Category Archives: DOTT

Confederation Line (iii) – Baby it’s cold inside

citalis in snow

 

Dashing thru the snow ….

The RTG literature for the new Confederation Line assures us repeatedly that their equipment runs in cold and snowy climates. Given those frequent winter stories in the mass media that we live in the coldest (capital) city in the world, I’d feel much better knowing that our model of trains were running flawlessly in Edmonton, or Winnipeg or Moscow.

Instead we are assured they run in “northern cities”. Copenhagen may well be north of us, but it has a maritime climate. The 100% low floor trains currently run in AdelaideLyonBordeauxParis T2ValenciennesRotterdamBuenos Aires,MadridMelbourneNiceMurciaBarcelonaJerusalemLe Havre and Grenoble. With the exception of Grenoble, none of these strike me as having a severe continental climate. Is it too much to have the supplier provide a chart showing the winter conditions in a couple of cities running the same equipment for the same run lengths proposed for Ottawa? And could staff then phone those cities to see if the equipment runs in mid-winter?

The last time we had street-cars in Ottawa, they were notorious for breaking down in the snow, which packed underneath them and lifted the vehicle off the tracks, paralyzing the system.

Deep Frozen Storage

We also propose storing our train-sets outdoors. After they have been washed and cleaned, we’ll roll them outside into the minus 40 and leave them for several hours, before sending them out at 6am to collect passengers. I’d be a lot more confident that they would be warm and unfrozen if they were stored indoors, even if the storage yard was just minimally heated to above freezing.

Ottawa storage yard is outdoors, covered from the snow but not heated

Ottawa storage yard is outdoors, covered from the snow but not heated

 

Maintenance facility in Catalonia

Maintenance facility in Catalonia

The characteristic Ottawa foot-stomp

The trains aren’t the only things we are leaving out in the cold. The passengers will be, too.

Unlike the current Transitway system, which has several heated stations (eg, Lincoln Fields,  the former Baseline Station, Hurdman, Place D’Orleans) the new surface stations apparently will not have any heated passenger waiting areas.

Earlier in the planning process, I asked city engineers why not. The wait, I was told, was only 3 1/2 minutes for a train. But that’s at rush hour, what about 9.30 Sunday night, there might be a train at Baseline every fifteen minutes? So, the answer went, you get dropped off and might have a ten minute wait, that’s really not long. Dropped off? what if I just walked through the snow for 20 minutes with an 8 year old to get there, and now we have ten or fifteen minutes standing in the cold?

Really, I thought the planning staff had a hard time seeing beyond rush hour commuters and lacked understanding for those who use the system as their primary form of medium and long haul transit, who are thus on the system at all hours of the day and night, when service is not nearly as frequent.

These new surface stations will probably function great at rush hour, when train service really is every 3 or 5 minutes. But outside of rush hour, when trains are less frequent, waits will be longer. And thus far OC Transpo hasn’t guaranteed that all the connecting bus services will run at 5 minute headways, which means there will be lots of passengers waiting for longer periods. The lucky ones will be in unheated stations.

Some of the current transitway stations are little more than a collection of bus shelters. Despite all the pictures of grand glass-enclosed stations trotted out to sell the RTG Confederation scheme, a closer look shows that the stations have miraculously shrunk to a fraction of the size they were proposed as just a few months ago.

Look at Tunney’s, for example. Previous stations enclosed the bus passenger waiting areas on the Holland Avenue side. Then the NCC axed these, as the roof lines violated their precious view lines toward the Claxton Building. Instead, transit users freezing their butts off waiting for the bus will be warmed by their inspirational views of a 60′s office tower.Iconic modernism warms the heart and and feet. Other people waiting for the bus will have modest glass wind and rain shelters, but no heat.

Ironically, the train users which are likely to have the shortest waits get the grand stations, while the bus users with the longer waits get shoved outdoors. I’d love to see our Councillors asking a few questions about why there are no heated waiting areas, the success or failure of the current transitway heated shelters, and maybe even hear from some transit users as how they rate unheated stations. As it is now, I feel Council is sleepwalking into a design choice that is not well understood.

Stairway to Heaven

A number of those unheated stations will have escalators in them. For reasons of economy of space and funds, there will not be two way escalators (one up, one down). Instead, the single escalator will run in the preferred rush hour direction, sometimes up, sometimes down. People won’t be confused by this reversing flow because the stations are so well designed users will just intuitively know whether they should head for the escalator or the manual staircase, which may be in different locations in our new stations.

