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LRT Phase 2: Western-LRT extension

Overview

The City of Ottawa web page describes the scope of this study as follows:

 “The City will re-evaluate the potential alignments (ie. routes) including the Ottawa River Parkway, the Richmond/Byron and the Carling Ave corridors. These three corridors are very different in terms of their potentials, impacts and technical challenges. A comprehensive evaluation based on technical analysis and public input will be applied.

After the corridor selection, the detailed planning of the LRT line will be carried out. The required operating performance measures will be defined, the functional planning of the LRT infrastructure will be carried out and the impacts will be determined and mitigated.”

While the study has yet to delve into the details, the differences between these corridors will need to be summarized in terms of:

  • ability to attract new riders to transit
  • construction and land acquisition costs
  • travel times that can be achieved through the corridors (average speeds vs distance)
  • ability of the corridors to support intensification targets and new transit oriented developments

A summary description of all of the 15 corridors that have been under evaluation can be found in the latter half of this June 2012 report to City Council.

CCC Perspectives:

 The CCC believes that an important dimension of this LRT western extension will be to enable intensification and serve the needs of users within the Greenbelt. The CCC through its participation in the public consultation group (PCG) will advocate for a corridor alignment that seeks to balance the needs to improve transit within the Greenbelt with the need to attract riders from beyond the Greenbelt to the west and the south.

Some other important questions that will need to be explored during this study include:

1. Western-LRT extension and future Carling Ave LRT Secondary line:   The 2008 Transportation Master plan calls for both an extension of the downtown LRT line to the west (to Algonquin College) as well as a later LRT ‘feeder’ line running along Carling Ave.  Could both of these projects be combined if the main western LRT extension were to follow the Carling Avenue route?

2. Suitability of the Ottawa River Parkway for western LRT extension:  Currently the OC Transpo transitway between Lincoln Fields station and Dominion station uses several kms of the NCC Ottawa River Parkway.  When this was first put into operation several decades ago it was considered a temporary working arrangement between the NCC (which owns the Parkway) and the City of Ottawa.  It is unclear to what extent the NCC would support a permanent usage of this route in the form of an LRT extension along Parkway lands.  Furthermore, although this route may appear to be simpler to implement, it’s routing along the Ottawa River is removed from potential sources of new ridership.

3. Complexity of main LRT line implementation along Carling Avenue:  An alignment along Carling Ave requires the LRT running from downtown to Bayview station to turn to the south for several kms to reach Carling avenue.  Several different options exist as to where to implement this ‘north-south connection’.  Near Carling, the route would be required to make another 90 degree turn to the west along Carling.  There will be some challenges involved in these turns to the south and then to the west which will need to be more fully studied.  Similarly, the routing along Carling will be challenged to support several transit stations and the carriage of a high volume of passengers (up to 10,000 to 15,000 per hour).  A full and fair assessment of these challenges will be required.

4. Intensification Potential Along Carling Avenue:  Offsetting the fact that Carling may be a more expensive route, is the fact that it may enable a significant amount of new population and employment growth along its length.  These potential benefits should be clearly enough understood to allow for an informed decision as to whether these benefits will be worth the extra costs.  For example, 5000 additional urban housing units along it's length could represent as much as a billion dollars of new urban development.  It also means upwards of 10,000 additional residents and with a 65% labour participation rate that represents 6500 additional workers, half of whom would be likely to use the Carling LRT for work.  This represents significant travel time savings for these 3000-4000 daily work trips who without a Carling route for the LRT are highly likely to end up living outside the Greenbelt where their work commute trip would be more than doubled.

Detailed analyses of many of these complex issues have not been made available to the public by the time of final announcement by the City of their preferred route along Richmond Rd (May 1, 2013)

May 1, 2013, PCG #5 - Richmond Underground Preferred Route

On May 1, 2013 the City finally (after a near 1 yr silence) convened the 5th meeting of the public consultation group  for the W-LRT route selection study.  During this 1yr period no additional information, studies, or reports were released.   The CCC has been participating all along in this process and indicated our disappointment that no further information has been made available and that the public open house held last week occurred before the PCG meeting. The City acknowledged this was not the way things are supposed to be done.

