Ottawa LRT design issues

There were 8.4 million New Yorkers and at one point, I thought there were 8.4 million traffic engineers because everyone had really strong opinions. – Janette Sadik-Khan

The east-west double-tracked Ottawa LRT (Confederation Line, Line 1) is well designed.  It has complete grade separation, which means it never intersects with car traffic.  It is electrically-powered.  It uses modern Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC), enabling trains to be safely run with low “headways” (trains arrive closely together in time), even though the trains are switching tracks at the end of the line (e.g. the east-bound train arriving at Blair turns into a west-bound train, heading back west for a while on the same track it arrived on).

CBTC means that trains are substantially automated.  The CBTC system keeps track of all of the train locations.  To some extent once you decide on the train spacing, it is CBTC that decides how fast trains go, which rail segments trains are on, and what the settings of the track switches are.

The rail operators are basically in an oversight mode, monitoring things and dealing with exceptions.

I am not an expert in train systems, but what follows is my analysis as someone who has done a lot of computer network system troubleshooting.

Cascade Failure

In the design of complex systems, you want to avoid a cascade failure.  That is, the failure of a single component should not cause the failure of most or all of the entire system.  In the context of a rail system:

failure of a single train should not have a significant impact on the rest of the rail system.

Unfortunately in this area of design, Ottawa’s Light Rail Transit (LRT) currently fails.  The fundamental issue is not the doors, the issue is

when a train is in door failure mode, it cannot move under control of the CBTC system.

That means a train in door failure mode has to be excluded from CBTC.  But since CBTC controls all the movement of all the trains, in order to safely exclude a train from control you have to remove an entire track from control, and manually drive the train back, slowly, to a safe location or maintenance location.

But you’ve then converted your dual-track system into a single-track system, with trains going both ways on a single track.  As you can imagine, that’s a situation where you have to be incredibly careful, and clearly you can only use the track in one direction at a time.  So that’s why you go from 5-minutes-or-less trains to 15-minutes-or-more, because there is very complex and careful management needed behind the scenes to safely use the single track.

In short, removing a train from CBTC is a serious failure of the system, that causes dramatically reduced system capacity and dramatically longer spacing between trains.  It should have been the case that RTG and OC Transpo and city staff and whomever is involved in making these decisions did a risk matrix, and the risk assessment should have identified situations in which a train would have to be excluded from CBTC control and tried to minimize them.

In this specific example, as long as you can manage the safety issues of a train that has a door failure, you should continue to run that train under CBTC.  And there could be lots of human ways to manage the safety issues, including staff in the train and staff on the platform, as well as station announcements.

UPDATE: Ken Woods saysCBTC no longer needs to be cut out when bypassing doors.”  So this should fix the major cascade issue that leads to big train delays.

Also, for those of you who want to know more about solutions than design problems, I have highlighted OC Transpo’s Plans at the end of this post.  END UPDATE

The Whole Story

Now that we know the end of the story, we need to go back to the beginning.  Every component of the LRT is a design decision.  (In fact, the decision to have light rail rather than heavy rail is a decision in and of itself.)  While the design that won’t let a train travel under CBTC control is a single decision with huge consequences, the design that led to the door issues is a much longer story.

>> Low-floor vs. High-floor

There are basically two kinds of modern train design: low-floor and high-floor.  The difference is basically whether the wheels (the bogies, in train terminology) are within the floor space (low floor) or below the floor space (high floor).  Most metro systems (e.g. New York) have high floor, and you also see this in VIA Rail trains, which is why you have to go up a set of steps from ground level to get into a VIA train.

High-floor means either you need steps to get onto the train (which is no good for modern accessibility) or you need high platforms, with the rails fairly deeply below the platform level (e.g. as you see in New York).  High-floor also means that the space inside the train car is completely unobstructed, it’s just an empty box you can arrange as you want.

Modern trams are designed to work at street level, because in many cases they’re running on regular streets mixed with car traffic.  Since you can’t reasonably design either deep trenches into the street or periodically raise the sidewalk up dramatically for tram stops, modern trams are low-floor.

Since Ottawa has a totally grade separated system with dedicated stations, we could have chosen high-floor, but we didn’t.

Ottawa uses a low-floor tram design, the Citadis Spirit.

That means the wheels reach up into the interior of the train cars, which is why you get those characteristic humps inside the trains, usually with seating on them.  It also means you get a narrow corridor between the humps (which is the spacing between the wheels on either side of the train).

>> Seating

There are basically two kinds of seating design for transit: front and rear-facing seats, like you see on a bus, and side seating (perimeter seating), like you see on a metro system (e.g., again, New York).  You would generally choose side seating for a high-capacity system, which means most people are standing, and front and rear-facing for a more comfortable but lower capacity system.

A critical difference is that you can clear side-seating cars quickly, because most people are standing anyway.  If it’s high-floor side-seating it is even better, because the space itself is completely unobstructed so people can move freely.

I’m not going to link to this article in DailyHive, because it has autoplay video – TransLink considering side seating for new order of 203 SkyTrain cars – but I will quote from it

perimeter seating generally provides more overall carrying capacity within each car with its allowance for greater standing room. This layout also creates more vertical and overhead handrails for standing passengers to hold on to.

With wider corridors between the seats, such a sideways seating layout could make the trains more efficient for quick ingress and egress through the car doors.