Our stations will be closed during the wee hours. So those escalators will carry people with snowy boots and collect moisture and salt and grit all day, then shut down at midnight for a six hour nap in the minus 30. At six am someone out on Belfast road will push a button and the escalators will silently begin rolling again. I have repeatedly asked the city engineers planning this system to identify some locations with outdoor escalators in a continental climate, but never got an answer. RTG was no better, simply assuring me that the contract calls for heavy duty escalators and there are penalty clauses of they don’t work. Yeah, fine, but where are there escalators running unheated in a winter like ours? It’s not like we can tear them out later if they don’t work, since we are depending on the volume of passengers they carry (more, apparently, than a manual staircase can) for the stations to work.

I get the feeling that Council is rushing too much on the Confederation Line. It takes time to absorb just what is being offered. Thus far, staff are giving a good sales pitch, pointing out the nifty neat stuff. The glamour. The sizzle.

But I haven’t seen an itemization of what compromises where made to get here. Councillors and the public may still have memories of earlier PR extolling planned features that have in fact disappeared.

It was a bit of a challenge to get citizen and user input at the earlier planning stages, when there were so many options being considered. But now that there is a plan, is it too much to  set up various users groups to run through the details? When our Community Association asked to meet with staff to run through the station designs in our neighborhood, we were told that might occur in February, after the contract is signed. You know, when it’s too late.

 

 

 

Shake the planning etch-a-sketch: Build that LRT to Orleans, and charge them for it

Let’s shake the planning etch-a-sketch by building that LRT out to Orleans right now.

 And charging them for it.

The Sinkhole Incident on Hwy 174 has high lighted the lack of access to the former St Joseph d’Orleans.

And its not just the lack of road access, it’s the lack of alternatives.

If the sink hole happened on the road to Kanata, there are more alternative routes. The higher road capacity pushes off the breakeven point for extending LRT to Kanata. And remember, the nearest point of Kanata is further away than the farthest point in Orleans*.

In this road shortage situation, Orleans might be blessed. Because out of adversity comes advantage.

It is expensive to build more roads to Orleans, but I’ll bet all the politicians will be promising more roads. What they should do is provide more  transportation choices, such as extending the LRT out to Orleans.

After all, the purpose of transportation is move people, not automobiles. We have to get out of our minds the common assumption that people are normally in cars.

Why? Well, that road that begins in Orleans ends in Ottawa. Which means more traffic at our schools, universities, offices, and on the city streets.  Much better to move the people rather than their cars. I’ll welcome the Orleanais in Ottawa but not their tin boxes.

But won’t extending the LRT be too expensive?

Well, it certainly costs money, but what about the alternatives? Like the cost of widening all those roads and intersections, both out there and in the city. Oops, sorry, our media and public discourse doesn’t headline those costs, only the transit ones. And we don’t calculate the “cost recovery or  revenue” for roads (perhaps because it is so low), but only for transit.***

So part of the problem is how we perceive the cost.

The second part is the low density of Orleans, and the longish-haul out to there and back, with no revenue between Montreal Road and Jeanne D’Arc. So the conventional planning wisdom says its not cost effective to run the LRT out there. Our transit boffins say it will be 30 years or more before the LRT extends to Orleans, if ever.

So let’s shake our planning etch-a-sketch and start anew.

The LRT to Orleans has little competition, there being but one primary road out there, the 174, which conveniently is owned and operated by the same provider as the LRT (the city). So we don’t have to worry about someone (like the province) stepping in and providing a competing transportation facility.

To be blunt, the city can force encourage people into transit by not providing more roads. That’s pretty much how we forced encouraged everyone onto roads in the years past (by building roads and starving pedestrians of sidewalks, transit users of transit, etc). New modes take off by government coercion and subsidy, as well as their competitive advantage.

The distance from Blair Station (east end of the current OLRT project) to Place d’Orleans is about six miles. The average cost of constructing a double track LRT in North America is currently $35 million per mile ** and this alignment is along an existing freeway and pretty much entirely through open fields (golf course, greenbelt, freeway right of way in the Orleans built-up area). Surely even Ottawa could build this for a near-average cost.  So, $210 million.

We need a station at Montreal Road, then one at Jeanne d’Arc, and the terminus at Place d’Orleans. For stations, add 3 x $50 million, or $150 million.

