comments on proposed Elgin Street redesign

Ottawa Transportation Committee is meeting on May 3, 2017 to consider the staff report including proposed designs.  Here’s what I wrote to the committee:

COMMENT

Dear Councillors Egli and McKenney:

I am writing to you as chair and vice-chair of the Transportation Committee, about the Elgin Street redesign that will come before the committee on May 3, 2017 (ACS2017-TSD-PLN-0007 Elgin Street and Hawthorne Avenue Functional Design Study).  I support the report recommendations, namely (1) that the functional designs in the report be approved as-is and (2) that the speed limit be posted as 30 km/h.

I want to emphasize particularly strong support for the speed limit reduction to 30 km/h, and the language of the report “Designed for lower operating speed” (page 14).  Using design to lower the speed of vehicles in the downtown core is the single most important intervention that council can make to provide a safer and more pleasant experience for pedestrians and cyclists, and to make an even more liveable Ottawa.  This is particularly important given the presence of Elgin Street Public School.

I also want to express my support for the particular design intervention of raised intersections.  I very much hope this means that the crosswalks themselves will be continued across the street at sidewalk level (“continuous sidewalks”) across the side streets (I am using the language from NACTO guide “Pedestrians at Multi-Modal Intersections” http://nacto.org/docs/usdg/pedestrians_multi-modal_intersections_perkins.pdf ).  To me raised intersections and continuous sidewalks are a very significant design improvement that helps ensure lower operating speed.

I hope as well that the committee will recommend careful monitoring of speed and multi-modal level of service after the redesign, to ensure high levels of service are being achieved for pedestrians and cyclists, and to ensure that the design is keeping speeds below the 30km/h target.  If the data indicate that speeds are higher than 30km/h, I expect the city to continue to modify the design until speeds are 30km/h or less.

In my submission to the Elgin Street consultation I had recommended either no parking, or parking on only one side https://manifestomultilinko2.wordpress.com/2016/06/30/rebuilding-elgin-street/

While I am pleased to see some reduction in parking, I will just echo Councillor Chernushenko (page 25):

I am concerned that the proposed 90 spaces, although less than the current parking supply, is a half-measure that will ultimate prove a disservice to the same businesses that are in favour of more parking, as the renewal of Elgin Street will not be as complete as it might have been had fewer such parking spaces on the street itself been included.

I would particularly emphasize the fact that the report states (on page 18) that there are currently 3749 parking spaces within 2 blocks of the area (including 850 underground parking spots at City Hall http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/transportation-and-parking/parking ).  It seems to me the city could be more ambitious than cutting 32 parking spots out of 3749, particularly given the substantial downsides of on-street parking for traffic flow and safety, including circling cars and dooring of cyclists.

I look forward to the Elgin Street redesign.  I am pleased to see the city following Complete Streets design principles and emphasizing streets designed for safety, with improved levels of service for pedestrians and cyclists.

Thank you,

Richard Akerman

CC: Councillors Fleury, Chernushenko and Leiper
ENDCOMMENT

 

As a side note, on the topic of the 850 underground parking spaces at City Hall, here’s how many were free on Sunday April 2, 2017 around 10:30am.

IMG_9284-9284-20170402-6S - Version 2

rebuilding Elgin Street

Thanks to Catherine McKenney for posting the Elgin Street consultation deck (PDF, 11MB) in advance of the public meeting that took place on June 28, 2016.  UPDATE 2016-07-07: Deck is now also available from the City of Ottawa.  ENDUPDATE

UPDATE 2017-04-30: The final proposed redesign goes to Transportation Committee on May 3, 2017.  I have provided my comments on the proposed redesign.  ENDUPDATE

Particular kudos for including multi-modal Level of Service (LOS) which shows that cars get top level of service (A) while every other mode has a terrible experience.

