s Rapibus did meet some cars.

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West of downtown Gatineau, the Rapibus route (temporarily) shares a road to Aylmer. From downtown, it follows the rail right of way somewhat parallel to Hwy 50. The downtown end is remarkably close to the Prince of Wales RR bridge over the Ottawa River, which the City of Ottawa owns and manages to avoid using (ideal experiment for those extra OTrains the city has in storage…).  Following the tracks, it passes in front of the DND office complex and Casino, and then parts from the Hwy 50 by going a bit north and crossing the Gatineau River on a very high steel bridge built in the 1880’s (new bike track to the side is also visible in the pic).

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The RR bridge is narrow, too narrow for a two way roadway. Rather than “widen” the bridge, it handles alternate flows with a simple traffic signal.  (It was the inability of Ottawa to avoid  double tracking the tunnel under Dow’s Lake that drove up costs of the N/S light rail proposed by Chiarelli, ultimately helping to kill the project).

To see how this works, take the driver’s seat on a STO bus:








(bridge photos from David Jeanes, Transport Action Canada)

Did you notice how simple, how low-tech the solution is? And the bridge remains usable by trains! I simply cannot imagine the City of Ottawa agreeing to such a simple signalling system.

During peak hours, the Rapibus finds it better to use the bridge with one direction priority and the return buses are rerouted to the nearby mixed traffic road. The Rapibus busway is new and traffic volumes allow this arrangement; eventually they will outgrow it.

For a while, there were drawings circulating showing the Prince of Wales bridge over the Ottawa River as an extension of the Rapibus route from the Armoury in Gatineau over the River to Bayview Station, where Rapibus patrons would transfer to the transitway / Confederation Line. For various reasons, including the reluctance of municipalities to properly upgrade their networks in a timely fashion, I would prefer to see the O-Trains extend over the River (also do-able on a single track bridge for the initial period) to the Rapibus terminus and then to Pl de la Chaudiere and downtown office complexes.

All along the Rapibus route there is a parallel bikeway, including over the high level bridge at the Gatineau River.

When the Rapibus road first opened, Gatineau made major transit route changes, eliminating direct express buses from the suburbs to the downtowns. The additional transfers and travel time caused outrage, and Gatineau restored many express routes, which somewhat negates the cost effectiveness of the busway. I fully expect similar screams of anguish when the Confederation Line opens in 2018 and bus users discover more transfers, a much high ratio of standees than they are used to on express buses, and possibly slower service. When Phase 2 opens, expect more outrage when transit users finally discover what it means to be “sewerized” for much of the route, lest they see greenery or the river which apparently are exclusively for people who commute by private car.

The real, long term value of a separated transit route (busway, LRT, etc) isn’t apparent on the day it opens, since everything in its service area was built up during the automobile-dominant era. We all know urban form is a diagram of the forces acting during growth. So the transit line will come into its own as people choose to relocate, or locate for the first time, or choose their schools or places of employment, to be along the line. Essentially, the map of the city is redrawn with a long corridor of the city suddenly with much higher accessibility. *  Eventually, the big box malls will add more buildings on the parking lots, parking will go under or over the stores, small houses will be replaced by towns, stacked, or apartments. The college will build a grand new signature building on the parking lot that currently separates it from the station, etc.

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*Note, redevelopment at higher density will occur along the line only if Gatineau encourages it. When the City builds Hunt Club Road, for example, it rezones the land along it and a development frenzy ensues.  Ottawa’s transitway / busway did not encourage increased development along the corridor because at the time of construction,  the City promised adjacent community associations NOT to permit increased density or height. We lost 30 years of city building in that decision. Now, when planning the WLRT, the City promises no additional upzoning along Richmond, but since the City now plans on 5 and 10 year horizons they have ample opportunity to revise that, incrementally. Rezoning along the OTrain Trillium line has been wildly successful, with yet another 20-some-storey apartment just headed to market on Champagne Avenue. I fully expect to see some claims 10 years from now that the busway didn’t cause intensification whereas the rail line will, when its less a factor of the mode of transport than the fact of rezoning permissions.