Total expansion cost of the track: about $400 million. Divide by the 50,000 households in Orleans, giving a per household cost of $8000. Amortize over 30 years (which is at least how long it would otherwise be before an Orleans extension of the OLRT could be justified) and it’s $266 per year on each household’s tax bill (interest costs are at an historic low rate, so I have ignored them; I expect interest costs might extend the payback period by a year or two, but I’ll leave that up to the number boffins, who can also figure out how much would be paid by new residents of the area as it grows).

That’s just $22 a month, per household. If there are two commuters, that’s $11 each.

So why would the Orleanais want to pay a special levy on their taxes to get what other residents get for their regular taxes?

Well, they’d get LRT and an escape from the Queensway traffic 30 years before their due.  For those Orleanais who wouldn’t use the LRT, their $266 a year buys them space on the road for their car by getting their neighbours off it.  And their house values would go up by maybe $8000 since the lack of access to Orleans supposedly suppresses their resale values today. No need to buy a car for the kid to go to college or university. And no need for mom or dad to find parking spaces at their destinations. And less car traffic on Orleans roads. And in Ottawa.

Of course, I ignored the operating cost of the extension. Purchasing the LRT vehicles and operating them is not free. But I think these costs could fairly be attributed across the whole city, as everyone across the city benefits from the Orleanais using fewer cars on the road (less congestion), and the LRT vehicles carry way more people per operator than do buses, reducing those costs the city as a whole would otherwise have been paying for bus service for the next thirty years.  

I think one of our current planning problems is that we view transit as an expense, a cost centre. We don’t expect it to pay its way. Would that we did the same for roads, but we don’t, and that’s not going to change soon. So, to expand the LRT and keep Watson’s promise of low tax hikes, it would take a plebiscite from Orlean’s residents to see if they were willing to incur a local improvement tax.

Definitely worth hashing out some better numbers, and trying it out on a focus group of Orleanais. So, I think the first step is for an Orleans councillor to ask transportation committee to rough out a cost to extend from Blair to Orleans, along the Qway. (And eventually to raise bloody hell if it an Ottawa-built LRT along an open field, using an existing right of way, comes in costing more than the North American average).

And best of all, the Orleans LRT  might piss off the Kanatans who would remain parked on their eight lane Qway.

_________________________

*or so I have been told. I didn’t verify this.

**Wikipedia. Note that Ottawa’s initial phase includes a very expensive tunnel. And the western extension requires lots of grade separations and very nice landscaping. After that, who knows if Ottawa’s costs are typical? Fortunately, the Orleans extension is thru rather ordinary fields not yet naturalized by the NCC. It’s hard to imagine a simpler, easier to build route.

*** most residents in Ottawa who read the paper or listen to CFRA, even Sun readers, could probably identify $2 billion as the cost of the LRT. How many of them could identify the cost of new private-vehicle roads and bridges in the same planning/construction decade?

Major changes coming to downtown streets

The current downtown Ottawa is rather blah. Some might even call it bleh. Over the decades, it has become a motor-vehicle-oriented environment, with the fast movement of vehicles the main only priority. We all know about the walls of buses. And the priority given to automobile commuters over pedestrians. Trees: rare as hen’s teeth. It has become a downtown one goes to because you have to. It is not a shopping, or even much of a recreation destination. All rather sad.

When the LRT is opened, there will be major changes. Most OC Transpo buses will be off the Albert and Slater bus lanes. What do we do with the freed-up space? Recall too that the current bus stops disgorge pedestrians at many locations; the LRT will deliver huge crowds, all at once, at limited locations.

So Council directed that the Downtown Moves study be conducted, to integrate urban design and transportation strategy, and to restore the balance among street users [in council's actual words]. Most people can understand that a vibrant downtown doesn’t  come from wider roads, faster traffic, or “getting everyone out” as quickly as possible ( I exclude from this understanding some select minority voices).

The Downtown Moves study isn’t about just tinkering with the core. It’s a major rewrite opportunity, to reallocate space, to refresh the downtown sidewalks and streets for the next 50 to 100 years. Thus far, the working teams have not been timid. So it is time to look at some of the suggested streetscapes.

Note: these are working documents only, in progress sketches, and may not be the final designs. They will evolve under pressure from various factions. So how well are we moving towards the grand statement:

“Our downtown is about to undergo a transformation that will define a new identity and be the foundation for its prosperity for coming generations. The investment in Light Rail Transit will open and sustain a new pursuit of civic and national pride in the urban quality of our capital City. Our downtown streets will be reoriented to favour and comfort pedestrians, cyclists and transit users, recognizing that all travellers end and start their trip on foot. With this healthy and active orientation, our streets themselves will begin to be praised as among our city’s most coveted public spaces that in turn spark investment and that are befitting of the highest quality of buildings and open spaces along them”.