Elgin Multi-modal Level of Service LOS slide 79

From the many many options presented, here are my top three designs in order of preference, with my priority being on slowing cars, shortening crossing distances and other safety considerations:

1. One Lane Per Direction, No Left-Turn Lane, No On-Street Parking (slide 81 in the deck)

Elgin street design slide 81

Pros:

  • Having two narrow lanes in opposite directions provides the design signals that will cause cars to slow down dramatically.
  • Expected slower speeds means cyclists can mix with traffic.
  • Using space for pedestrians rather than parking means smoother traffic flow (no waiting for cars to enter, exit, or find parking spaces).
  • Using space for pedestrians rather than parking means cyclists can’t be doored by parked cars or otherwise cut off by cars entering or exiting parking spaces.
  • Maximizes sidewalk space, with equally-sized sidewalks on both sides.  Good for a highly-pedestrian, mostly-restaurant-with-patio street.
  • Wide sidewalks mean ample room for street trees (which will struggle nevertheless) and street furniture (being mindful that unless full width is plowed it still may be narrow in winter).
  • Dramatically shorter crossing distance will mean safer, quicker crossings.

Cons:

2. One Lane Per Direction, No Left-Turn Lane, Flex Bay Parking One Side (slide 82 in deck)

Elgin street design slide 82

Pros:

  • Having two narrow lanes in opposite directions provides the design signals that will cause cars to slow down dramatically.
  • Expected slower speeds means cyclists can mix with traffic.
  • Will make people who complain about needing on-street parking somewhat happy

Cons:

  • There is no such thing as “flex bay” parking (i.e. parking that is at sidewalk level so in theory available for pedestrian space).  The Lansdowne experience shows that anything in Ottawa that looks like car space will be used as car space.
  • Cyclists can be doored by parked cars or otherwise cut off by cars entering or exiting parking spaces.
  • Disrupted traffic flow (waiting for cars to enter, exit, or find parking spaces).
  • Doesn’t have separated bike lanes (cycle tracks) but I think these would interfere with the bus stops.
  • Much less sidewalk space (1.2 metres less per side) for pedestrians, trees and street furniture than first option

3. One Lane Per Direction, No Left-Turn Lane, Raised Cycle Track, No Parking (slide 89 in deck)

Elgin street design slide 89

Pros:

  • Having two narrow lanes in opposite directions provides the design signals that will cause cars to slow down dramatically.
  • Using space for pedestrians and cyclists rather than parking means smoother traffic flow (no waiting for cars to enter, exit, or find parking spaces).
  • Using space for pedestrians and cycling rather than parking means cyclists can’t be doored by parked cars or otherwise cut off by cars entering or exiting parking spaces (except see cycle-track-as-parking issue below)

Cons:

  • Narrowest sidewalk option (0.6 metres less per side than option two; 1.8 metres less than option one)
  • Cycle track may interfere with bus stops
  • Even with an elevated cycle track, vehicles will still manage to park on the cycle track, which will both disrupt traffic flow and interfere with cycling

It may surprise people that I don’t automatically recommend cycle tracks.  I do strongly support them.  But I’m not convinced we can make them work well on a street with buses where people will also be tempted to use them for car parking.  I think cycle tracks with barriers or cycle tracks protected by buffered car parking work better.  It doesn’t appear that there is space to do either.  Nevertheless, any of these three options would be much better than the status quo.

It’s hard to get the visitor traffic that centres around the Convention Centre and Parliament Hill to circulate down Elgin Street; having a dramatically better pedestrian experience will be key to drawing this traffic so that visitors can experience more of Ottawa than just the Byward Market.

I would also like the street to be signed for 30km/h, being mindful that only design controls speed.

The city contact on this file is Vanessa Black.  If you have thoughts on the Elgin Street redesign, make sure that you share them with her.

Vanessa Black, P. Eng.
Transportation Engineer – Network Modification
Planning and Growth Management
City of Ottawa
110 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, ON K1P 1J1
Email: vanessa.black@ottawa.ca
Email: planning@ottawa.ca

Here’s the city site for this particular consultation http://ottawa.ca/en/city-hall/public-consultations/elgin-street-and-hawthorne-avenue-functional-design-study where (hopefully) new information will be added as necessary.

