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.
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.