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.
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.