UPDATE 2016-07-07: There is also a quick survey about Elgin Street that you can fill out, in order to indicate your priorities for the redesign.  ENDUPDATE

Minecraft City of Ottawa

Ottawa has released a Minecraft map as open data

http://data.ottawa.ca/dataset/geo-ottawa-minecraft

I knew the city had building heights, but I didn’t realise how much building shape information it has.

Use the teleport command to move around.
/tp

Thanks to Roger Pilkey for posting the Parliament Hill coordinates on the Minecraft data file showcase page.  Otherwise I don’t think I would have ever found my way from the spawn point, which is out in the woods near the Rideau River, Old Ottawa South (Glengarry & Onslow).

Here are some landmark buildings in Centretown…

LAC
/tp -2912 130 -1501

LAC - Minecraft 1.8.9 2016-02-06 122704

Supreme Court
/tp -2707 132 -1722

Supreme Court - Minecraft 1.8.9 2016-02-06 122851

Parliament (Centre Block)
/tp -2266 139 -2061

Minecraft Parliament crop

NAC
/tp -1892 133 -1931

NAC - Minecraft 1.8.9 2016-02-06 123253

City Hall
/tp -1585 131 -1710

City Hall - Minecraft 1.8.9 2016-02-06 123421

Convention Centre
/tp -1690 130 -1995

Convention Centre - Minecraft 1.8.9 2016-02-06 123624

Union Station
/tp -1872 133 -2107

Union Station - Minecraft 1.8.9 2016-02-06 123712

And here is The End of the World (East End) – Montreal Road, past Lafontaine
/tp 1204 127 -3653

East End - Minecraft 1.8.9 2016-02-06 125120

A few more coordinates as you head east from Centretown:

  • Rideau Street and Rideau River /tp -134 125 -3075
  • Montreal Road and Vanier Parkway /tp 329 125 -3183
  • Montreal Road and Olmstead /tp 609 128 -3337
  • Montreal Road and Lafontaine /tp 1104 126 -3594

There are lots of cool projects possible:

  • make the train run to Union Station again (using powered rails and minecarts)
  • restore the streetcar network
  • build the new Stage 1 and Stage 2 LRT network
  • put in details of building exteriors and interiors
  • put in street signs
  • change all the arterials to rivers to represent how they feel to pedestrians
  • build houses on the residential lots
  • put street numbers on the residential lots

For the last one, most small buildings like detached single-family houses don’t have detail in the map, you’ll just see grass for the lot with a line on either side wherever there are driveways.

Unfortunately if you live far in the east end you won’t find your lot, and it’s not possible to do the LRT out to Blair (unless you want to do a lot of additional building), as the world ends just past Montreal Road and Lafontaine.  I haven’t done the north, south, or west boundaries.

Have fun exploring!

Be aware this map is quite resource intensive and will be slow (and may even crash) on a computer without a lot of CPU and RAM.

Ottawa and Ontario consultations March – April – May, 2015

Monday March 30, 2015

Western LRT

opens at 5pm, presentation at 6:30pm
Ottawa City Hall

http://ottawa.ca/en/city-hall/public-consultations/transit/information-session-march-30-2015

There is a somewhat-confusing diagram (PDF) on the consultation site.

Eric Darwin did four detailed blog posts: Westward Ho! One, Two, Three, Four (and uses a clearer diagram).

Twitter hashtag is #WLRT and the general hashtag is #ottLRT

Tuesday March 31, 2015

OPL

Starting at 7pm.

Consultation on a new Ottawa Central Public Library.

In-person at Ottawa City Hall is full.

You can still watch the live webcast though.

