N(o)-Train — why?

The popular and over-crowded O-Train service became the N(o)-Train — again — on Friday.

I’m beginning to think of this train service more in terms of “I wonder if it is running today” rather than than just suffering the occasional disappointment when it doesn’t.

I can’t imagine life for those who want to use it every day, and depended on its presence when they made their choice of where to live or where to work and how to commute. I’m sure the unreliable service contributes to OC Transpo’s increased ridership numbers.

It must be even more frustrating — when it is running — to just miss the train and have to wait 15 minutes for the next, knowing that out on Walkley road six more trainsets have set unused and unloved for more than a year, their service guarantees wasting away without revenue service, all through an election during which the mainstream media managed to avert their eyes from this as-yet-uncosted fiscal imprudence.

One of the arguments in favour of drivers-on-a-train is that they watch the right of way for any hazards. So I wonder how many drivers reported the slo-mo flooding of the OTrain track that caused Friday’s ignominious end of the Talent train service?

Here’s a pic I snapped from the Young Street ped bridge on 18 Feb — TEN DAYS AGO — showing the slow engulfing of the track in the rising glacier caused by melt water running into the OTrain corridor.



Melt water running through pipes that the City replaced with new pipes just last year. Transpo staff acknowledge that they have known for decades that there is a flooding issue. But nothing was done, neither by the transit folks nor by the engineers who replaced those pipes as is, which is sort of par for my expectations with this city that firmly believes that “out of sight” means “out of mind”.

On Thursday, in preparation for the meetings that evening on replacing the Qway bridge shown in this pic, I walked the site again, and noticed the glacier was now engulfing the rails themselves. The entire gravel roadbed was encased in ice or saturated in melt water.

Apparently the rising tide was missed by OC Transpo staff even though they are there every 7.5 minutes all day.

But its all OK, the politicians will be out in force in a little bit with a presser on how wonderful the new trainsets are and the increased level of service being offered.

I wonder if we are doing better on the Confederation Line?


Walk score

There is an app out there called Walk Score, which rates locations by accessibility by foot, transit, and bike.

Their algorithm does take into account actual walking routes or walkable streets as opposed to simply drawing a radius around a point, since a radius may have unwalkable segments due to geography, large land uses, freeways, or most probably, a for-people-who-drive-only maze of traffic calming crescents and cul de sacs.

A few days ago we saw how developers market their projects in Seattle, using transit advertising to grab transit users:



This sign is also from Seattle. It is a sidewalk sandwich board that boasts about their ideal location for those who want a walkable neighbourhood.

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I’m not sure if walking scores is their main business, ie promoting healthier city choices, or if its merely a real estate finding service with a gimmick. Or both.

I plopped in some Ottawa addresses and discovered some interesting factoids.

The ICON and cluster of Big Condo towers at Preston and Carling has a 82/100 walk score, only 59 for transit, and 96 for bike. Hmm. The low transit score surprises me, after all the OTrain Trillium line is right there with trains every 7 minutes; there are two major bus routes with frequent service, etc. The bike score of 96 is described as “flat as a pancake”. I guess it couldn’t see Carling going up hill to Bronson, or Carling going up hill towards the Civic. There is, of course, the trillium trike path nearby.

I wondered at the high walk score, given the lack of grocery stores nearby and the lack of drug stores. Oh, it seems they count corner stores as grocery stores. Hmm. And does anyone really rate Carling Avenue as a walker’s paradise?

The City gets a base score of 54 for walkability.
Of course, we don’t set measurable targets for improving things like walkability or sidewalk width / congestion or useable storefront frontages, even though such measures exist.

Evidence based planning? Bah.

The ideal Ottawa neighbourhood for “progressive urbanistas” is  Somerset (not the ward, the area from Kent to the Canal). It gets walk score 99, transit 93, and bike 97.

The Preston-Somerset intersection, “Piazza Marco Polo”,  where Little Italy meets Chinatown, is rated at 91, 88, and 100.

Hintonburg gets 91, 92, 87.