Queen Street will be a key street to the future. Currently the only two-way street downtown, it is a fairly claustrophobic, narrow canyon. It is a minor street destined to become the main pedestrian experience. The north sidewalks are very narrow east of Bank Street. The exit stairways and elevators to the underground stations will come up in what is now the parking lane on the south side of Queen (pic below).  There will be loss of some on street parking and planners have to figure out how to disperse crowds of 5000 people per hour. The sunny side of the street is the north side.

The sketch below has been marked up in a workshop focus group. The north parking lane is gone, replaced by wider sidewalks and pedestrian amenities. The south side parking lane is now paved in the same material as the sidewalks, and may even be at the same level as the sidewalk, separated from it by removable bollards, so that the parking lane can be incorporated into extra-wide sidewalks for events like Canada Day. Cyclists mix with traffic; and in the distance you can see a typical stairway entry to the LRT just beyond the two parked cars. Street furniture (ie mail boxes, benches, light posts, signs) will be all aligned with the trees to maintain the clearest possible sidewalks.

 

Two blocks north is Wellington. In the working sketch below (and remember, no decisions have been made…) there is a two-way bike lane suggested on the north side of Wellington. This helps make a more complete network of bike-friendly streets in the downtown connecting the major tourist points (bixi-bike tourism) and the major paths that approach the downtown but seldom connect with each other (this bidirectional bike lane would connect the Confederation Boulevard bike circuit, to the Alexandra and Portage Bridge bike lanes, etc). The two way path alignment was selected to minimize conflict with turning vehicles (the north side has few turn opportunities, and will apparently have fewer in the future as the Parliament Hill security perimeter expands) and to preserve sight lines to the Hill. Eastbound buses (and the whole STO route problem/scenario remains unsolved as yet) will stop at the curb; but what about westbound STO buses and tour buses? Tour buses in particular want to deliver passengers as close as possible to the destination. Bus riders may be let off onto islands between the bike lanes and bus lanes, but total available road width is a constraint. Double left turn lanes may be a thing of the past. The suggested public space configuration in the sketch will help remove the sense that Wellington is a huge barrier separating the downtown and Parliament:

Albert and Slater will be changed drastically once the main bus routes are removed. It seems uncertain just how many fewer buses will be there.  Some objectives along these streets are to integrate the public sidewalk space with the building setbacks and available private spaces along the street. Intersections will get much wider crosswalks. The parking lane is on the right side of the street, paved to match the sidewalks. It would not be a rush hour traffic lane. There would be bulb-outs at the intersections and midblock locations for trees. The bike lane is on the left side of the street, placing the cyclist close to the vehicle driver’s field of view and not hidden on the “far side” of the vehicle. There may be opportunities to squeeze in delivery bays between the bike lane and traffic lane. But essentially, the bus lane space has been given over to non-vehicular uses. Remember, though, that bike lanes have a higher capacity than car lanes.

The only north-south street that has been sketched out thus far is Metcalfe, and only north of Sparks. No analysis has yet been done for O’Connor, Kent, Lyon, etc. And as far as I could tell, they hadn’t yet addressed what to do south of Sparks. Frequently suggested is returning the streets to two-way status, the traffic planning fad of one way streets being largely past its acceptable date. Such a major change is beyond the mandate of the Downtown Moves plan. When examining the N/S streets, several new factors come into play. First, most of the parking spaces north of Queen are closed much of the time for security reasons. They can be repurposed a bus loading zones or para-transpo zones. Tourists walk slower and in wider groups than office workers, so the sidewalks connecting Sparks to the Parliamentary precinct should be wider. Then we might as well continue the wider sidewalks down to at least Albert to help disperse the commuter hordes arriving from the LRT stations. These north-south streets are also major locations for street vendors, so might as well plan for them now.

What’s next?

The Downtown Moves teams will be refining the sketches/scenarios for public space downtown. They have to run them by the traffic people to assess what it does for vehicular movements, goods movement, safety, special access needs, security, taxis, etc. They have to run them by the various downtown private sector groups, such as hotel owners, office building managers and owners, etc. They do have numerous photo examples of similar changes done successfully in other cities.

