Light rail along Carling

Alternate title: *sigh* Oh god, not this again

I meant to post about this a few days ago, when Public Transit in Ottawa pointed it out, but Councilor Clive Doucet is calling for the City to consider using Carling Avenue as a corridor for our future LRT system. Now, setting aside the fact that this is a debate that should have been concluded six months ago when the transit alternatives were being debated, I can’t help but feel this is an incredibly silly idea.

On the surface, it seems good, I must admit. Doucet is right, Carling is a heavily populated corridor along much of its length—though I think the 300,000 figure he claims is rather optomistic, that being close to the entire pre-amalgamation population of the Ottawa city proper—and is more centrally located than the Ottawa River Parkway, the currently favoured corridor.

Of course, there that has to be followed up with a “but”. And in this case, it’s a big one. For Carling to work as a rapid transit corridor (and we are, I hope, trying to actually build rapid transit), the City would likely need to invest millions of dollars extra to build either a subway or an elevated rail line. Mr. Doucet seems to be calling for something more akin to a streetcar line built in its own right-of-way up the middle of the street, and  using “gates” to block of intersections. I’m not entirely sure what he means, but I’m presuming standard railway crossing gates, much like these in Los Angeles. That doesn’t exactly seem ideal to me, especially given the frequency of trains we’d likely be seeing on such a line.

The bottom line is, I think that running trains along Carling is a great idea if we want to cripple our new system before we even build it. Imagine riding Vancouver’s SkyTrain system, which is generally pretty sleek, fast and modern, and then turning a corner and finding yourself on Toronto’s St. Clair or Harbourfront streetcar. It’d be like you just changed to a completely different (and much slower) transit system, and would make Ottawa’s new transit system a laughingstock in Canada. I sincerely hope that the City is able to see beyond this proposal.

7 Responses to “Light rail along Carling”

  1. October 26, 2008 at 9:30 am

    I’d’ve thought that he was thinking more along the lines of the Toronto streetcar network. The old Spadina Avenue line running between the Annex at Spadina and Bloor and Union Station stands out in my own mind as a prime example. It worked fairly well for me during those convention weekends that I ended up using it.

  2. 2 David McClelland
    October 26, 2008 at 10:50 am

    I get that impression too, hence why I mentioned the Harbourfront and St. Clair LRTs–Spadina is the exact same concept. The problem is they have a tendency to be slow and unwieldy, especially in comparison to the subway, which is obviously Toronto’s RT service. Streetcars tend to be more of an intermediate between local bus services and true rapid transit, though in my experience, they tend to shade more towards bus service. Don’t get me wrong, I actually think that a Carling streetcar (and a rebuilt Ottawa streetcar network in general) is a fantastic idea, I just don’t think it works as a backbone of our new transit system.

  3. October 26, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    It works just fine in Houston. What, you think it’s going to get caught up in traffic? Guess, what? You give priority to the train. Set the intersections so that the cars stop for the train. Is that such a hard thing to conceive?

    Or is that not a valid option because it doesn’t require hundreds of millions of dollars in additional infrastructure improvements to let cars keep doing their own thing?

    David Jeanes spoke at the Centretown Citizens’ Community Association AGM on Tuesday, and he pointed out that there are seven alternating left and right turns along the parkway. Not only will this require the trains to slow down because trains aren’t good on curves, but it will also wear down their wheels and tracks, and will cause very loud screeching, bothering both the passengers and the residents.

    Carling, on the other hand, is dead straight, and will thus be very silent (same goes for most of the Byron corridor).

    Yes, this is discussion that should have happened ages ago, but the Mayor and the Chair of Transportation Committee kept playing interference and saying that any questioning of Option 4 was the municipal equivalent of “unpatriotic”.

    – RG>

  4. 4 David McClelland
    October 26, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    It’s not a hard thing to conceive, I just can’t help but worry we’ll end up like Toronto, where signal priority isn’t implemented because of opposition from car-owners. That’s why I’d much prefer to see an entirely grade-separate system, so something like that wouldn’t even be a potential concern. Again, I’m all-for Carling as a transit corridor, it would just need to be done in a way that would guarantee it would not be slowed by surface traffic, something I’m not necessarily confident we would get.

    That is, however, a good point about the turns on the Parkway. Most of them are relatively slight, but the big turn south towards Lincoln Fields does have an awfully tight radius for rail. I’m sure there’s a way around it, but it’s definitely something to consider. Thanks for pointing it out to me.

  5. October 27, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    A big part of the problem here is that the city discounted the Carling corridor before doing a study. They should have priced out the three Carling options (elevated train, subway, middle of the street), and provided a projected usage.

    As it is, all we can do is shrug and say that the Carling route is an unknown. We don’t know the cost, we don’t know the ridership change, and we don’t know relative effectiveness. Given that the four options the public has been presented with are essentially the same plan (they all cover the same route, and most involve the downtown tunnel), this really should be fleshed out as a possibility.

  6. 6 David McClelland
    October 27, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    Excellent point. I wouldn’t be anywhere near as wary of this proposal if a full study had been done. As it stands, both Doucet and myself are just speculating; we have no way of knowing exactly how well such a line would or would not work. I still support the plan as its moved forward, but some study of the alternatives would be nice, if for no other reason than we wouldn’t have to stand around vaguely alluding to “millions” being needed for grade separation.

  7. October 29, 2008 at 11:37 am

    Something to remedy, and I’d hope that similar options could be priced out re: Montreal Road, St. Laurent Blvd., and Innes Road at some point.

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