Westboro’s Our Lady of the Condos development in the Ashcroft Canyon scored 91, 78, and 100. Only 91 even though its a short stroll from one of the biggest grocery and drug stores in the city and on a thriving shopping street?  I begin to wonder if the score even notices if there is a sidewalk or the nature of the adjacent land uses. Obviously a narrow sidewalk glued to the curb on Carling in front of Carlingwood Mall is far different from a pedestrianized sidewalk along a traditional main street.

Of course I typed in my own address, and got 86,89, 97. I was surprised to discover I live within a short stroll of a grocery store(s). Provided my grocery list consists of lottery tickets, cigarettes, and giant bomb bottles of coke, then that’s true. And this isn’t to demean Luciano’s or other specialty stores, but they’re not suitable for weekly groceries.

I’m one block from the transitway (and Mayor Jim is moving it much closer in a few months; I suppose I should be grateful).   I’m surprised the transit score isn’t 100. And that walking score doesn’t quite account for the shear unwalkability of Albert Street (but that might change if the currently-approved-post-2018 compleat-street plan actually gets implemented).

Reducing complex urban environments and the myriad of resident wants to a single score is at its heart a good idea, but unlikely to be more than a first indicator to a particular neighbourhood.

Maybe Walk Score 10.3 will be a better version.

So go back to the pictures at the top. Seattle developers can market their developments based on accessibility to transit and walkable neighbourhoods. Can Ottawa’s?



Bus stop; Bus stop, part v; what happens on the bus stays on the bus


Las Vegas is one big sprawling desert metropolis. Rapid transit such as LRT or subway is difficult to justify.


Several monorail systems have been tried, but mostly they work to get riders from one casino to another of the same consortium, by-passing the casinos of competitors. And the routes go behind the buildings, away from the flashy strip where everyone wants to be.

Casinos are all flash and fantasy; so is their rapid transit. If you can’t have trains, at least mock up the buses to look like trains. Funny thing is, just like the gaudy buildings are attractive (in their own way) and most of the hotels built in the last twenty years are serious star-chitecture, the odd buses look pretty good. The vehicle fronts look just like the latest LRT.

And they function really well, with a continuous stream of them heading up and down the strip at all hours of the day and night.


In the picture above, the train-bus is shown with one of the older Deuce line double deckers (the same ones as we have here in Ottawa) which used to make up the strip fleet but were not well suited to the frequent stops and hordes of people being engorged and disgorged.

You can’t pull the slot machine handle if you sprained your wrist going down the stairs on a moving double decker.

The buses have 3 double doors, the rear one being right at the back of the bus, which might end the subjective sense of being “trapped” and unable to get out.

In Vegas, even the bus shelters had ‘striking’ architecture. The roofs have solar-powered lighting. Instead of benches, there are leaning rails reminiscent of the ol’ hitching post:






Vending tickets is a major challenge in a city where the majority of the potential clientèle of the train-bus line will be virgins, first-timers …  a common ticket is a 24-hour pass which eliminates the need to buy tickets every trip:





Note: above pic were taken in 2012.

If transit in the American SW interests you, there is a three part series  (from 2012) of stories on Phoenix’s LRT, including some videos, starting here: http://www.westsideaction.com/phoenix-lrt-station-designs/ .  Note that the Phoenix system operates like a streetcar on semi-segregated street surfaces in the core, and more like a LRT on its own rights of way out of the core, albeit with grade crossings.

and http://www.westsideaction.com/phoenix-lrt-part-ii/

and http://www.westsideaction.com/phoenix-lrt-part-iii/.  Part 3 has the ride’em video.

Some of the observations and comparisons to Ottawa may have become dated or overtaken by events.

Bus stop; Bus stop, part iv: Seattle rapid transit bus stops

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Seattle appeared to have local bus services (blue) as well as express ones (red) that ran with more limited stops between neighbourhoods.  These Rapid routes made it easier to go long distances in a very spread out city (remember, most of its growth has been in the automobile era, and thus is sprawly).

The Rapid routes had their own bus stops, with distinctive red branding. Electronic boards informed passengers when the next buses would arrive, and their destinations.

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The yellow box on the post is a fare card reader. In Ottawa, we buy a certain amount of time on the transit system, we have a time to ride. Reading one’s card before the bus arrives might squander riding time, particularly if making a round trip, but many other systems are a ticket to ride one direction / trip.