Hopefully, with continued leadership from the politicians (ie, no wavering in face of NIMBY’s who might lose a parking space or who believe cars rule) there can be a balanced discussion and evaluation of the transportation and urban design possibilities.

The Downtown Moves team will read the comments you make to this post, so fire away. And tell your councillor if you like the direction the study is moving, but save him or her the nit picky details as the study is still early on. We need to encourage the process towards a better downtown and not bog it down.

The “Other” Iconic Station viewpoint that we lost

The Confederation Square station entrance (or lack of one) is getting a lot of press.

 Earlier, the proposed Rideau Station was straddling the underside of the Canal, with the east entrance coming up at the Rideau Centre and the west entrance coming up at Confederation Square. This was called the Rideau Street station as that was its primary market, and the main reason it was pushed eastward under the canal was the sharp southward curve the track took immediately upon leaving the Rideau Station heading towards Campus:

 

The prior plans showed the western end of the Rideau station platform connected to a long, fairly convoluted set of underground corridors and staircases to come up to entrances at the plaza on the east side of the old train station, and further west by the driveway entrance to the front doors of the NAC.


(There have been numerous versions of this entrance, depending on the depth of the tunnel and its exact alignment. The pic above is to illustrate the concept).

It was from this entrance by the NAC that people exiting the door would have an “iconic” view of the War Memorial, Parliament, etc. Keep in mind that the station entrance design for the NAC location was to kept very minimal and low, because otherwise it would interfere with the motorist’s sight line from their iconic view from Colonel By Drive.

Right from the first unveiling of the Rideau Station plans, I was sceptical about the NAC  entrance. The long sinuous underground corridors to get there are confusing and  unappealing, with several 180 degree turns, 90 degree turns left and right, and odd jogs in the horizontal corridors.

And once you exit at street level, where are you? You’re on the “wrong” side of Confederation Square, you have to cross multiple lanes of busy traffic at busy time-consuming traffic signals to get to Parliament, Sparks, the War Memorial, or the Market. In short, other than a tourist directed there because of the iconic view, who would want to exit there? Is an iconic arrival viewpoint enough justification for this location?

I felt that most people  working along the west side of Elgin would find it faster and more pleasant to exit from the downtown east station, which is also closer to tourist-type destinations such as Sparks Street and Parliament Hill.  The planners at the time were clearly uncomfortable with the main tourist arrival point for Parliament et al being in the East station, a downtown office canyon (Queen Street) where there was no immediate sense of direction to the Parliamentary precinct.

The City’s projected users of the station at Confederation Square showed the following breakdown. At the time, I was told that the number of wide streets to cross or delays in crossing was not a factor in the allocation, only geographic dispersal. Obviously, walk time is not strictly related to distance, but to the time to traverse that distance, which is influenced by the delay at busy streets. About 35% of the pedestrian traffic heading south out of the station would be heading towards Elgin Street (either side) (would any head to DND via the MacKenzieKing Bridge?) and about 5% towards Parliament, Wellington Street, or Sparks:

Remember, the City has only unveiled plans for two exits for each station, which is the legal minimum required. But they expect stations to have multiple exits when actually fully built out. These additional exits come as the plans are refined and detailed, and as adjacent property owners decide how/if to connect their buildings to the stations. (The city will  negotiate rights of ways and cost sharing). I fully expect the Downtown East station to either be shifted very slightly east or have a longer underground exit carry people  closer to Elgin.

But is the Confederation Square entrance the ONLY iconic entrance at hand?

Recall that there is another iconic sight line the NCC and City’s Official Plan protect, and that is from the Ottawa River Commuter Expressway where it rises up and over the O-Train track at the Prince of Wales Bridge. This offers motorists from the west a great view of Parliament and the downtown, a view line that is protected forever.

And barely a few yards south of the motorist’s protected view point is the Bayview Station. the major transfer point for South bound LRT/O-Train services and East-West LRT services, and possibly the STO Rapibus Ottawa terminal or the extension of LRT service to Gatineau. Tens of thousands of passengers will use this station daily.

Under the plans kicked around for the first bit of LRT planning, people arriving at this station would ascend the escalators into the grand hall and have gradually revealed, to the east, a large overhead arch of the roof framing an “iconic” view of the downtown (which may or may not have actually included the Parliament building silhouette).

Alas, the City decided that preserving even a narrow view plane for tens of thousands of daily transit users was not worthwhile. For motorists a few yards north, however, it is a major accomplishment of National Capital Image Building. I guess Obama isn’t expected to arrive by LRT, only by armoured limo on the riverside highways. The escorts for his body guards, however, are more likely to arrive via the LRT, but they don’t warrant a nice view.