Kyoto subway 1117 priority seat area 01
Priority seat area on Kyoto Subway 1117

Ottawa’s trams have a fairly conventional front and rear-facing seat arrangement, which in combination with low-floor means that there are some pinch points within the train.  In the worst case to get off at a station you might have to stand up, walk through a narrow corridor between seats, and then make your way through the people standing next to the doors.

There are lots of human-factor considerations about which kinds of seating people prefer.  See e.g. Chicago magazine – subway seating options.

>> The Overhead Bar

In general you want people equally distributed along the interior of your train car.  But Ottawa’s cars have very high grab bars with no straps hanging down, which means lots of people can’t reach the bars to hold on.  If you’re standing, you really want to have the comfort of a handhold.  Because of this, people are clustering near areas where lower handholds are available.

>> I’ve Got a Door in my Pocket

There are two kinds of door design.  In a metro system (e.g. yes, New York again) you have pocket doors, where the doors slide into the side of the car.  In Ottawa’s trams, the doors instead open out and over, physically moving outside and to the side of the doorway.

I’m no door expert, but doors that run back and forth on a track, doors that are mostly inside the side of the train seem like they would have fewer failure modes than doors that have to go through a complex range of motion to close, and sit fully exposed to manipulation on the outside edges of the doorway.

Be mindful that doors of either design fail on transit systems all the time; it’s the most common failure.  See e.g.

Train Design Summary

So basically the train things under design control are:

  • high-floor vs. low-floor, which determines how much usable space you have inside the train car, and some of the ease of movement within the car
  • front-facing seating vs. side-seating, which determines how much open space you have for standing passengers vs. seated space, and decides to some extent how easy it is to move within the train car
  • grab bar and straphanger design, which will determine where people are comfortable standing
  • door design, which to some extent determines what kind of failure modes your doors may have

>> Dwell Time

The amount of time a train spends at a station is called dwell time.  To minimize the amount of time it takes get from one end of the entire rail line to the other, you need to minimize the amount of time each train spends at a station.  This includes minimizing the amount of time doors are open.  Ottawa’s LRT doors are on automated timings, I believe of less than two minutes per station.

>> The Bus Legacy

The bus is very different from the train.  The bus is an entirely human-driven system.  Everything is under human control.  The driver can decide when to stop, where to stop, when to open and re-open the doors, everything.

The bus is also super-jolty.  In particular if the brakes are jammed on at a stop or due to cars or other roadway dangers, or due to acceleration when departing a stop.

The bus is unpredictable due to cars, so it may arrive at a time different from the planned schedule.

The bus in many cases is infrequent, sometimes running only every half-hour.

These characteristics make for certain very understandable human behaviours on the bus.

First, people will often try to sit down as quickly as possible, in order to avoid being standing when the bus jolts into motion.  Also people will try to stand up as late as possible, in order to avoid being standing when the bus jolts to a halt.  And in general people would rather sit than stand, due to the aforementioned jolting plus added bumpiness of the ride in general.

This means people are quite often late to exit the bus, and just push the bars to hold or reopen the doors, or shout at the bus driver (“back door!”) to get the doors open if they’re outside the automatic door cycle.

So: slow to exit the bus.

The unpredictability of the bus means that when people do see a bus, they will run to grab it, often requiring the driver to stop and reopen the doors.

So: in a rush to get on the bus.

The flow of passengers on and off the bus is managed by a combination of bus driver oversight and passenger control, including people stepping off and back onto the bus if it is super crowded, with the passengers inside holding the door.

These behaviours don’t translate at all well to the train, which is nothing like the bus.  The train is smooth, and the doors are entirely on automatic timing, and (outside of major system failure) there is another train coming soon.

>> Platform Human Factors

On a platform, you want people to spread out so that they are using all the doors equally.  But it’s just human nature that people tend to stop as soon as they reach the bottom of the stairs.  It will take some time for people to switch from the bus mindset of basically standing near a single location to automatically moving down the platform.

>> Rush Hour

The Commute as we call it, Rush Hour, is an entirely separate design issue about which I will probably do a separate blog post.  But since we can’t redesign the entire city, and change school and employer expectations and employee behaviour, we’re stuck with this super-peak of demand called Rush Hour.

So you have to design your system for Rush Hour.

Normally what would happen is your system is adapted as Rush Hour grows.  Your system changes as demand changes.  If you do have to switch to a new system once demand reaches a certain level, you switch early, let’s say at 75% to 80% of capacity.

The huge design issue in Ottawa was that we waited until our system was basically at 100% capacity before switching to a new design, before switching from Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to LRT.  (I will set the unfortunate politics of Canadian transit that caused this late shift aside.)

That means we went from a 100% capacity Rush Hour BRT system to an LRT system that would have very heavy peak demand.

Very heavy demand is a transit planner’s dream in some sense.

Unfortunately it would be very hard to simulate this level of real-world demand.  You’d have to have literally thousands of volunteers.

Another option would be to gradually ramp up demand, and adjust step by step.  But with a complex bus system this would have been tricky and confusing, with buses removed gradually over time.

Presumably transit planners thought that by instead running the entire bus system in parallel for three weeks, they were doing the best they could at gradual demand increase, assuming people would slowly transition from bus to train during those weeks, so that by the end they would be running at full train demand.

What seems to have happened though is a step change in demand when the buses were discontinued.