Rapibus: all is not Perfect Landscaping

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The stations had all the signs of a professional landscape architect at work.  There were textured pavements, architectural benches, artworks, big bold planters. Overall, the quality of the experience was excellent.

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But why the grossly undersized walkway at this loading and unloading platform? The expected has occurred: the grass is trampled down to hard pan, and those trees aren’t exactly happy riders either.

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Landscaping on the roof is harder to abuse those, and this was a happy-looking green roof. Much happier than this row of cedars:

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At risk of boring readers with yet more images of drainage swales, de la cite actually had one, but it bears an engineer’s signature, not a landscape architect’s, as it is merely a dump of rocks instead of a lovely planted hollow with a variety of wet-foot-loving plants:

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Mind, Ottawa engineers would put every electric panel in some sort of very large, very grey, freestanding steel box mounted on a steel post mounted into a large elevated concrete block. But on the Rapibus line, the electrical closet was discretely tucked into the back of a wall:

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Here’s a nice waiting / loitering / smoking area, with those beloved-only-by-architects backless benches. Notice the sheltered waiting area under the roof canopy:


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And here, a curiosity. There is a roof, but only mulch underneath it. No benches, no waiting area, just a dry bit of mulch (so dry, it is a fire hazard):

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next: what Gatineau did and uses everyday that Ottawa finds impossible to do and so doesn’t…

Rapibus: indoors at de la Cite

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This is a large station, at a  campus, and as you will discover, has washrooms, feeding facilities, ticket services, etc.  Indoors, the floors were finished with large porcelain tiles. I can’t get a straight answer as to what will be the floor finish for the Confederation Line stations, other than “what RTG decides…”

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comfortable seating too:

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A welcoming ticket and service wicket:

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The opening hours are  generous (seven days a week) many transit users are in the service industries which requires them to work shifts and any day of the week. I like that someone took  care to be open and available when users want to travel rather than just their stuffed-shirt white-collar hours.

This stairwell wall is sturdy:

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But I was surprised that this one was drywall panels, which are inexpensive and not sturdy:

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Elevators, of course:

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And food for the weary during shop hours:July 2015 089


and after hours:

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And something you won’t find in any Ottawa transitway stations, and won’t find in any of our new OTrain Confederation or Trillium lines — public washrooms ! What is the French for “gotta go” ?

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really nice and clean washrooms:

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and yes, that’s a green roof over parts of the station:


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next: not all is perfect …


ed note: I mislabelled this station in my original story posting, and revised it to de la Cite.  I am note sure if it is a college or sports complex at the location. Another pax there told me it was a cegep, but my french is atrociously bad.


Mind La Gappe, fine features found here

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De la Gappe is a large station on the south side of Gatineau, beside a college campus. It had the rapibus road surface divided with a fence, overhead passageway, indoor waiting areas, and transfer area to local buses in the background. Let’s look at the minor waiting areas first, then the main building.

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Exterior siding was a slate-like ship-lap material that was very pleasing and durable and way warmer than concrete. It wasn’t sealed, which meant over time it accumulated these ghost images of passengers gone before (or who dematerialized waiting for a bus that never came):

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Here’s more of those wavey seats in an indoor, heated shelter:

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Simple, sturdy, yet pleasing waiting area:

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The wood ceiling and linear light fixtures warm up the environment and reflect the wood elements to soften the harder steel, glass, and concrete:

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The outside sheltered areas had the same high quality design:

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with a minimal amount of wood that is easily replaced if vandalized:

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Alas, they had those dreadful lego dot safety strips, which were already unsightly, rusting, and occasionally ripped open like tin cans to tear the toes of the unwary:

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Next: the overpass and main building

Rapibus excurison, stations along the route

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The Rapibus stations all employed a similar architectural expression. I liked the hockey stick roof slopes better than I thought I would after seeing them proposed for most of the Ottawa OTrain stations. The protected-from-the-weather undersides were wood, which warms up the sturdier areas where building meets passenger. Several stations had a large-ish main shelter, and a secondary shelter too:

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Secondary shelters can be built further down the platform, providing a mix of outdoor and indoor waiting zones. It also allows station platforms to be extended economically by simply adding another pavillion.