I will be using hashtag #ottlibrary
The declared hashtag was #OttCentralLibrary

I would imagine the library will be tweeting, @opl_bpo

UPDATE 2015-04-03: There is a very brief online consultation.  It was supposed to be an ideas market, but that broke, so now you can

email CentralLibrary@Ottawa.ca

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ottawa-Central-Library-Biblioth%C3%A8que-centrale-dOttawa/681512461960430

deadline is Wednesday April 8, 2015

More info: http://ottawacentrallibrary.ca/#ideas and webcast archive at http://ottawacentrallibrary.ca/#webcast

ENDUPDATE

Capital Illumination

6pm

http://www.ncc-ccn.gc.ca/capital-planning/public-meetings/calendar-events/capital-illumination-workshop

Space is limited. Please RSVP to info@ncc-ccn.ca by noon on Monday, March 30.

NCC Capital Urbanism Lab tweets @NCC_UrbanLab

Wednesday April 8, 2015

Complete Streets open house

UPDATE 2015-04-03: Complete Streets open house moved to May 5, 2015.  ENDUPDATE

Thursday April 9, 2015

O’Connor Bikeway

opens at 6:30pm, presentation at 7pm
Ottawa City Hall

http://ottawa.ca/en/city-hall/public-consultations/transportation/open-house-april-9-2015

Ottawa has a Cycling Plan that includes separated lanes (Ottawa calls them “cycle tracks” running east-west and north-south).  The first major north-south route will be on O’Connor (although it turns into painted bike lanes in the Glebe).

(There is a larger issue, which is that cycling is still funded through a secondary “if we have money left” process, not as part of the main infrastructure in the budget.)

Ottawa Citizen article –
Segregated cycling lanes coming to O’Connor (sooner) and Wellington (later) – March 23, 2015

The general hashtag for cycling in Ottawa is #ottbike

Tuesday May 5, 2015

Complete Streets open house

opens at 5pm, presentation at 6:30pm
Ottawa City Hall

http://ottawa.ca/en/city-hall/public-consultations/transportation/open-house-april-8-2015
http://ottawa.ca/en/city-hall/public-consultations/transportation/open-house-may-5-2015

Unfortunately the city hasn’t provided any links to Complete Streets info.  And the presentation boards aren’t online (as usual).

The key item to know is that in Chapter 7 of the 2013 Transportation Master Plan, it says

Action 7-1: Adopt a “complete streets” policy for road design, operation and maintenance

The Toronto Centre for Active Transportation did an analysis, and I also found a presentation from May 27, 2013. (If you have other resources, please feel free to share them.

More to come…

a 2km MUP from Blair Station to La Cité collégiale

In thought exercise: cycling north from Blair Station I imagined what a MUP from Blair Station connecting up to the new CSEC MUP would look like.

If you extend the MUP up to La Cité collégiale it comes out at just over 2.25km.

This would make Blair Station a short bike ride to and from La Cité collégiale, the NRC campus, and CSEC.  It also gives you tons of catchment from the houses on the west side of Bathgate.

UPDATE: Feedback from planner added at bottom.  ENDUPDATE

It would look something like this yellow line

Screen Shot - Google Earth - Bathgate MUP - flat

(You can ignore the dots, it’s just because I’m making straight-line segments for Google Earth to measure the path. Some of the dots indicate intersections but most are just to get the line around curves.)

UPDATE 2014-07-01: It would be bidiectional and run where the sidewalk is now along the north side of City Park Drive, turning to the east side of City Park Drive and continuing up the east side of Bathgate Drive. The current sidewalk along the west side of Bathgate and west side of City Park turning into south side would be unchanged. ENDUPDATE

Why not ride on the street? Well the speed “limit” on Bathgate is 40 near Ogilvie and then turns into 50 once it’s in the straightaway. A long unobstructed view means people are going to be going much faster than 50. And cars going much faster than 50 plus cyclists means a dead cyclist if there’s a collision. Which is why you always separate cyclists above 30km/h.

One concern might be that the sidewalk that this MUP would replace may be too busy.

One way is to use Google Street View to count the pedestrians along the route.  From start to finish I count 3, although none of the new CSEC-adjacent Bathgate east sidewalk existed when they did the streetview (there were east sidewalk segments before and after that portion on Bathgate).

Another way is to walk the route.  So I took 51 photos, on three different days, at different times of day.  Here are 5 example photos.  You decide whether this sidewalk is too busy to make into a MUP.