Pre-reading the card makes boarding faster as passengers enter via any door. However, doing away with the audible “ding” as you scan your card inside the bus,  that announces your honesty,  might be a problem. In Holland, that “ding” is a DING! DING! You have paid, and been seen and heard by all to have paid. I liked it. But in Ottawa, it might wake up somnolent commuters who don’t get enough nap time at work.

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Note the route map shown above is not a generic all-routes-everywhere map, but specific to the routes and connections accessible from this bus stop. It makes for clearer info on this route, but doesn’t tell you about connections or crossing routes.

below: trees planted at a bus stop. Ever see this in Ottawa?




This shelter (below) has etched glass in a abstracted pattern.  It obscures scratching by street artists or vandals.

I wonder how well Ottawa’s glass walled LRT stations will hold up to sharpened screwdrivers? Etching the bottom reachable area of glass walls in our stations would have a lot of design and “art” potential.


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below: the etching on the local-route glass shelter of sea, mountains, and forest, which tied in nicely with the colourful mural at the base. Alas, oppressed street artists always reach new heights:




While we are on the pacific NW Coast, here’s a few pic from Portland [there were many Portland streetcar pic in the December series Building LeBetter Flats]. The post below advertises that there is frequent service on this route:





below: a naked street with streetcar (not LRT !) tracks-only down the centre portion. IMG_1551


downtown Portland streetcar with mixed traffic:




Planters along the sidewalk help direct pedestrian traffic onto the sidewalk and discourages mid-block crossings of the tracks:





Bus stop Bus stop, part iii, LRT in Ottawa and Seattle, with videos



I trotted off for an evening walk and ended up at Lansdowne Park and presto [pardon the pun] there was the new Confederation Otrain. Sort of. Inside it looked very familiar:


The deja vu all over again feeling was partially due to a flood of memories of using the Seattle LRT last year. Although Seattle has Korean-made equipment. With that in mind, let’s peek into a Seattle downtown station.



Their downtown station is used by diesel buses and the LRT. In the pic above, note the [indoor] escalator; the electric pick up lines suspended a few inches below the ceiling, and the shallow track depth. Low floor trains don’t need a high platform, with all the inherent dangers of waiting passengers falling off onto the tracks [a subjective fear much more than an objective reality]. This is merely a high curb.



The mixed train and bus model is awkward for running driverless trains, which ours eventually will be. I look forward to that day, because as Vancouver has discovered, they can roll out extra trains anytime at very minimal marginal cost, even if just for a single run. Try that if you have to schedule whole shifts at premium rates for human drivers.

And, to warm the cockles of our burdened taxpayers, once the drivers are out of the equation, user fares will probably cover 100% of the operating cost of the LRT (they do in Vancouver). This should also be a major incentive to expand the phase 1 system to cover additional areas of the city, provided we haven’t locked them into automobile-oriented landscapes [which I think we are busy doing – our planning is totally self-contradictory!].

Of course, there still will be a fleet of buses with human operators.

If we let Kanata buses into the tunnel, I don”t think we would ever get them out, even when our LRT extends to Bayshore. Maybe it is better to start the training earlier than later.

I very much liked the concrete surface around the rails. It looks clean and would be easy to keep clean of litter. A distinct improvement over the tracks and ties visible on gravel base we are so familiar with in NYC or Paris …



I don’t know if Ottawa will have concrete track beds in the stations or gravel, with rails set in concrete or perched above on concrete ties. Here’s a bit of Seattle track set on concrete structure at a suburban elevated platform:


Another downtown station had much higher vaulted ceilings, similar to those originally proposed for Ottawa’s LRT but discarded in favour of lower, flat ceiling stations:



The Seattle system was earning revenue from selling vehicle wraps as shown below, complete with punny Catering Train title and Subway sponsor. Ottawa won’t sully its system with advertising for the first few years, in case dim users can’t identify a train if it looks like a sandwich.




Here’s a short train without the wrapper.