The City then turned its back on the remaining views of the downtown that would still have been possible from the station, even if there were some mid-rise Claridge condo towers in the foreground. The City decided it wouldn’t align the arch of the station to frame the view, then compounded it by reversing the escalator flows so that ascending riders view Mechanicsville instead of the downtown.

Yup, it takes multiple parties — the City, its Mayor, the NCC, and others, to produce such  missed opportunities. Iconic sight lines are not priceless, there may be times to not take advantage of them. And we shouldn’t locate/design whole LRT stations primarily because they offer a nifty view upon exiting. Sightlines and views are city-building tools, that elevate a place from the ordinary to the special. But the LRT first and foremost has to work as a transit system.

Are we valuing sight lines highly enough, both at the Confederation and Bayview sites? In the midst of all the noise, it’s hard to tell.

Not inspiring confidence

The City held an open house last night on the OLRT. There wasn’t anything new there that you wouldn’t know about if you read the papers and this blog.

I did feel a sense of  insincerity about it though. Quickly announced, not much content, a quick visit from Hiz Honnor: I got the feeling the event was held so that some lawyer could point to it later on, at a hearing, saying “See, we had lots of public consultation, blah blah blah”.

Rather more disturbing was the number of minor errors on the display boards. Many of them I have seen before, and pointed out at consultation sessions. But they don’t get fixed.

And I must say I don’t mind if ordinary citizens get mixed up which is Scott Street and which is Albert. But it does bug me when city planners mislabel Albert as Scott. Accuracy and good knowledge starts at the top.

 

At Tunneys Pasture, the City planted a dense grove of trees along the north edge of the transitway cut. After 30 years or so, these have grown to a nice mature size. They are to be cut down, replaced by a bus stop, on the other side of which the city proposes to plant a new double row of trees. Why not simply move the bus stop a few meters north and keep the mature trees and don’t plant the new ones? But trees seem to be just decorations, accessories, the throw-pillows of transit decor.

And why is Ottawa’s largest (or maybe it’s the second largest) office building, the 29 storey Place de Ville, home of Transport Canada no less, labelled as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Building, when they are mere tenants in another multipurpose building? And the Bank of Nova Scotia, located next door, left years ago; and ditto the Marriott Hotel is not Scotiabank either. Nor is there a BofM at Kent/Albert anymore; try SlatOr. I’ll forgive the old Delta not being The National, as that is new, but the new Delta replaced the Crowne Plaza about a year ago.

It doesn’t inspire confidence.

It also gets tiresome at public consultation sessions when suggestions are batted away. The Lees Avenue station, for example, delivers all its users out onto the street above, where they can make an at-grade crossing to the Ottawa U satellite campus there. Now students are disproportionate users of transit, and if I may so observe, somewhat prone to feeling immortal and above the law. I therefore predict there will be widespread crossing of this street against the light. And the City enthuses about putting lots more traffic at that intersection, where peds are just so much collatoral delay to motorists.

 So why not simply connect the platform to the University property after going under Lees? Ah, the answer is that “such details are to be considered later”, perhaps when the adjacent property owners “offer to pay for the connection”. My answer to that, based on decades and decades of hearing the same cock and bull story from the city, is that when the final plans are being shown such suggestions will be deemed “too late to make any changes because they would delay the whole project and you wouldn’t want to do that, would you?”

The ritual of public consultation grows wearying.

Phoenix LRT (part iii) The Video

Let’s go for a trip on the Phoenix LRT. The video at this link takes 10 minutes to play. The link may not be live, ie you may have to copy and paste to your browser. http://youtu.be/D3EANU4FmiI

Leave the window size small, as the video is low resolution, taken from a handheld digital camera while sitting behind the driver.

The Phoenix LRT is 20 miles long (32 km), and has 28 stations. It opened in Dec 2008. Ridership in 2011 averaged 40,600 pax per day. The peak day carried over 60,000 pax.

The trains are two-car train sets, thus the platforms are about half the length of the ones planned for Ottawa.

Let me nag you while you take your trip;

minute 1.14:  notice the visual signal is similar to road traffic signal, but has only a single light showing a white horizontal bar for stop, and a while vertical bar for proceed. This is the same signals Ottawa streetcars used back in the 40′s and 50′s.