And Now The Deluge

That step change in demand seems to have triggered a cascade failure, which goes something like this:

1. Buses are now dropping off all of their passengers at Blair and Tunney’s, creating peak demand that needs to be quickly cleared.  So there are two big boarding demand sources.

2. People are mostly going to work or to school, which means heavy demand to get off the train at uOttawa and Parliament Stations.

3. With the extra number of people added by the end of the parallel bus service, the design of the trains means that people are not getting to the doors in time.  This is a combination of design factors:

a. low-floor design means there are some narrow corridors in the train cars
b. front and rear-facing seating means there are lots of people seated
c. having lots of seating means people have to navigate their way past the seats
d. high grab bars means that standing passengers cluster in certain areas of the car where they can reach a handhold

Plus which let’s keep in mind that humans don’t like “crush load“.  People will stand together, but they’re not necessarily going to pack themselves together to fill the maximum capacity of the train.

4. The automated door timing that is part of short dwell times at stations means people are not able to get out at their station before the doors close.

For a passenger, not getting off at your station is basically a serious transit failure when you’re on a train.  If you need to get off at uOttawa and you can’t get off, you’re stuck either trying to train back or walk back, when you may have timed things to get to class or an exam.  Train transit systems must be designed so people can get off at their stop.

When people can’t get off at their stop they will understandably panic and try to get the doors open.

5. The automated door timing that is part of short dwell times at stations means people may not be able to get on at their station before the doors close.

This is not a failure in a train transit system with frequent trains.  You wait for the next train.  But keep in mind this is not at all how the bus worked.  So people understandably are trying to rush onto the train, and they are trying to get the doors open to do so.

6. Getting off and on magnified

The next thing that will happen is if people have learned they may not get off and on the train as designed, they will change behaviours in ways that magnify the problem.

People worried about getting off will stand near the doors even if it isn’t their stop, which means they will slow people who need to get off the train.

People worried about getting on will stand near the doors and rush the doors, which means they will slow people who need to get off the train.

So as soon as people lose confidence in the train it gets even worse.

7. Apparently the doors can error out in two ways.  If the door tries to close three times and it can’t, it will error out, which the train operator can reset.  But if the door is physically out of alignment, this is basically an unfixable error until it is realigned.

This is where the real problem comes.  Failed doors are to be expected in transit systems.  But the train control (CBTC) system we have (Thales SelTrac™) in combination with the train we have (Alstom Citatis Spirit) has this decision in its risk matrix: a train with failed doors is not allowed to move under automated train control.

My thanks to Ken Woods (@drivesincircles) for explaining the train control issue on Twitter.

This was the eye-opening tweet for me:

He goes on to provide additional detail:

CBTC also enforces train suitability, meaning the CBTC system will not allow a train to move with a safety issue like an open door.  So, bypassing that safeguard requires us to bypass CBTC, making the train itself invisible to the other trains being controlled by CBTC.
— Ken Woods (@drivesincircles) October 9, 2019

Once bypassed, we have to move that invisible train back to the depot, and prevent other trains from getting too close. A bypassed train can only move at 25kph, and for obvious reasons cannot stop at stations.
— Ken Woods (@drivesincircles) October 9, 2019

I blinked too. The train will not authorize traction with an open door and an active VOBC. No idea if this is an Alstom or Thales thing, but the door loop override kills movement until the train is cut out.
— Ken Woods (@drivesincircles) October 9, 2019

(VOBC means Vehicle On-Board Computer.)

And this CBTC interaction with the trains is where everything falls apart.

Because the train can’t move under automated control, the entire less-than-5-minutes train system running on dual tracks gets replaced with a single track under automated control and a manual track where the train slowly chugs back to be repaired.

This means trains now arrive at something like 15 minute or longer intervals.

But Rush Hour peak demand means hundreds of people arriving continuously by bus at Blair and Tunney’s, which means they have to be cleared out on packed trains every 5 minutes or less, or the stations become dangerously crowded.

Which is what happened.

We should just be grateful that people managed this massive overcrowding.

UPDATE: Ken Woods saysCBTC no longer needs to be cut out when bypassing doors.”  So this should fix the major cascade issue that leads to big train delays.  END UPDATE

Immediate Fixes

>> Dwell Time

Probably the easiest fix is to change the dwell times for the trains, particularly at busy stations.  This means just change the door times so they are open longer.  This will mean longer end-to-end train rides for everyone, but should greatly reduce the door issues.

>> Boarding Decals

We could also put down boarding decals.  People in Ottawa love following signs.  But this means the doors have to always be at the same position, regardless of train direction or train configuration, and I’m not sure this is the case (you’d have to check with OC Transpo).

TTC platform decals
Decals from TTC expanding boarding decals test to southbound St George platform

>> Straphangers

Install straps so that people can stand safely anywhere in the train.

>> Buses

If we are still having capacity issues, OC Transpo needs to add buses back into the system.  Yes, I know this is a terrible option.  It seems like there are some peak demand points, so these could be e.g. express buses that go only Blair to uOttawa or only Tunney’s to Parliament.

Medium-Term Fixes

>> Change Automated Control Scenarios

The most important fix of all is to examine train failure modes, and re-evaluate when a train should be excluded from automated (CBTC) control.  The goal should be to find mitigations so that exclusion from automated control is minimized.

As long as it is safe to do so, it is way way better to run an empty train with a door fault under automated control, than to shut down an entire track and massively increase the time between trains.