All of the advertising in some cars was bought by one sponsor. At the airport (affluent target audience), the entire station was papered with advertising by the same condo developer promoting the convenience of his project being right on the LRT line. Taking the LRT to the airport was way more sensible than the always-congested parallel sloway:



There is ample empirical evidence that developers can charge a premium for residences connected directly to a rail transit line. The same is true for offices in a competitive market, but with Ottawa having essentially one renter client (the Feds) I don’t think there will be any premiums paid. It also remains to be seen if it will actually be physically feasible or economic for new developments to connect to Ottawa’s downtown stations. The Place de Ville complex, for example, hosts the Lyon downtown business district station; in 45 years no one has been able to connect to their underground mall. Maybe that will change in the future. Maybe.



For those who like videos, here are a few I shot back in Sept 2014. You can watch them here on the small window, or click on the YouTube logo in the LRC and enlarge them to full screen at the YouTube player.

a Seattle LRT departs a major elevated station with glass walls, notice the trackwork which seems to offer dangerous footing to anyone who steps in, compared to videos number 2 and 3 which follow:

click here if the video doesn’t play:  http://youtu.be/3Gl2hJZYYNo

In this video, a Seattle LRT departs a suburban line station. There are two separate glass roof structures to shelter passengers with a long stretch of open platform between them. At the end of the platform, there are crosswalks over the adjacent streets, and local bus stops. These level crossings will impede train automation. Notice the infill / densification via a mid rise apartment building, of the sort Ottawa finds impossible to build even though they proliferate like rabbits in other cities:

If the video above doesn’t play, try clicking here:   http://youtu.be/3Gl2hJZYYNo

Here’s a short clip of the inside of Seattle’s downtown LRT station. The LRT trains are powered by a cable suspended just below the ceiling; the tunnels and station are also used by buses. Last car out is a subway.

If that won’t play, try here:  http://youtu.be/3MfkHenuIPg

If all of them won’t work for you, go to YouTube


Next: Seattle bus stops at street level


Bus stop, bus stop (part ii)


What elements would make up Eric’s ideal bus stop? This one will get us nicely started. IMG_2034


It has a distinctive shape and colouring suitable for the place.   It doesn’t have glass walls, but in this location it didn’t need them much. In Ottawa, we’d need glass side walls.

The roof provides sun and rain shelter. There’s a bench.  Off to the right, a working, clean water fountain, albeit without a doggy bowl at its base. Nice, decorative floor paving helps celebrate the sense of place. There’s a sturdy bulletin board and schedule display. A decorative (not chain link) back fence to help contain the area.  Nice landscaping, right out the street. Mulch.


Two bike posts. In this area, where bus routes stick to the main roads and most side streets are dead ends, distances to the bus stop can be long and bike racks at city and school bus stops were usually in use.


The entire design is cohesive and clear branding, and makes waiting for the bus more than a standing-forlornly-at-the-side-of-the-road -while-the-lucky-ones-whiz-by-in-a-car experience.

Further along was a rest stop along the sidewalk. Nice paving, benches, garbage can, and two bike racks, not even at a bus stop but a resting point en route.



Here’s another bus stop elsewhere. The shelter is pleasantly set back from the road (although I think the angle of the shelter is wrong for direction of travel). Garbage can. Bench. Roof. Glass walls. Bike racks. Solar panel to power the roof light. Decorative sidewalk that makes you feel like more than an afterthought.




Here’s a bus stop in yet another town (below).  It is along a busy roadway, in front of a Walmart and grocery store lots. City buses there don’t go into malls, they stay on periphery roads. Users must hike out, often with no sidewalk or direct path, to the roadside bus shelter. But look at the size of that shelter, its HUGE, to handle a crowd. When was the last time OC Transpo doubled up a shelter to handle a busy roadside bus stop?

bus stop, gulfport


Ottawan’s have some nice transit stations, and some not so nice. Some are adequate to their function, some are not. The point of these pictures isn’t to say we need to copy these designs, but to see what others do, and be inspired to do better if that is worthwhile. Unfortunately, the new LRT stations are being designed well out of the public eye by a secretive mayor Stephen Watson and we’ll just have to hope we will be pleasantly surprised in 2017.