IMG_9062-20140514

IMG_9085-20140514

IMG_9204-20140520

IMG_9221-20140520

IMG_1403-1131403-20140521

See the complete collection: Bathgate MUP collection
or the individual photo sets:
south to Blair Station – May 14, 2014;
north from Blair Station – May 20, 2014;
north from Blair Station – May 21, 2014.

This really should have been covered in the Blair Station TOD study.  But the survey is 600m directly centred on the station, even though the access from the south means crossing the Queensway, which makes it extremely difficult and unlikely to get many sources or destinations there.  I think they should have considered the employment and school to the north of Ogilvie as destinations, since there are thousands of government employees and students going there every weekday.  Additionally they should have considered the housing north of Ogilvie as sources of transit users.  And a good cycling network would make for a much larger catchment area.

The Blair Station TOD is impossible to find on the city’s website, but I found this: TOD Plans Nov 27, 2013 Part 1 draft (PDF), TOD Plans Nov 27, 2013 Part 2 draft (PDF), TOD Plans Nov 27, 2013 Part 3 draft (PDF) at ottwatch.ca

You can also see the outdated posterboards at http://documents.ottawa.ca/sites/documents.ottawa.ca/files/documents/tod_boards_24.pdf  Beware: in the June 2013 posterboards orange dots are “future on-street bicycle lane”, whereas in the Oct 2013 slide from the Nov 2013 draft, orange dots are “future dedicated cycling facility”.  Does “dedicated cycling facility” mean a separated lane?  I would hope so, but I don’t know.  The cycling on the June 2013 poster is also a different mix than the Oct 2013 draft slide below.

Blair TOD cycling 2013-11-27 draft

The proposal is… just not quite right.  The green dotted future MUP is on the wrong side, the south side of City Park Drive, which has many more car entrances and exits and more foot traffic.  The little strip of orange dotted dedicated cycling facility on City Park Drive north is nice, but it doesn’t connect to anything.  You go from a MUP on the south side of the street, then ??? to a dedicated lane on the east side of the street for a few metres, and then you’re at Ogilvie, which is an incredibly dangerous multi-lane speedway.

The path they want you to take, I guess, is to take a future MUP east from Blair Station to a future dedicated cycling facility on Blair, get across to the east side of Blair, ride for a few metres and then get dumped onto dangeous unprotected cycling up Blair north of Ogilvie.  This delivers no one to the school, doesn’t connect to the CSEC MUP, and has you unprotected in fast suburban traffic with lots of intersections up Blair.

CSEC is new.  The time to do an intervention for people’s travel habits is when they first start working at a new location.  That’s not me talking, that’s Dr David Halpern, Director of the Behavioural Insights Team in the UK, speaking at the Canada School of Public Service (or similar talks he’s given).  The time to put in a MUP to get people cycling from the bus and future train to CSEC is now.  Once they start driving, you will never shift their commute.

In an ideal world this should have been addressed when they spent a fortune making a bright new empty sidewalk along Bathgate Drive that connects to a CSEC MUP.

(As a side note, this MUP would greatly benefit from a large, secure bike storage area at Blair Station; additionally it would be nice if we could take bikes on the future train during commuting hours.)

The lead on the Blair Station TOD was

Peter Giles
613-580-2424, ext. 21667
Fax: 613-580-2459
E-mail: Peter.Giles@ottawa.ca

– contact info from LRT Station Area Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Studies – Overview


UPDATE: I contacted Mr. Giles and shared this blog post with him.  He provided me with more information and with thoughtful feedback.  He wasn’t able to provide the full Blair TOD as it seems the city’s systems simply can’t provide it online (this seems to be a recurring and serious issue in terms of citizen engagement with planning).

He indicated that the primary focus of the TOD plans is zoning, and to “protect pedestrian and cycling connections in the immediate station area (within 800m walk of the station platform)”.  Anything else in terms of connections is supposed to go in the Transportation Master Plan (TMP) and Infrastructure Master Plan.