UPDATE: Ken Woods saysCBTC no longer needs to be cut out when bypassing doors.”  So this should fix the major cascade issue that leads to big train delays.  END UPDATE

>> Min Headway

If we can get headways (spacing between trains) even lower, say 3 minutes or less, it will ease platform demand.  But I understand there are risks with pushing the system to tight spacing, and so this is something to set as a goal for the medium term.

However, headway is more complicated than it might initially seem, as the rail operators have to switch from one end of the train to the other at the end stations.

On a 4 minute headway, the train pulls in and leaves again within 240 seconds if it is precisely on time. It takes the operator 120 seconds to change ends. – Ken Woods

Long-Term Fixes

For Stage 2, Ottawa should look at side seating for the trains.

But this is a design decision with consequences too: it means long standing commutes for people coming from the most distant stations, and it means some people having to stand on totally uncrowded trains outside of Rush Hour.

Please feel free to correct me if anything above is wrong.


The thing is, this really is mainly a combination of factors that cascade at Rush Hour.  The system is very pleasant and reliable outside of peak demand.  In a way there are two different systems, which makes for a challenging design problem.  If you’ve only been on the train during peak demand hours, you should try it out during the weekend or in the middle of the day; it’s quite a different experience.

OC Transpo’s Plans

The good news is OC Transpo knows what they are doing, so they are already putting in place some of the key elements above, including:

  • A plan to install strap hangers in trains;
  • Adjusting dwell times (the amount of time a door is kept open) at stations aligning the timing to passenger volume and train frequency times;
  • Installing markings on platforms guiding customers on where to wait, so as to not block customers who are stepping off trains. [So I guess train doors are at consistent locations after all.]

Thanks to Councillor Glen Gower for sharing this information in his blog (found via Twitter).

And I have to agree with this Canadian Press article: Despite Ottawa’s LRT woes, experts say don’t judge right away.

All the train-related emojis

Since these emoji are tiny on most devices, and since most people just type “train” and select something, and since many people are not too bothered about which one to use, they tend to get jumbled up.  But anyway, here is what they’re supposed to be used for:


🚈 Light Rail

  • Light Rail is the correct emoji for the Ottawa Line 1 LRT
  • U+1F688

🚂 Locomotive (steam train)

  • With the Wakefield steam train gone, the Canada Science & Technology Museum is the best place to see these, e.g. the Steam exhibition
  • U+1F682

🚆 generic train

  • This is the closest emoji for Ottawa’s Line 2 diesel trains
  • U+1F686

🚄 High-Speed Train

  • Does not apply to any train in Canada
  • U+1F684

🚅 Bullet Train

  • Does not apply to any train in Canada
  • Typically used for Shinkansen trains, but applies to any train with a “streamlined bullet nose”
  • U+1F685

🚝 Monorail

  • U+1F69D

🚇 Metro (subway)

  • U+1F687

🚞 Mountain Railway

  • U+1F69E

🚊 Tram

  • The difference between light rail and a tram is that a tram runs at street level in a city, often with stops beside the sidewalk.  May run in mixed traffic.  The original form of rail mass transit in cities.  In North America often called a streetcar or a trolley.
  • U+1F68A

🚟 Suspension Railway

  • It’s kind of odd that there is an emoji for this as suspension railways are very rare.  The handful of suspension railways includes Wuppertal in Germany & Shonan and Chiba in Japan.
  • U+1F69F

Rail Cars

🚃 Railway Car

  • It’s not really clear what kind of railway car this is.
  • The train emojis are not really designed to be assembled together.  Some face left, some face forward, and you can’t flip the direction.  So you can make a train going left like this 🚂🚃🚃🚃
    but you can’t really make a generic train with cars 🚆🚃🚃
    or a light rail train with engines on both ends 🚈🚃🚃🚈
    plus there’s no consistency between different designs for this emoji on whether the railway car has a pantograph (overhead connection to electrical wires) or not.
  • U+1F683

🚋 Tram Car

  • The tram emojis are not designed to be assembled together.  A tram ends up looking like 🚊🚋🚋.
  • It’s definitely an electric tram, with a pantograph (overhead connection to electrical wires).
  • U+1F68B

Train Stations

🚉 (Train) Station

  • It’s really more train platform than train station
  • U+1F689

Ⓜ️ Circled M

  • Commonly indicates a 🚇 Metro stop
  • U+24C2


🛤️ Railway Track

  • These are all pretty much terrible at a small size.  Microsoft’s looks more like a mountain than railway tracks (and appears to show the railway heading directly for the mountain).
  • They aren’t designed to be lined up, so they look weird side-by-side: 🛤️🛤️🛤️
  • U+1F6E4

Ottawa O-Train Specific

While it might seem like the red O emoji ⭕ is ideal for the O-Train, there are two issues:

  1. It’s actually called Heavy Large Circle, so for people using screen readers, it would probably sound like “Heavy Large Circle Train”, not “O-Train”.
  2. It has a specific meaning in a Japanese context: “an alternative to a [checkmark] in Japan for a something that is correct”.