1.50: the overhead wires carried 750v. The catenary is strung in sections; towards the end of each section a second catenary wire appears beside the first, which then terminates at the next power pole. You can see this again at 5.55 as well as other times during the trip if you have sharper eyes than me.

5.20: Holy Deja Vu!  Here we are crossing a body of water beside a clone of our Prince of Wales Railway bridge !  Theirs appeared to be still active for regular trains, so the transit authority built a new bridge for the LRT.

Notice too how most of the time the tracks seem set right into a smooth bed of concrete. It is attractive. Despite repeated inquiries to the Rail Office here in Ottawa, I have never gotten an answer as to whether we are going to have a utilitarian roadbed of ties or a nicely finished roadbed with concrete, syngrass, or planter trays of Sedum. Keep in mind that thousands of condo dwellers will be looking at that track bed every day. Of course, if it goes on any of the NCC’s parkland, I expect it to be a Cadillac finish, even if few people can see it. But through LeBreton Flats or the Scott Street cut??

6.38: coming up on the right is a newish looking low-rise urban development with easy access to the LRT. A nice example of Transit Oriented Development (TOD).

7.35: cyclist waiting on the platform. Many riders brought on their bikes. My trip was at midday, and the cycles not hung up (because the racks were busy, shown at 9.30 ) took up a lot of space in competition with wheelchair patrons.

7.40: notice the pedestrian nonchalantly crossing the track in front of the train. Quick, get out the AED for the Ottawa transit planners who think anything less than a six foot chain link fence all along the tracks will create an excessive danger to pedestrians! The Phoenix LRT blends in and shares the built environment very well; Ottawa’s wont play as well with pedestrian desire lines.

7.58: this is the speedometer readout on the train. Its maximum rated speed is 55mph. But there is a solid red line extending up at about the 2 o’clock position, which I think was 40 mph. The digital readout showed the train was often travelling between 28 and 36 mph (in metric, the maximum rated speed is 88 kmh but like Ottawa’s the maximum speed in daily use will be about 65 kmh. The speeds I observed the train travelling were usually in the 45 to 58 kmh range. )

8.25: notice the signal light for the train is a very bright small light buried in the middle of the concrete roadbed. There was also a signal mounted on a post, so whichever way the driver was looking he saw a signal. Of course, the roadbed signal would not work well in Ottawa between December and March.

8.40: the LRT stops at an intersection for a traffic light. This was unusual, most of the time the LRT hit a green light at intersections.

9.20: notice the LRT train set parked ahead on this track. And more pedestrians crossing the tracks.

9.30: cyclist on board. This was at the last stop of the line, so I got to walk an empty car and show the exiting cyclist.

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thanks to Geoffrey Treen, a reader, for splicing together my various snippets of film.

Bayview Station (final)

The saga of the amazing perambulating Bayview Station is nearing completion.

Recall that the station has been proposed in various scales, sizes, and locations. Well, the final plan is available exclusively to readers here.

Bayview Station is back to being “on the structure” of the transitway bridge over the O-Train cut (yes, I know, the O-train isn’t in a cut, it’s on the level, it’s the road that is elevated, but  such is our road-focussed society that the road becomes the normal level, and the flat becomes the hole…).

The new station is in the same style as the majority of other proposed LRT stations. It has an arched roof made out of metal diamonds or triangles finished on the underside with wood. The exterior colour is usually shown as a light coloured metal.

It is an LRT station, not an O-Train station, so the station itself is on the LRT alignment and the O-train platforms, to be rebuilt on the west side of the track, are largely uncovered and seem to remain bus-shelter style. They do get some additional shade and rain protection from the overhead bridges, especially with the O-Train platform shifting slightly south to be directly under Albert Street. Still, I wonder if it worth lobbying to have the O-Train Station built to a similar standard of the LRT station.

I also note that the current configuration will work equally well for the O-Train terminating at Bayview or continuing on to Gatineau via the Prince of Wales railway bridge (provided it is not converted by the city to a road bridge for the STO). This configuration does not work well if the O-train tracks are someday turned at Bayview to go east towards LeBreton Station. The option of having direct train service from the airport to the downtown is not yet foreclosed although planners have not been enthused about the link.

The main entrance is on the O-Train level. The stated reason for this is that the station is primarily a transfer station between the E-W and the N-S rail service. An unstated reason is that the STO wants to build a major transfer station for its Rapibus line at Bayview. So in the picture below, the station is viewed from the north, between the Ottawa River Commuter Expresway and the head of the O-Train platform, where Bayview Yards is now and the proposed Rapibus station might be:

The two tall towers immediately behind the station (pictured above) are the proposed Phoenix 35 storey twin office towers (6500 employees, 200 parking spaces, so it is really-transit-oriented development) located on the triangle of land immediately south of the Station and before you get to the existing City Centre 8 storey tower.