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these two pictures show a major transfer point, with shelters facing both the city street with popular bus route and, in the background, a second shelter on the Rapibus busway too.

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At minor stations, there was a suitably downsized version of a shelter, but still more significant than an  ordinary bus shelter:July 2015 045

I really liked this tower advertisement for a station location, and think they should be at all Rapibus stations. Like the bright red bent metal pipes of the Transitway, one can spot the station from a considerable distance away and especially in unfamiliar areas feel comforted by the presence of a familiar face:

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Earlier Ottawa approved this artwork [LocomOtion] for the Carleton U OTrain Trillium line station. I’d like to see it at many more — maybe all — stations, and plastered in neon letters on adjacent buildings:

carleton u otrain art


Here’s one such branding from Portland (there was a whole series here previously), where big neon signs are an important part of their transit image:



In future stories, we’ll look inside one of the big Rapibus Stations and drool with envy at their fine features.

Rapibus excursion, premiere part

The Rapibus is the Gatineau City version of Ottawa’s Transitway. These are bus-only roads that by-pass a lot of traffic congestion, improving transit times and reliability and thus modal share.

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The rapibus road, routes, and branding are all very recent. Comparisons to Ottawa’s 35+ year old transitway show how some things evolve, and how some challenges were addressed differently. Keep in mind the Rapibus is at its initial stages, whereas the Transitway is mature and being converted to rail.

The logo is modern and attractive, note the arrows outline a negative version of the letter R. I really appreciated that the logos, colour scheme, and branding was all consistent, something I know the 2018 Ottawa system will have, but doesn’t have yet. Here is the “old” STO logo:

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and the more powerful graphics on the Rapibus network vehicles:

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I thought the “faces and people” theming was excellent, it personalizes the network, and works to obscure the occasional “character” types one encounters on some trips.
The faces and people theme continued inside some of the buildings:

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Rapibus vehicles and stations have WiFi connectivity, I don’t recall the Ottawa ones having wifi.

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The overhead sign panels heavily promoted the STO and Rapibus brand. I especially liked the tie in to the library, at first my limited french thought we bus riders could get free books:

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Why doesn’t OC Transpo partner with the OPL to promote ebooks on the bus? God knows suburban commuters spend enough time to write the bloody book, let alone read one.

I also liked the invitations to the riders to participate in how STO operates:

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And the availability of an affordable seven day pass:
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Even the tap pad at the front of the bus was imaged with Rapibus:




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More Rapibus scenes upcoming …


Laurier Bike Track, phase 2



The west end of the Laurier Avenue Bike Track peters out past Bay Street. It used to run up the hill to cross Bronson, then continue to the Chinatown neighbourhood via Cambridge and Primrose, but that was removed and replaced by a painted bike lane in order to accommodate the pressing priority for residents of 500 Laurier ( Q E Towers) to have (often free) onstreet parking.

A new segment of path is being taken north from the approximate intersection of Percy and Laurier, across the Ottawa Tech playing fields (cry me a river when the school board claims poverty and cutbacks but sits on acres of developable property it doesn’t need for schooling). At least they allowed the path to cross the field.

After crossing the field, it arrives at the intersection of Bronson and Slater, at the foot of the steep hill. After a two stage crossing, people who cycle will be lead westward towards Brickhill Street (now being used by the LRT folks for digging their tunnel) where a new intersection signal will allow cyclists to connect to the multi user pathway on the north side of Albert.

Sounds confusing, hopefully it will work better in real life, as it does improve access to and from the west side to the Laurier track.


Given the simplicity of the routing and  topography, I expect to be cycling on this before Christmas.


laurier track