September 10, 2019 Ottawa LRT Stage 1 Line 1 in Emojis
April 12, 2015 iOS Travel emoji – railway vs tram

Ottawa LRT Stage 1 Line 1 in Emojis

Ottawa Line 1 🚈

Tunney’s Pasture 🚉 ↔️ 🚌 West

Bayview 🚉 ↔️ Line 2 🚆 South

Pimisi 🚉 ↔️ OC Transpo 🚌 Gatineau

Lyon 🚉🚇 ↔️ STO 🚌 Gatineau

Parliament 🚉🚇

Rideau 🚉🚇

uOttawa 🚉

Lees 🚉

Hurdman 🚉 ↔️ 🚌 South

Tremblay 🚉 ↔️ VIA Rail 🚆

St-Laurent 🚉

Cyrville 🚉

Blair 🚉 ↔️ 🚌 East

Alternative with washrooms, retail, and bus stop signs

Ottawa Line 1 🚈

Tunney’s Pasture 🚉🚻🛍️ ↔️ 🚏 🚌 West

Bayview 🚉🚻 ↔️ Line 2 🚆 South

Pimisi 🚉 ↔️ OC Transpo 🚏 🚌 Gatineau

Lyon 🚉🚇 ↔️ STO 🚏 🚌 Gatineau

Parliament 🚉🚇

Rideau 🚉🚇🛍️

uOttawa 🚉

Lees 🚉

Hurdman 🚉🚻🛍️ ↔️ 🚏 🚌 South

Tremblay 🚉 ↔️ VIA Rail 🚆

St-Laurent 🚉

Cyrville 🚉

Blair 🚉🚻🛍️ ↔️ 🚏 🚌 East

Thanks to Doug van den Ham for the idea about adding washrooms.

Emojis Used

I didn’t use the Tram emoji because trams travel in the roadway and typically have stops beside the sidewalk; trams are not the same as (heavy) railways or light rail. For some more info see previous blog posting iOS Travel emoji – railway vs tram.

UPDATE 2019-09-26: The in-station retail has been announced as Happy Goat Coffee, which leads to the inevitable alternative visual

Ottawa Line 1 🚈

Tunney’s Pasture 🚉🚻🐐 ↔️ 🚏 🚌 West

Bayview 🚉🚻 ↔️ Line 2 🚆 South

Pimisi 🚉 ↔️ OC Transpo 🚏 🚌 Gatineau

Lyon 🚉🚇 ↔️ STO 🚏 🚌 Gatineau

Parliament 🚉🚇

Rideau 🚉🚇🐐

uOttawa 🚉

Lees 🚉

Hurdman 🚉🚻🐐 ↔️ 🚏 🚌 South

Tremblay 🚉 ↔️ VIA Rail 🚆

St-Laurent 🚉

Cyrville 🚉

Blair 🚉🚻🐐 ↔️ 🚏 🚌 East


See Also

November 13, 2018 Ottawa LRT Stage 1 maps.

Ottawa LRT Stage 1 rollout with multi-step transit network changes

RTG is was supposed to achieve Revenue Service Availability (RSA) on August 16, 2019.  This is the handover to the city, not the launch.

The launch will be about a month after RSA, sometime in mid-September.

UPDATE 2019-08-23: The LRT was handed over to the city on August 23, 2019.  The launch date for LRT service to the public will be September 14, 2019 (at 2pm).  END UPDATE

But there are multiple steps before we get to a full new network of Stage 1 LRT plus OC Transpo buses plus STO buses plus reconstructed roadways.

1. Ottawa LRT Stage 1 LRT Launch

The LRT will launch mid-September, but the current bus system will remain in place for three weeks.  So it will be a mix of rail and parallel bus service.

OttLRT Line 1 Stage 1 Line_map1
from the OC Transpo Ready4Rail – Where will it go page.

The north-south Trillium Line 2 from Bayview Station will continue unchanged, but only until Q2 2020 (see below).

2. OC Transpo Bus Routes Optimised for LRT

Three weeks after LRT Stage 1 launch, specifically on October 6, 2019, the parallel bus service is discontinued, and Ottawa switches to a new bus network optimised for the LRT.  This will mean the end of the Transitway (9x and 8x) buses on Albert and Slater; no more Transitway buses through downtown.

OC Transpo Rapid 2018_Network_R 200
Map from OC Transpo New service types page.

Rapid buses (in blue above) will connect to the rail network at Tunney’s Pasture Station (westbound), Greenboro Station (southbound), Hurdman Station (southwest bound), and Blair Station (eastbound).

Bus Network Service Change - continued - Confederation-Line-Update-July-10-FEDCO-meeting-FINAL-E_20190710-145150_1

UPDATE 2019-08-23: The easiest way to figure out route changes will be to use the new trip planner, but if you want to know about a particular bus, you can start at the Ready for Rail – My Route page.  END UPDATE

For more on Stage 1 LRT see Ottawa LRT Stage 1 maps.

3. STO Bus Routes Optimised for LRT

At some point (sometime in 2020) after the OC Transpo switch to new bus routes, STO will also change its routes.  Which will bring buses back to Albert and Slater, as STO takes to these streets to run service through downtown to Mackenzie King Station.

STO Ottawa 2020

For more on STO bus changes see STO bus changes after Ottawa LRT Stage 1.

Street Redesigns – Rideau Street and William Street

At some point, currently scheduled for September 2019 but presumably dependent on LRT launch, Rideau Street and William Street will be redesigned, with one goal being higher pedestrian capacity.

Street Redesigns – Albert Street and Slater Street

At some point, currently scheduled for Summer 2020, Albert and Slater will be redesigned with space for cycling (see proposed designs in the public information sessions).  But note that Albert and Slater will not be bus-free; most notably there will be STO buses as indicated above.