 At this PCG meeting the City reiterated the proposal presented at the public open house of  their new preferred route now called the Richmond Underground or 'green' line.  This route follows the Sir John A parkway from Dominion station to Cleary.  However instead of being built on (ie. Taking over) the current eastbound lanes of the parkway it would now be built south of the parkway on greenspace (so that it would be less close to the waterfront (apparently to address NCC's concerns).  At Cleary, the route cuts south to Richmond road by dipping into a tunnel for 1.8km until it reaches Lincoln Fields rather than run on the surface alongside the Byron linear park (to address community concerns).  Two stations would be built along this section at Cleary and New Orchard but these stations would be 'open' (ie. the tunnel becomes more like an open cut at the location of these 2 stations in order to save money as fully underground stations would be very expensive).  The cost of this route was estimated at 900m$.  What is still TBD is the acceptability of the portion of the route that continues to run through the Parkway greenspace (and closer to residences than prior proposals).  Will it need to be lowered in a trench? Is a berm required to protect the residences immediately to the south? How much would these add to the cost? These 'mitigation' details are to be the focus over the next couple of months.

 It has become quite apparent now,  that this study is being rushed to a conclusion, on the basis that this needs to be finalized in time for the inclusion in the draft of the 2013 Transportation Master Plan which is to be tabled to council in June.  Although it is understandable that this would be a goal, it is not acceptable that a decision of this magnitude should be rushed.  All the more so considering that construction is not likely to begin for 5 years or more. In a breaking news update, a week after the PCG meeting, the mayor announced that this report to council will now be delayed for a month till July to allow for more time to consult with affected residents.

 It has also become quite apparent that there is no interest whatsoever on the part of the City to consider the possibility of a Carling routing for the W-LRT. The position that the CCC presented at this May 1st PCG meeting is that the manner in which the City could develop in the next 20-50 year time horizon could be considerably different if the W-LRT took a northerly route (Parkway-Richmond) versus a southerly route (Carling).  Because of the magnitude of this city building potential, a detailed picture of what these differences could be like in the 20-50 year time horizon and a city-wide debate on the costs/benefits of these differences was warranted.  It is our view that nothing of this sort has occurred to date.

The Carling route has been excluded on the basis of 4 primary factors:

  1.  cost (2.3B$ vs .9B$) 
  2.  extra travel time (3 to 13 minutes) depending on what variation of Carling route is  chosen
  3.  'Fracturing' of the primary transit line (future routing of O-Train to Gatineau no longer possible)
  4.  Insufficient capacity (the section from Carling to Bayview cannot carry all the east-west  passengers as well as future passengers from the south)
  5. providing adequate service to Tunney's Pasture

Furthermore the supposed positive attributes of a Carling route from a City building perspective are considered to be small. It was stated at the meeting that the long term additional population/employment that could be supported along a Carling route when compared to the additional population/employment that could be added along the Parkway/Richmond route was in the order of about 1000 incremental people/jobs.  Many people, based on their impressions of the amount of low density, commercial space/parking lots along Carling find such a low number to be a surprise.   .

A detailed analysis / explanation of the above 4 'negative' factors or of the minimal 'positive' intensification factor has not been provided to the PCG or released to the public.  Nor does there seem to be much effort applied to finding alternative solutions that could address some of these negative challenges of a Carling route. The most that we have been presented with is 'bullet-point' level summaries on these slides presented at the PCG.  There has been no opportunity to understand how these conclusions were made, what data supports them, to ask clarification questions, or to cross examine any of these conclusions.

Considering the level of detail that the public has been provided and engaged in for other large infrastructure projects (Downtown LRT, East End Interprovincial Bridge, Lansdowne re-development), the transparency in the case of the W-LRT is sorely lacking.

This leaves one to speculate on possible reasons why the process has been so poor for this project.  On multiple occasions the City has mentioned that the available transit funding 'envelope' over the next 20 year horizon is fixed and limited and as a result any increase in costs for building the inside-the-Greenbelt components of the system (such as this w-LRT segment) means less money available for extending later to the 'outside-the-greenbelt' portions. It seems plausible that once again suburban priorities are trumping urban ones and that doing it on the cheap to get out to the edge of the Greenbelt is more important than doing it right.  Hence the lack of willingness to have a detailed conversation with the public on the Carling route.  At least can we have this conversation? For the sake of the next 100 years shape of how our City develops? 

June 2012, PCG #4 and Presentation to City Council Update

After a delay of more than a year, the project team produced an interim report and recommendation to City Council.  This occurred prior to convening any further meetings of the public consultation group (PCG) in which the CCC is a participant.  The PCG meeting was then held, subsequent to the report and decisions at City Council.

