Posts Tagged ‘transit

23
Jul
10

The little things: Simple ways to make Ottawa better

Well, it’s been a while, and for that, I apologize. For whatever reason, I just haven’t been getting around to blogging over the past few months, but I’ve decided to make a return to form and start posting content again.

For today, I thought I’d get away from the big issues, quite literally, and look at a couple of little details that could make Ottawa a better place. For starters, there’s this post on the OC Transpo Livejournal community, which talks about how the City is potentially not scheduling its hybrid buses effectively. As the poster notes, there are more than enough buses to cover the downtown and core routes where they’d be most efficient, yet it seems they are not always being used on those runs. To me, it seems like it would be a relatively simple task to prioritize hybrids for those runs, so why isn’t OC Transpo doing so? I certainly don’t have the answer, but it would be nice to know their justification.

My second item for today is an even smaller one, but it could be seen as emblematic of a larger issue. I was crossing Elgin Street recently at Slater, and as I dashed across the last section to beat the sudden onset of the flashing hand, I began to wonder why all the crossings on Elgin from Laurier to the north are so poorly timed for pedestrians? Granted, that part of Elgin is one of the few places in the City with good pedestrian islands, but the crossings are done so that when the “Don’t walk” begins to flash, even a quick walker only has enough time to reach the island before the light changes.

The problem here is that, generally speaking, you should have enough time to fully cross the street when the signal begins to flash. Instead, if you begin crossing at that point on Elgin, you’ll find yourself stuck in the middle of traffic, forcing you to wait for at least one full traffic cycle to finish crossing—more, if you want to cross the perpendicular street, too. I believe it’s something the City should look into changing, or that they should at least consider installing countdown signals there, so that pedestrians won’t be surprised by the quick timing of the change. It would certainly be a big help towards improving one of the most unfortunately pedestrian-unfriendly streets in downtown Ottawa.

My question to you, then, reader, is what little things do you notice that could improve day-to-day life in Ottawa? I’m sure we all encounter them, and I’d love to hear what your ideas are.

29
Mar
10

Greyhounded out of downtown Ottawa

Last week, Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien made a rather bizzare, out-of-left-field proposal: to move Ottawa’s current Greyhound terminal from it’s current Catherine Street location, to out by the VIA Rail station on Tremblay Road.

Naturally, this was met with some protest. While the current intercity bus terminal is far from the nicest facility in the world (it’s probably about five years overdue for a big renovation), it’s certainly well-located. It’s downtown, served by several major OC Transpo routes (including the 101, which is considered to be rapid transit), and is close to the 417. It’s not perfect, as it could probably stand to be a bit closer to the CBD, and perhaps have better non-peak transit service, but it’s still within walking distance for residents of Centretown, the Golden Triangle, the Glebe, Chinatown, and so on. Additionally, the central location leaves it fairly equidistant (or at least as much as that’s possible) from Ottawa’s various suburbs.

The train station, on the other hand? Well, it’s pretty suburban—if you’ve ever tried to walk there, you know that the area makes pedestrians feel like a very distant afterthought. I think the only people that would be able to walk there would be residents of a small residential area a few hundred metres west of the station. Certainly far fewer people than the tens of thousands in and around the downtown core. And sure, the Transitway runs right by it, but, speaking from experience, it’s much more of a pain to jam yourself on a crowded 95 with luggage than it is a 4 making its way down Bank Street.

The other question I have about this proposal is where would you put the new bus terminal? Let’s take a look at both, courtesy of Google Maps.

The Ottawa Train Station. Image is approximately 500 metres across, for reference.

Ottawa bus terminal, to the same scale.

While it’s pretty plain that the bus terminal takes up a much smaller footprint, it’s not exactly a small facility. It takes up an entire city block, and even as it is, it can get pretty crowded—I’m sure Greyhound would love to have something larger were they to build a new terminal. But if you look at the train station image, there’s not much room for anything even the same size as the current terminal, let alone anything larger. There’s an area between Tremblay at the station’s access road, but that would involve getting rid of green space and a bike path, as well as potentially conflicting with the reconstruction of the Transitway for light rail. One of the station’s parking lots could be removed, I suppose, but I doubt VIA would like that much, and neither takes up anywhere near as much space as the current bus terminal.

Overall, moving Ottawa’s intercity bus terminal to this location makes little sense. How many people even transfer between VIA and Greyhound? I’d be curious to see the numbers, should they even exist. Not only does this proposal increase sprawl by decentralizing a major transportation service, but I’m not sure it would do anything to improve intercity transit service or convienience in Ottawa. Leave well enough alone, Mayor O’Brien, and keep bus service in the downtown core.

02
Feb
10

Trains to return to Ottawa’s Union Station?

Ottawa’s Union Station: it’s a majestic old building, a half-scale replica of New York City’s old Penn Station, and unfortunately underused. Since 1966, when the National Capital Commission removed rail from downtown, the building has been used as a government conference centre, rather than a hub for rail travelers. However, a recent article on CBC News reported that trains may yet return to Union Station, in the form of a station on the new light rail system—taking the place of the Rideau\Sussex station in the proposal.