He provided me with a link to the Transportation Master Plan Primary Urban Cycling Map (PDF).  It has Blair as a “spine route” and no infrastructure on Bathgate.  Extract of the relevant section below – thick green is Cross-town Bikeway (the main Ottawa cycling route), blue is Spine Route and red and I’m guessing lowest quality/priority is Major Pathway.  Aviation Parkway gets a Major Pathway.  My personal opinion is that having Spine Routes on multi-lane suburban speedways like Blair (the n-s blue line on the right), Ogilvie, Montreal Road and St. Laurent just puts cyclists at enormous risk without bringing any infrastructure or modal shift benefits.

TMP Primary Urban Cycling - Blair Station extract

Blair Station and north to just below Metz Crescent (roughly half-way up Bathgate) is Ward 11 – Councillor Tim Tierney.  (Ward 11 map PDF.)

La Cité collégiale is between Den Haag in the north and Des Pionniers in the south, which is Ward 13 – Councillor Peter Clark.  (Ward 13 map PDF.)

ENDUPDATE

thought exercise: cycling north from Blair Station

blair_station_cycling-crop

Red: pedestrian and cyclist contention, or crossing intersection (car and cyclist contention)
Yellow: some pedestrian and cyclist contention
Green: no pedestrian and cyclist contention
Cyan: multi-use pathway (MUP)

Section 1: some pedestrians
Section 2: Basically zero pedestrians.  While this may look like it fronts on houses, they are suburban mall houses, with a giant wall all along the sidewalk (see image below).
Section 3: Very dangerous crossing of Ogilvie.
Section 4: This fronts on a drive-in Starbucks and an old-age home, so in theory there could be some pedestrians.

CSE MUP: public multi-use pathway (currently closed while CSE in under construction; see image below)

I’m not proposing this as an ideal route.  It’s just a thought exercise about how a cyclist could actually get safely (i.e. not on the road) from Blair Station to the NRC campus (or with a longer route to Cite Collegiale).  I’m not a vehicular cyclist and I will never be.  I’m certainly not a suburban mall and highway vehicular cyclist.  The sidewalks selected are basically unused (they don’t front on anything but fence, blank building walls and trees), I can’t imagine they get more than a dozen pedestrians a day.  You’d want to count pedestrians and if the numbers made sense, change the sidewalks to be multi-use pathways.  You’d also want to do some work around the bus stops and particularly at the Ogilvie crossing to make it safe for everyone.

If you want to add Cite Collegiale you basically make the entire east-side sidewalk on Bathgate a MUP.  The entire east sidewalk north past the old-age home fronts on uninterrupted government-owned trees, no one walks there.  You’d just need to figure out some treatment around the few bus stops.

Ideally there would also be secure bike parking at Blair Station, for people who don’t want to take their bike back and forth on the (forthcoming) train.

This also assumes that the central road through the NRC campus continues to be blocked as it is now, so that pedestrians and cyclists have to use either Bathgate or Blair to go north.

Transit-Oriented Development?

I thought enabling this kind of cycling connectivity was part of the planning they would do in the Blair Station Transit-Oriented Development plan, but it isn’t.  The TOD plans have two built-in assumptions:

  1. Because the LRT is commuter rail, you are arriving from elsewhere.  As far as the TOD plans are concerned, no one lives or works near the LRT stations (where near is a 20 minute walk or ~5 minute bike ride).
  2. When you arrive, you work or live directly within the 800m station zone, in some mixed-use fantasy development that spontaneously springs up in what are currently parking lots around single-level malls.  You are enclosed in the station zone, which exists in total isolation.  It’s basically just the suburban office park next to a mall, with more residential and towers.

That kind of development does happen to some extent outside Vancouver, but Vancouver housing costs a bajillion dollars, and this kind of development basically gives you enclosed nodes, not stations as the new village centres for existing housing and employment.