The report produced the following diagram illustrating the rankings of the 15 corridors based on a complex matrix of ranking criteria/sub-criteria.  Based on this information council permission was requested to perform more in-depth analysis on the top 4 ranked corridors.  The Carling Ave route is not a part of any of these corridors. 


At the City Council meeting considerable discussion prevailed on whether or not this meant that a Carling Ave centric route was 'off the table' and would no longer be considered.  The public was assured this was not the case and that 'all routes remain on the table'.  However it is difficult to understand how this could be possible when Council directed City Staff and their consultants to concentrate further analysis on the top 4 (Ottawa River Parkway-ORP corridor and 3 of the Richmond/Byron corridor variations) none of which involve a Carling Ave based route.

What is perhaps more disappointing was the lack of information presented to backup/justify the rankings displayed above and that councilors made the decision they made without this information.  Many questions arise such as:

  • why are capital costs for routes along Carling characterized as nearly triple that of the recommended 4 options?
  • how exactly were the 'penalties' assigned to the Carling corridor in terms of it's performance for moving riders 'from beyond and through the study area' vs it's superior performance for serving riders 'within the study area'?
  • what exactly were the 'benefits' assigned to the Carling corridor for its potential for facilitating intensification vs the other corridors (which are generally understood as having poorer intensification serving capacities)? and how were these benefits characterized?
What is disappointing is that at the council debates none of the above issues were discussed.  Given the considerable opposition to the ORP route and to the Richmond/Byron routes versus the wide popular support for a potential route on Carling one would expect that the City would try very hard to determine if a Carling  based route could be viable.  Certainly by the way the information was presented and debated, one would  not walk away with the impression that this was the case. In fact staff and their consultants seemed to devote a lot of effort into highlighting all the issues with the Carling routes and devoted very little effort to quantifying it's positive values.

Staff and their consultants were given until mid-2013 to come back to council with a final recommendation of a preferred route.  The following text, extracted from the report details the scope of what is to be studied.  A careful reading of the text implies that Carling is not under further consideration as a potential route for the W-LRT, but only as a potential secondary route to 'tie-into' the W-LRT.


Click here to see the full W-LRT Interim report to council.
 

Nov 9th, 2010 PCG #2 Meeting Update

Tues, Nov 9 was consultation meeting #2 (PCG #2) for local stakeholders on the topic of the selection of the route the LRT will take west of Tunney's Pasture.  The possible routes under consideration were described as well as the 9 criteria that will be used to make the choice of the preferred route.  The main routes are either (1) the current BRT route or (2) Richmond/Byron or (3) Carling Ave.  Each of these has several different 'sub-variations' all of which will be evaluated.  Many different north-south connectors will be considered in terms of options in routing between the current transitway route and the Richmond/Byron or Carling corridors (eg. Holland, Island Park, Kirkwood, Churchill, Broadview). These may include tunneling options (via cut and cover).  Some of the points mentioned by the consultants include:

  • their preliminary investigations indicate that more importance should be placed on accomodating thru' trips across the study area (from Algonquin College to Tunneys) than internal trips
  • Tunney's Pasture is more frequented as a destination by trips from the east
  • the government is drawing up plans for tripling the employment at Tunney's
  • dedicating 2 of the existing lanes from either  the Western parkway or from Carling is not likely to have much negative impacts on car movements
  • the western portion of Carling has more potential for intensification and development than the eastern portion
  • The Carling route is the longest (as the others are more on the diagonal)
Next steps:  Public Open House on Nov 29th
  • Next PCG meeting will be in Jan at which time the members will have an opportunity to state their ideas on how much weight should be assigned to each of the 9 evaluation criteria
  • The next report to City council is planned for Feb
  • A final recommendation on a preferred route is planned for April
Comments:  This looks like it will  be a difficult decision to make as there appears at this point to be no clear winner.  Each option has its stronger and weaker points.   Key will be how much priority is assigned to making a faster route in from outside the greenbelt vs enabling more ridership within the greenbelt.  Also key will be the accuracy of the estimations made of the differences in trip times on each of the different routes and the impact of those differences in trip times on the projected number of riders on the system.




Further details and the latest status of this project can be found on the city website at the W-LRT extension project page:


This is the  W-LRT statement of Work used to commission this project.


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John Verbaas,
Jul 25, 2012, 10:07 AM