Ottawa's Union Station. Image by spotmaticfanatic on Flickr.

Certainly as it stands right now, Union Station is a tragically under-appreciated piece of infrastructure. As a government conference centre, the average Ottawan has few opportunities to go inside the structure. As the main hall of a transit station, commuters would be able to use this suddenly re-opened public space on a daily basis.

But in my mind, that’s not all that could be done with the station. I don’t know the interior dimensions of the building, but I would imagine that a transit station would only take up a small portion of the available volume, and other transportation infrastructure (commuter rail, and intercity bus and rail) probably won’t be able to serve the location, meaning no space would need to be set aside for them. So with that in mind, what could be done? One of the things that Ottawa lacks is a real civic place, one to celebrate Ottawa itself. Over the years as a national capital, the federal government has eclipsed the city, and it’s only been in the last few decades that we’ve really begun to find our identity as a municipality instead of as a capital.

So why not this: in our hypothetical, future train station, you walk in the front doors to a lobby, with transit facilities to one side, and perhaps benches and chairs with the odd cafe or two along the edges of the area. Taking up the rest of the space inside could be a City of Ottawa museum, celebrating our history, from rough logging town to major Canadian metropolis. It could even include artifacts that tie in with the location, like the old streetcars OC Transpo is slowly attempting to restore. Granted, we do already have the Bytown Museum, but it could still comfortably fill a role as a museum predominantly about the canal, while the Union Station museum could be about the rest of the city.

This, of course, is just a suggestion—a museum is just one option, but the overriding point is that we may have an opportunity to create a fantastic new public space, and the standard option of renting out space for shops and restaurants would be a tragic waste. The simple return of transit, of course, would benefit the building enormously by itself, but I can’t help but feel we could do so much more. These kinds of opportunities only come along once and a while, and I think it’s important to jump on it when and if we can.

22
Sep
09

Found: Animated TTC vehicle map

This comes from out of town, but I needed to pass it along. It’s a video of the Toronto Transit Corporation’s scheduled vehicle movements throughout the day. It’s cool and rather hypnotic watching the grid burst into life in the morning, move steadily through the day and then die off into the evening. Be interesting to see what this would look like for Ottawa—certainly not as neat and orderly as Toronto’s wide grids.

(I recommend watching this one full-screen, by the way as it’s hard to make out in the normal size)

08
Sep
09

A satyr twin: The Transitway anagram map

A bit of fun for all you transit riders: similar to the subway\metro anagram maps that have been created for cities like London and Toronto, someone has created a Transitway anagram map. You can see it on a thread over at Skyscraper Pages. Be warned, some of the station anagrams are NSFW, so if your boss\IT department is particularly sensitive, you may not wish to click through until you get home.

Some of them are amusingly appropriate, too. My favourites are “Gasolene” at the Eagleson Park & Ride, “Rusty Senate Pun” at Tunney’s Pasture, and “Lone Mart” at Montreal. Campus is also entertaining, but I’m going to refrain from posting that particular anagram here…

14
Aug
09

The City weighs in on Intensification

The City released an interesting educational video recently (it might have been today, I can never tell as the City doesn’t date anything on their website) on the role that LRT and intensification could play in the future of the city. You can find it here.

It’s about 15 minutes long, and it briefly covers a number of topics, including:

  • A brief history of Ottawa’s development and subsequent suburbanization
  • The problems that suburbanization has caused, and why intensification is important
  • The definition of intensification, and how it would affect Ottawa
  • Which areas of the city are best-suited to intensification
  • The consquences of not intensifying the city

It’s a surprisingly balanced video for a release by a government on an important piece of policy, and does a good job of covering many of the issues that are likely to come up for urban development over the next 20–30 years. It’s also rather interesting to note the tone of the video, and some of the arguements made, as it’s very clearly directed at changing the opinions of suburbanites. The video makes a strong financial arguement in favour of intensification, and notes that places like Kanata, Orleans and Barrhaven will require higher population densities before LRT can be built out to them—infrastructure bribery, I guess. It’s also fairly critical of the car-dependent lifestyle, and really plays up the importance of walkable neighborhoods.

At any rate, it’s an interesting glimpse at how the suburban inertia of development is finally starting to shift towards a new paradigm. It’s certainly a fascinating time to be an urbanist, as we watch cities come to grips with the reality of the future, and attempt to adapt to changing attitudes. This video certainly shows that even though we’re ahead of the curve as far as North American cities go, we’ve got a long way to go before we get where we’re going, even if we don’t necessarily know where that is.

29
Apr
09

The Ottawa Project on CBC Radio

For any interested readers out there, I’m going to be on the CBC’s Ottawa Morning tomorrow at 7:15 a.m. to discuss the new transit tunnel. I’ll be appearing alongside Nick Taylor-Vaisey, who writes for Transit Ottawa, and was in the past one of my editors at the Fulcrum. So for all of you early-risers, please tune in and give the interview a listen, and feel free to chime in with a comment if you have any further thoughts on the proposed tunnel.