Personally, I’m usually impressed by the wisdom of the crowd and too often left wide-eyed at the bought-and-paid-for advice of those who never use transit. There’s a reason real world businesses use focus groups. But only when the stakes are important.


THE last public advisory committee meetings on LRT station design were a long time ago, before we chose the final contractor. Back then, the designs included mostly-unheated stations (bad) and centre platforms (good). Over the years, I’ve asked our LRT office for examples of outdoor escalators in a cold climate, such as we are planning for Ottawa. Thus far they seem rare as hen’s teeth. There may be a reason. Someone I know went to Moscow, St Petersburg [while I went to the other St Pete’s], and Murmansk in December. They planned to use the subways and public transit a lot. I charged them to photograph some escalators coming up, outdoors. In four or five days of using Moscow’s extensive subway network, they couldn’t find any. They were all in heated glass enclosed structures. Many were down for repairs at a peak winter holiday season. Grit. I dunno if we are still planning outdoor escalators or if the designs now have indoor escalators, assuming we are having escalators at all.  Personally, I thought the last designs had too many escalators for eg at Tunney’s and Pimisi, where walking a single flight of stairs would promote healthier citizens [there are elevators two, of course].

Bus stop Bus stop

Does it matter whether we have bus shelters or purpose built indoor transit station buildings along the LRT?

When reporting here earlier about the extension of OTrain service to the Airport, I questioned the lack of “nice” stations along the route. The Confederation Line will have expensive-but-not-fancy stations; the Trillium line gets bus shelters. Will the quality of the stations influence users, for example, to choose Carleton vs Ottawa U for an education? Whether to wait for a train or take a cab to the airport?

If given a list of transit service features, nice stations aren’t likely to be the top factor in making one’s mode choice. But I firmly believe it is an influencer, especially when transit stops are so shabby as to make the user feel inferior or slighted. Like many things in life, it’s relative. We can’t let transit become the conspicuously inferior mode.

When we build roads in the urban areas of Ottawa we do not do the functional minimum.  We install curbs, catch basins, plant grass and tree clusters on graded rights of way. Newer roads get ever better finishing. Churchill Avenue’s rebuild got tons of bells and whistles including decorative retaining walls just to separate land uses.

Thus far we don’t do any of that for the OTrain, which especially at Somerset and Carleton gets the back yard / storage yard treatment. For the new LRT I have raised the subject at numerous station planning meetings and with senior city and NCC planners, none have showed any interest, except to say there will be landscaping. Or something. A vague wave of the hand suffices.

Here’s a major transit hub or transfer point in a downtown. Not Ottawa. This is taken from a freeway thru the car window.


Note the distinct roof shape, outlined in blue lights. Unmissable. Great branding. Our 1980’s  transitway stations are also distinct in shape and red colour. The 2000’s updates at Baseline, Greenbank, Albert/Slater, and elsewhere are simpler unheated bus shelters with aluminum frames.  I don’t think they convey much of any branding message.



The transfer station shown here is the hub of 30 bus routes, including the free downtown shuttle routes (one shown below), and the commuter rail station. It has A/C, free WiFi, and washrooms open til 10pm. Hmm.




A while ago we looked at the very good branding Portland uses for its transportation network, with Train, Bike, Trolley, and Streetcar shouted out in neon. Ottawa is supposed to get an all new branding redo in time for the Confederation Line opening. What will it include?


Here’s a suburban hub, for a city bus system that runs on a pulse basis, or hub and spoke, where all buses arrive at a station at the same time, and a few minutes later, head out on routes.


Yes, its round, and free standing. It’s all outdoor waiting, but sheltered from the rain and sun. The posts are encased in illuminated glass block pillars.


Overhead monitors announce arrivals and departures. Note the bike rack in the distance, by the road. The station, btw, had too many burnt-out uplights resulting in a discomforting under illumination at 11pm. It did have a constable on duty, who followed me all around the station.



There were some light wells to encourage vegetation and supply stronger daytime light. Functioning garbage cans. Benches. WiFi. And ….


… washrooms !  The central building held a field office and service wicket. The whole place was spotlessly clean.



Next: the Cadillac of road side bus stops.