“Burnaby doesn’t have a traditional downtown centre, like in Langley or Maple Ridge or Chilliwack,” Mr. Geller said. “Burnaby has a collection of shopping districts and business parks.”

from Globe and Mail –  Transit fuelling Burnaby’s growth – March 6, 2013

This is not modern development.  This is just Place du Portage with housing and a bunch of theoretical walking and cycling and public space amenities that no one will ever use.  Inward-facing, isolated from the surrounding context.

You can see from the September 2013 TOD information session that the Blair scope includes mostly the mall and its parking lots, and a tiny skim of housing surrounding it.  The vast housing to the north and the major employment and school nodes to the north get not even a sketch of connectivity.

Blair TOD – Pedestrian and Cycling Network (PDF) – all on-street cycling.  In the suburbs.  Where no one expects to see a bike.  Particularly laughable is the existing cycling on Ogilvie, which by putting cyclists in high-speed traffic is roughly like aiming bullets at the cyclists and seeing if they can dodge.  Other than vague-at-best “bike on the road and get there somehow” there’s no indication of how commuters would get by bike from Blair to CSE, CSIS, NRC (all with thousands of workers minutes from the station) or to Cite Collegiale.

Blair TOD – Street Network (PDF) on the other hand has bold black lines of car traffic arrowing everywhere.  Who would ever walk or cycle to or from a station?  Park-and-ride or “kiss-and-ride” are clearly the main modes imagined.

Blair TOD – Conceptual Images A (PDF) shows a fantasy of the mall turning into parkland and mid-rise.

The actual streetscape

The suburban housing shield wall ensuring almost no one will set foot on the City Park north and east sidewalk curve.

City Park Drive - wall

The new CSE MUP has very nice signage.  Unfortunately the MUP is blocked off until the end of construction I guess.

CSE MUP 1

CSE MUP 2

making commuting delightful

On November 26, Ottawa City Council unanimously passed the Official Plan, Infrastructure Master Plan, Transportation Master Plan, Ottawa Cycling Plan and Ottawa Pedestrian Plan.

Some of the highlights of the plans include:

• Investing $3 billion in public transit to build on the Confederation Line by extending rail further East, West and South of the City
• Bringing 270,000 more residents within five kilometres of LRT and ensuring that close to 700,000 residents (67 per cent of the population) will have ease of access to rapid transit

From ottawa.ca/liveableottawa

So that’s ~$2 billion for the Confederation Line from Tunney’s to Blair, plus $3 billion for LRT from Bayshore to Place d’Orleans, plus existing double-tracking of the O-train and new O-trains, plus extending the O-train.  Plus BRT to Kanata.  $5 billion.  To 2025.

stage2_brochure_final-Proposed_LRT

This is not a tram.  It is grade-separated commuter rail.  “Grade-separated” is a fancy way of saying the train never intersects with road traffic – it always goes beside, above, or under a road.  It never has to wait for cars and cars never have to wait for it.  (I think all of the LRT is grade-separated, I’m not sure if all of the O-train is.)  During the commuting peak, this train will run very frequently and very reliably.

This, in other words, is five billion dollars of being delightful to commuters.  This is a choice.

Ottawa and the NCC have had world-leading urban and transportation planners come and speak, including Jan Gehl, Ken Greenberg and Jeffrey Tumlin.

They all, without exception, said that we should be delightful… to pedestrians.  To pedestrians first, and then if we can, to cyclists.  (This is Tumlin’s terminology.  Gehl would say something like “invite pedestrians to walk and linger in the city and disinvite the car; you get what you invite” but it amounts to the same thing.)

It is incredibly cheap to be nice to pedestrians.  Flat sidewalks.  Shoveled clear sidewalks and intersections in the winter (not just plowed; the plow leaves a layer of snow on the sidewalk and a giant pile of slush in the intersection).  Pedestrian priority for crosswalks.  Traffic enforcement (particularly left and right turns on red, which should be banned at busy intersections).  Speed  enforcement, through road design (to 30km/h anywhere in the city, and 10km/h anywhere residential).  Interesting things to see, shops at ground level.  This costs, seriously, nothing compared to roads and rail.  A few tens of millions of dollars for delight.