Trillium Line 2 South – Stage 2 – Temporary Shutdown With Replacement by Bus Service

The Trillium Line (the north-south line) is scheduled to be shut down from Q2 2020 to 2022, while new stations and track are added for Stage 2.  During shutdown a replacement bus service will run.

Full Service of New Stage 1 Transit Network and Redesigned Streets

Once all these steps are complete, presumably sometime in 2021, the downtown transit network and downtown streets will basically have their transformation complete.

LRT Stage 2

The next step will be LRT Stage 2, with new and updated segments scheduled for 2022 (Trillium Line 2 south), 2024 (Confederation Line 1 east) and 2025 (Confederation Line 1 west).

For more information, see Ottawa LRT Stage 2 maps.

How to watch Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD

Watch seasons 1 through 4, but in season 4 stop at 40:47 into the last episode (4×22 World’s End) just after she says “Anyone have room for some pie?”

That’s it. Just stop there. That’s a good ending to the series.

After that it’s basically a season of bottle episodes in Season 5, on a new set they built (somewhat similar to Stargate SG-1 season 8, although in that case they were reusing their set).

And not only is season 5 all-bottle, all the time, but its a horrible dystopian future that just goes on and on.
The only episode of season 5 that has any spark at all is 5×05 Rewind, with the reappearance of Hunter bringing both some much needed energy and humour as well as leading to them actually going outside.

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD season 5: Dystopian Future

Seriously why would you want to watch hours of characters you like stuck in a grindingly depressing and intermittently horrifying and disturbing dystopian future.

Season 6 the team isn’t even together, plus which they still don’t get out of the set very much (the same set from season 5), plus which its clear the writers have kind of given up and are just writing stuff to amuse themselves or try out new things for the characters.

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD season 6: Lurking Underground or Wandering Around In Space While Earth is Beset by Killer Birds

The only redeeming feature of seasons 5 and 6 is Enoch (Joel Stoffer) but he is not enough to rescue either season.

Season 5 had 22 episodes (and a rather unsatisfying resolution). Season 6 has been mercifully cut to 13 episodes, as presumably will be the announced final season 7.

proposed rail transit for Gatineau west end including rail across Portage Bridge

Gatineau is in a multi-stage process to study a system for transit in the west end of the city, and ultimately recommend which system to implement.  I have written previously about the initial report in proposed Gatineau west-end rail project.

In French this project is called un système de transport collectif structurant dans l’ouest de la ville de Gatineau. This doesn’t translate exactly to English because of the concept of “structured transit”; basically it means something like an organised, primary system of transit for the west end of Gatineau.

Note that this system is nowhere near being funded and approved yet.

UPDATE 2019-06-10: The Government of Quebec has pledged to fund 60% of this $2.1 billion project.

That being said, transit funding in Canada is highly political, so there may be many more twists and turns before a final project is approved and fully funded.



They examine many options but the summary is that the first option proposed is two connected rail lines, running trams (streetcars) presumably not separated from regular car traffic, from the west end of Gatineau across the Portage Bridge to Ottawa.

Gatineau T1 rail with PoW
above map cropped from Gatineau STO Scénario T1 – Scénario par tramway, Caractéristiques du scénario (PDF) but edited to show the Prince of Wales Bridge crossing the Ottawa River

Portage Bridge instead of Prince of Wales

The part where the tramway would run across the Portage Bridge I think is a surprise to everyone.  Unlike the Alexandra, Chaudière and Prince of Wales bridges, Portage has never had trains crossing it. (You can read about the history of interprovincial rail in my blog post Ottawa – Gatineau interprovincial rail.)  It had long been expected that any renewed interprovincial rail connection would be across the currently disused Prince of Wales bridge.

CBC reports the analysis as

In a presentation Tuesday, the STO said the Portage Bridge would provide better service to downtown Gatineau, and would also allow the agency to drop off its users at Ottawa’s downtown Lyon or Parliament stations, which may have more capacity.

Le Droit says the issue is a lack of capacity at Bayview Station

Après avoir desservi sa propre clientèle ottavienne, la station Bayview ne pourrait pas accueillir plus de 1000 usagers supplémentaires par heure, en période de pointe, alors que le flot de passagers supplémentaires en provenance de Gatineau serait estimé à 6000.

UPDATE 2019-09-25: STO has done five videos about different aspects of the plan.  I will highlight just the one about the decision about where to cross the river, which discusses the pros and cons of each crossing.

The specific text about the Prince of Wales bridge is

If the Prince of Wales Bridge were chosen to be part of the structuring system, riders going to Ottawa would have to transfer to Ottawa’s light rail at Bayview station.

However, the light rail section between Tunney’s Pasture and Lyon stations will be the busiest along the Confederation Line. There would not be enough space to accommodate all riders coming from Gatineau.

From this aspect, the Prince of Wales Bridge does not meet the needs of the current study and has not been retained. However, its use is still relevant for a secondary link between Ottawa and Gatineau.

You can see the rest of the videos on the STO site


Unfortunately, while bringing rail across Portage is a potentially bold transit move, it is fraught with challenges, particularly given the real geometry of the area, since Portage is not just a north-south river bridge, it also has a major east-west connection from the Sir John A. MacDonald “Parkway” (highway) on the Ottawa side.

Portage Bridge aerial from Google Maps
Imagery ©2019 Google, Map data ©2019 Google.

