Yesterday, the City of Ottawa held a viewing of the new plans for the development of Ottawa’s East-West Light Rail Transit (LRT) system(1). The LRT is set to have thirteen stations, with Tunney’s Pasture at West end, and Blair Station at the East end. The project is funded by all levels of government, with $600 million coming from provincial and federal sources, thereby accounting for 28% of the costs of the project. The LRT will reduce traffic congestion through the downtown core by taking busses off the road and moving passengers underground instead.
The new path presented Monday has removed a vital connection along Elgin Street, once proposed to be located at the National Arts Centre (NAC), and instead moves it across the bridge to be placed beneath the East end of the Rideau Centre, the downtown’s major shopping mall. Predictably, people are very split on this decision with proponents pointing out the already high levels of pedestrians and bussing passing on either side of the Rideau Centre, versus the more lightly travelled NAC and Elgin Street. The ease of access to Byward Market, and moving pedestrian crossing off the city streets above all make for some compelling arguments regarding the move.
On the flip side, much of the LRT project is designed to boost and develop new businesses around the new stations. By neglecting the NAC, the new offices being built along Elgin Street will remain underserviced. The Confederation Park, Confederation Square, the Rideau Canal, Ottawa’s City Hall, and the Ottawa Courthouse are also major venues that will no longer be serviced as a result of relocating the station. As David Jeanes, the former transit critic for Tranport Action Canada says, “its left a hole in the system,” and “for many people, the time savings that they were going to get from light rail, will be used up just getting to their final destination because of the long walks” (2). Some citizens are also concerned about the homeless in the downtown core and the effect having a station below the Rideau Centre will have on people’s feelings of safety in the area, and the potential costs of additional security, (see comment by Laurent Beaulieu, Feb 29, 10:46pm) (3).
Some of the other changes are more common sense than controversial. For example, the station near the VIA Rail is being better aligned to make transfer from the LRT to intercity/interprovincial rail services simpler. Also, the shift of the Bayview station to place the LRT stop immediately above the O-Train station will make it far simpler to tranfer between transit’s North/South (O-Train) and East/West (LRT) rail lines.
However, both of these areas, like many of the others outside of the downtown core, are relatively undeveloped. Thankfully, Ottawa was chosen to be a recipient under IBM’s Smart Cities Challenge (4). The Smarter Cities program is designed to help integrate all aspects of city life, whether it’s transit, business, policing, living areas, garbage disposal, and whatever else you think is necessary, and basically do more for less (5). Their program offers some great possibilities for these blank slates, and it will be interested to see how they develop the areas as the LRT begins to assemble. IBM’s program offers some great solutions, but carries some concerns along with it. Be sure to check back Friday for a more indepth examination of some concerns about the IBM Smarter City program.
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