29
Apr
09

City staff releases route for Downtown Transit Tunnel

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a route.

dottThe map I threw together if you want to see it.

And the Citizen article I used as a source.

It looks like we’ll have stations at Lebreton (aboveground), between Bay and Lyon, between O’Connor and Metcalfe, around Rideau and Sussex and at Campus. The tunnel will go under Albert until Kent, where it will turn north to Rideau\Sussex and then swing south to go underneath Nicholas to the University of Ottawa. The official release of the plans takes place tomorrow, so we should have a more official-looking map tomorrow, I hope.

A couple of things I wanted to note. First, I find it interesting that there’s no station closer to Bank Street. I was certain they’d try to put one there, given that if the City ever wants to build a north\south rapid transit line through the core someday, Bank is the most logical alignment. I guess the logic was that a station between Bank and O’Connor would be too close to the one between Bay and Lyon. Second, I wonder if the City is hoping they might be able to use the old train station again. Take a look at a detail of where the line should go, if it runs in a straight line between Rideau and Sussex and Albert and Kent:

union-stationIf the city can get the federal government to sell them Union Station back, then perhaps it can be reopened to trains; albeit a very different kind from what once went through there. That appears to be all that’s out there for now, but I’ll try to find more official-looking documentation tomorrow.

(Full disclosure: I am going to be starting a summer position with OC Transpo on Monday.)

17
Feb
09

Weighing in on atheist bus ads

“There probably is no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Twelve words that have caused a lot of controversy, and not just in Ottawa. They’re the text of a series of ads placed on buses in a number of cities around the world, including London (UK) and Toronto. In Ottawa, meanwhile, the ads were flatly rejected by OC Transpo, citing an advertising policy that states: “Religious advertising which promotes a specific ideology, ethic, point of view, policy or action, which in the opinion of the City might be deemed prejudicial to other religious groups or offensive to users of the transit system is not permitted. Religious advertising will be permitted if the information is designed to promote a specific meeting, gathering or event and the location, date and time of said event.”

That’s all well and good, and I can understand that policy perfectly, if it weren’t for this, from another article: “In 2007, OC Transpo approved ads for Bus Stop Bible Studies, a campaign on panels inside buses quoting scripture and asking life’s big questions. Roughly 2,400 ads have run in Calgary, Burlington and Toronto, but the sponsor has not yet raised enough money to place the ads on Ottawa buses.”

Regardless of the fact that these ads have not yet run, they were approved in principle well over a year ago. Based on the description, they seem to promote a clear religious ideology, but without being overly pushy or blatent, much like the proposed atheist ads. Of course, the subtext here is that qualifer on the first part of the policy, where the officials can deem something offensive. By extension, then, OC Transpo has basically just gone ahead and called atheism offensive.

Now, I’m an atheist, so I have a clear bias here. I’ve always felt fairly lucky to live when and where I do, because I’ve never really felt discriminated against for my beliefs, but this is a slap in the face. Based on the precedent of approving the Bus Stop Bible Studies campaign, there is absolutely no reason why the atheist campaign should be rejected. Really, it just makes the city look very close-minded and conservative, which is certainly not the image we should be projecting as Canada’s fourth largest urban area and national capital. In short, the decision is ridiculous, discriminatory, and borderline offensive.

The larger question, of course, is whether or not religious ads should be allowed at all in the public realm, to which I would say no. Religious debate is a tricky thing, and by wading into it—as seen in this case—officials risk being seen as taking sides and causing conflict. In private publications and the like is one thing, but with government-owned organizations like OC Transpo, there probably is a line that should be drawn.

All of that aside, though, I will be following this debate and how it turns out very closely. With any luck, a solution that is equitable to all will be found soon.

12
Feb
09

*shakes head*

I try to be an advocate for this city as much as possible, but it’s difficult, sometimes.

City revises bus rider incentives (after canceling them altogether, at one point)

Council meeting spirals out of control

As far as the bus incentives are concered, their decision is basically the worst of both worlds. Discounted bus fars won’t be anywhere near as effective at luring people back onto buses, but at the same time the transit budget will still be way out of balance. On top of that, I’m that transit riders are probably going to end up confused by all the changes and back and forth.

On a positive note, at least the Lower Duck Island bridge proposal seems to have been quashed, and hopefully for good. Of course, the fact that they’ve left it open to reconsideration means that it will probably be put back on the table and then dropped again at least two or three more times.

In short, it’s a wonder that this Council gets anything done sometimes. Reading the Citizen’s coverage of the meeting makes it sound as if it routinely dissolved into petty squabling and sniping across the room. And you know what, guys? That isn’t the way to run a city. City Council should be all about working together, and finding solutions that work for everyone (or at least as many people as possible). It’s time for City Councilors to start taking a holistic view, and working out what’s best for the city as a whole, not just for the constituents of their ward. I realize that it’s a political balancing act, but something obviously needs to be done, as I think it’s fairly self-evident that the confidence most Ottawans have in their city’s government is starting to slip.




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