Streetcars are a pre-automobile technology.  They can work in the 21st Century when all modes of transportation and the street design combine to enable the uninterrupted movement of the high-capacity streetcars  In its comparison of modes, STO shows 45-metre-long tram cars with a capacity of 375 people.  To be blunt, that means the tram should have 375x the priority of a single-occupancy car.  But in reality in North America we have:

  • drivers landing in the city centre on high-speed highways (like the SJAM “Parkway”) and expecting to continue driving fast through the centre
  • decades of prioritizing car traffic and high-speed car traffic over all other modes
  • high-speed one-way “arterials” and actual highways within cities
  • decades of prioritizing car traffic so that drivers aren’t used to mixing well with other modes, whether that be pedestrians, cyclists, bus transit or even more rarely at-grade rail transit
  • street design and expectations that prioritize safety for inattentive drivers

This means streetcars have really struggled in mixed traffic in North America.  This is why Toronto had to do the King Street changes, in order to reduce the ability of a single-occupancy car to block a streetcar carrying many more people.

To somehow insert a streetcar into Wellington and Portage’s mix of north-south and east-west traffic would be a huge challenge.  Just look at that intersection.  And keep in mind the vehicle they’ve depicted is 45 metres long, much much longer than an 18 metre extended (bendy) bus.

Portage Bridge - SJAM - Wellington intersection from Google Maps
Imagery ©2019 Google, Map data ©2019 Google.

And then it’s not at all clear to me how you land the tramway in downtown Ottawa.  It’s supposed to deliver its hundreds of passengers per vehicle to Lyon Station and the sidewalk basically.  There’s no way geometrically (that I can see) that you can get the tram around 90 degrees to Lyon and Queen (and incidentally up a bit of a hill), so I guess that means it just stops at Lyon and Wellington?  (STO actually talks about serving both Lyon and Parliament Stations.)  STO just shows some magic dotted lines once the tramway arrives in Ottawa.

STO tramway across Portage
above map cropped from Gatineau STO Scénario T1 – Scénario par tramway, Caractéristiques du scénario (PDF)

I’m not saying this is a bad idea.  If we were in Europe it would be easy.  European trams cross multi-modal bridges all the time, here’s one in Rouen.


But doing this in North America with the real geometry of the proposed location and the real behaviours of North American drivers will be a big challenge.

SIDEBAR: The entire area is a museum of 1960s traffic engineering and urban planning.  To the west you have the “urban renewal” of LeBreton Flats, where housing was flattened and a highway was built, and to the north across the river you have the Place du Portage megastructure, where an urban street grid was erased in order that an inward-facing building complex could be dropped out of the sky, a building complex you’re supposed to arrive at by car and never leave until the work day is done.  For more on that era’s disastrous urban design see William H. Whyte’s City: Rediscovering the Center, in particular chapter 14, Megastructures.  END SIDEBAR


There’s way way too much information for me to expand out in detail so I’m mostly just going to point you to the STO web pages.

The area under study comprises Gatineau’s west end, downtown Gatineau, downtown Ottawa, the light rail stations and their surrounding areas as well as suitable routes for linking Gatineau and Ottawa.

There was a 2013-2017 Opportunity Study that you don’t really need to know much about.

Out of that, as far as I can tell, came the 2018 proposed Gatineau west-end rail project.

We are now in the next stage, the 2018-2019 Study.

And in June 2019 sub-step Public Consultation on the Structuring System in Gatineau’s West End.

In the June 2019 consultation they want you to consider 5 scenarios.

The scenarios are:

  • The reference scenario, in which the current bus system is improved.  All other scenarios can be compared against the reference scenario.  /  Le premier est le scénario de référence, qui inclut des mesures préférentielles telles que des voies réservées ou des priorités aux feux de circulation à plusieurs endroits sur le réseau actuel, mais pas de mesures structurantes. Il sert de base de comparaison aux autres scénarios.
  • The all-bus scenarioScénario B1 – Scénario par autobus.  Le scénario tout bus comprend des aménagements structurants pour autobus le long des axes Allumettières/Wilfrid-Lavigne/Aylmer/Taché avec une antenne par le chemin Vanier, le boulevard du Plateau et le boulevard Saint-Raymond. Des variantes sont possibles par le chemin Eardley, via Allumettières plutôt que par le boulevard du Plateau ainsi qu’à l’arrière de l’UQO. Des connexions entre les deux axes sont possibles soit par le boulevard des Allumettières ou le chemin Vanier.
  • The all-tramway scenarioScénario T1 – Scénario par tramway.  Le scénario tout rail est un scénario opéré par des tramways sur les axes Allumettières/Wilfrid-Lavigne/Aylmer/Taché, avec une branche qui part du boulevard du Plateau vers le boulevard Saint-Raymond.
  • Two hybrid scenarios, one of which (H1) has tramway on the north section and bus rapid transit on the south, and the other (H2) which has bus rapid transit on the north section, and tramway on the south.Dans le premier scénario hybride H1, l’axe Allumettières/Plateau est desservi par des tramways. Une variante est possible via McConnell et Allumettières.L’axe Allumettières/Wilfrid-Lavigne/Aylmer/Taché est desservi par un système rapide par bus opéré par autobus articulés. Des variantes sont possibles par le chemin Eardley ainsi qu’à l’arrière de l’UQO.Dans le deuxième scénario hybride H2, l’axe Allumettières/Wilfrid-Lavigne/Aylmer/Taché est desservi par des tramways. Des variantes sont possibles par le chemin Eardley ainsi qu’à l’arrière de l’UQ.L’axe Allumettières/Plateau est desservi par un système rapide par bus opéré par autobus articulés ou biarticulés. Une variante desservie par bus est possible via McConnell et Allumettières.