The elevated station is built on the existing structure. The only widening of the structure will occur for the stairs and elevator shafts going down to the O-Train.

Here’s a daytime view of the station, now seen from Albert Street, just west of the O-Train, on the opposite side of Albert from the Tom Brown Arena. Note that there is no pedestrian entrance from Albert on this side of the station. Hintonburg and Mechanicsville residents will generally approach the station through the O-Train level entrance and a series of ground-level pathways extending on the north side of the Station  structure to Bayview Road (this is also the Bikewest route); or to the south on a flat pathway extending along the edge of the Tom Brown soccer field.

The whole LRT station is supposed to fit on the existing structure. The extensions on each side support the stairs and twin elevators on each side. I suspect the roof detail for the stairways has not be designed yet, as none is shown. Presumably the stairs will also contain escalator(s) but it is hard to tell from the plans provided.

Personally, I think we could cut some costs by providing stairs and elevators only, and skip the escalators. We need to walk more, and a 20′ flight of stairs twice a day might help reduce some coach-potato-office-cubicle bellies and promote coronary fitness. But if there are escalators, I will of course join everyone else in using them and skipping the stairs.

If you go back up to the top picture, you will notice a flight of exterior stairs at the northeast end of the platform (far left). These are denoted as “emergency stairs”. I confess to some confusion here. If the emergency is a vehicle crash, or bomb scare, why do the stairs keep one close to the structure? If it’s for “maintenance emergencies” the stairs are unusable for the handicapped, strollers, etc. Wouldn’t it be cheaper and more useful to put in a asphalt ramp similar to the walkway there now?

Access to the new Station from Dalhousie (ie, from the east) is via a secondary entrance at the Albert Street level at the SE corner, where the OC Transpo Albert Street bus stop is now. This corrects a major failing of previous designs which favoured transferring passengers and only minimally serviced walk-in clientelle.

Here is a plan view of the Bayview Station:

The station itself is primarily the yellow (fare-paid area inside the turnstiles) area shown on the existing structure that carries the transitway over the O-Train. Note how the bridge has been widened just enough to locate the stairs and elevators. The O-train platform has been moved to the west side of the existing tracks, and extended a bit further south, beyond the Albert Street overpass shown in white. There is a pedestrian pathway running off to the southwest by Tom Brown arena. The entrance for people coming from the east is on the Albert level, and shown in pink. Most readers can double click on the drawings to  enlarge them to full screen.

The plan shown above also shows that the City has been listening to public input. There is now a  connection to the Albert Street multi-user path on the east side. The path along the soccer field at Tom Brown will be very useful and direct, and eliminates the need for a flight of stairs up the steep hill to Albert Street where the path is now shown doing a sharp S-bend.

I was out walking the Station area on Friday with City engineers and consultants figuring out just how to wiggle the N-S bike path through the station area. This path will be constructed next year, in 2012, from the River up to Gladstone Ave. While on the platform areas with the plans in hand, the access routes seem to make a lot of sense and will provide direct and safe access to the station from the surrounding communities. The trick right now is trying to route the bike path through and keeping it open during the conversion of the transitway to the LRT.

Here’s a close-up of the main station entrance at the lower, O-Train level:

It is not perfectly clear from just this drawing, but there is lots of room for the pathway on the west side, from Hintonburg, to pass under the stairs as the stairs shown on the plan above the words “lower plaza” are really 16′ up at that point. Try to compare the pic at the top of the post with the drawings if you are really keen to see the details of the circulation.

I still think the Station is underserved with bike racks, but now areas for expanded racks have been identified. The curvy green dotted line in the illustration is the bio-swale designed to carry runoff waters down the slope in a decorative and ecologically sensitive manner. The drawings show most of the station sides glazed in, as is befitting this windy spot; I hope the few unglazed sections are built so that glazing can be added later if required.

For keeners, the illustrations shown the supporting pillars under Albert Street as black circles; but the ones under the transitway are shown as hollow black squares. Readers may also find it helpful to go back to last weeks post about the Bayview-carling CDP which has areal illustrations of the area around the station all built out.

In sum, the designers seem to have finally gotten this Station right. Now, to build it…