This is not crazy.  This is Copenhagen, Paris, London, New York, … this is every city that wants to attract a creative workforce, with high wages and high property values.

Instead, after listening to expert after expert, Ottawa is bowing to the suburban ring outside the city core, and making the commute delightful.

This does almost nothing for the city life itself, because the commute is a weird twice daily peak event.  From roughly 8 to 9, hundreds of thousands of people try to jam themselves as quickly as possible from their homes in the suburbs to their offices.

Note I didn’t say to the city.  This 1950s model of commuting is basically a teleporter fantasy we try to implement using cars and trains.  Ideally you step into your car inside your home garage, and minutes later, preferably without paying much attention, you “appear” inside your work garage.    In the evening, reverse.  This is not anything to do with city life.  This could be taking people from anywhere to anywhere.  This is basically a giant piston, shoving people in in the morning and out at night.

For commuters, the train must be frequent, fast and reliable.  Say every 5-10 minutes.  With minimal and very fast changes.  So we have to scale the system to handle the peak of the peak.  Hundreds of thousands.  You don’t need to spend time on the waiting area, because no one will be waiting long.

But outside the peak, this is a ridiculous system.  You have a commuter rail system designed to push hundreds of thousands in an hour, that then has almost nothing to do for the rest of the day.  A trickle of some thousands throughout the rest of the day.  Hardly worth running it very often.

So basically it’s $5 billion dollars for 10 hours a week (8-9, 5-6, M-F).  This is not counting billions more for highway widening and extension, for the commuters you don’t shift to rail.

So the people during the day who are actually moving around the city get to stand in the uncovered stations by the tracks in the middle of winter and wait, because they’re not commuters, so the train won’t be running very often.  And mostly the rail takes you to malls and schools and employment nodes, not interesting neighbourhoods with local shops.  And if you want to move around downtown – well it’s the bus for you, and an unheated shelter, if you’re lucky.

You can use Transit-Oriented Design to make the commuter train look less ridiculous, to give people a reason to use the train to get around from station to station during the day.  But unless you do it well, you’re just going to get a vertical suburb at the station, not what TOD is supposed to be, which is a walkable village around the station.

What you actually do in a real city is have commuter rail AND local rail (trams and if necessary subways) AND bus AND cycling AND most importantly of all, delightful walking.  What people remember of Paris is walking around.  Most people never touch the commuter rail, the RER.  If they do, they find it empty and often a bit dismal (a lot of graffiti and neglect).  What Ottawa is choosing is to build a city with RER and basically nothing else, for decades.  No trams (a tram is rail that runs on the street, with stops at the edge of the sidewalk).  No delightful walking.  No (also incredibly cheap) separated bike lanes, just painted lines that protect no one from tonnes of speeding steel.

This is council’s choice to make.  As a commuter rail system, it will be pretty good.  It will do nothing to transform the life of the city though.  It is a suburb-sustaining project, not a city-building project.  It is much, much better than spending the money on roads.  But a tiny fraction of it, 10% of it, would build some of the best pedestrian and cycling infrastructure in the entire world.  Council chooses again and again not to do this.  The winter pedestrian experience tells you, day after day, month after month: you are not important, you are not valued, only cars are important.  The cycling experience tells you: your safety is not important, you are not valued, only cars are important.

Here’s the thing: you can’t solve the commute.  Can’t.  No billions, no design, no transportation in the world can solve moving a giant peak load of people tens of kilometres in two one-hour windows.  If I were writing this in 1950 you could scoff.  But you can see the lanes widen year after year, and yet the commute doesn’t get solved.  Because you can’t solve it.  You can only eliminate the factors that cause it, of which the main one is people living a long way away from work.  The solution to the commute is to replace the commute with an actual liveable city where people walk and cycle short distances for work and shopping and friends, and ride the rails for very rare long distance excursions.

Instead commuter rail is a choice that will sustain a grey generic suburban city.  That’s our future.  That’s the will of council.