I’m only going to include the slides about the all-tramway scenario.

The tramway depicted by STO is 45 metres long and carries 375 people.

STO_consultation_planche-modes_imp 75
above from Caractéristiques des modes de transport (PDF)

That’s much, much longer than the familiar OC Transpo articulated (bendy) bus which STO shows as the second green bus at 18 metres and a capacity of 90 people (I’m not sure how the half-person depicted works, but anyway you get the idea).

You can see the full map of the proposed routes with alternatives.

from Scénario T1 – Scénario par tramway (PDF). Note that the maps do not show Prince of Wales Bridge crossing the Ottawa River.

UPDATE 2019-06-04: There are now videos available explaining the scenarios

and there is now an FAQ


You can also read the press release (in French only)

and watch the video of the announcement (in French only)

Archive – Information Sessions and Consultations

There will be were information sessions (open house sessions) June 3rd, 4th and 6th, 2019.

Secteur Aylmer
Lundi 3 juin 2019, de 16 h à 20 h
Centre culturel du Vieux-Aylmer situé au 120, rue Principale

District du Plateau
Mardi 4 juin 2019, de 16 h 30 à 20 h 30
Centre communautaire du Plateau situé au 145, rue de l’Atmosphère

Secteur Hull
Jeudi 6 juin 2019, de 16 h à 20 h
Agora de la Maison du citoyen situé au 25, rue Laurier

There will be was an online consultation June 3 to 24, 2019.

Un questionnaire sera disponible en ligne du 3 au 24 juin 2019.

UPDATE 2019-06-04: The online survey is available.  END UPDATE

And there will be was a brainstorming workshop June 17, 2019.

Un atelier ouvert au grand public sera organisé afin d’engager une discussion sur les conditions de succès du système structurant et d’approfondir la réflexion sur les scénarios.

Lundi 17 juin de 18 h à 20 h
Hôtel DoubleTree by Hilton, 1170 chemin d’Aylmer

for more information, see

February 10, 2019  proposed Gatineau west-end rail project

the liquorice emoji

There is no liqourice (or licorice) emoji.  There is a chocolate bar emoji.

Creating a liquorice emoji may seem simple, but it immediately runs into cross-cultural challenges, specifically what is liquorice and what does it look like.

In Scandinavia and northern Europe, liquorice is salty.  This is called salmiak liquorice, you also often see the the term zout (salt) as in double (DZ) or triple salt liquorice.

See Wikipedia – Salty liquorice and the New York TimesThe Saltier the Licorice, the Happier the Country.  Just Look at Finland.

One typical form for this liquorice is a small black diamond. Finland actually did a set of joke Finland emoji (as a tourism promotion) with a “black gold” liquorice emoji
black_gold white background

Finnish sweet ‘salmiakki’ is liquorice spiced up with Ammonium chloride. It is something Finns can’t live without.

Unfortunately it doesn’t have great characteristics, which is to say if you didn’t already know what it is supposed to represent (a woman eating diamond liquorice) then you would have a hard time figuring it out.

The ideal representation would be a simple black diamond, which could be reused for other purposes as well.  Except the emoji set has no black diamond.  There’s a set of card suit emojis, so of course the emoji is a red diamond.  There are also, inexplicably, blue and orange diamonds in two sizes (I guess these must have some culture-specific meaning).  The only place you can get a black diamond emoji is from Mozilla, who have misread the ridiculously confusing specification.  The specification says that “black” means filled, not, you know, black.

When describing pre-emoji Unicode symbols, black in a character name refers to the symbol being solid/filled in.

So the emoji “black diamond suit” is actually a filled red diamond.  Except from Mozilla.  In the Mozilla emoji set on Emojipedia the diamond is black, and in the Mozilla emoji set on Github the large diamond is red but the smaller diamond on hover is black.
Mozilla black diamond suit
So for salty liquorice all that is needed is an actual black diamond emoji.

But that doesn’t represent liquorice globally.  In the US and Canada, probably the closest would be a black Twizzler, which isn’t even really liquorice.  Plus which particularly in the US, it tends actually to be a red Twizzler, which they call red vines (I only know this from Gilmore Girls).  This red candy is popular enough (or maybe recognizable on screen enough) to have appeared being enjoyed by characters in US TV shows, including The Flash and Agents of SHIELD.  Since “red” liquorice doesn’t actually exist, it’s not actually liquorice at all.

In the UK I don’t know, maybe a Pontefract cake? (Which is not actually a cake, it’s more like a coin-shaped candy.  I only know about these because of a BBC Radio 4 Extra cake series – episode Pontefract cake.)  And in France probably a Zan tablet (now Haribo Zan), which is yet another different liquorice experience.

Basically there’s a good case for the salty liquorice black diamond emoji, but I don’t think there’s an emoji that would recognizably represent liquorice globally.

As a sidebar, a much better emoji approach to shapes would mirror the one used for skin tones, which is to say, just have the hollow and filled shapes and then add markup for colour.  And maybe markup for size.  With four emoji codes already for blue and orange diamonds, it doesn’t make sense to keep adding two more codes for every new colour.