Bank Street O-Train: Talk of Ottawa
Meeting with Ottawans about the Bank Street Tunnel concept
The current population of Ottawa Gatineau is 1,441,118. Assuming the city continues its current growth pattern from recent years, Ottawa’s population growth has been 2.3% a year and Gatineau has a less robust, but still significant 1.5% population growth a year - at this rate the city will grow to 1,744,900 by 2031; approximately 15 years ahead of some city forecasts.
Many people from the Toronto area who have moved to Ottawa in recent years have told me they believe Ottawa Gatineau is a more affordable city to live in. It’s a city with an outdoors oriented lifestyle with an array of ski resorts that in some cases like Mont Ste Marie reach 1300 vertical feet on 2 mountain peaks. Other winter outdoors advocates love skating on the Rideau Canal with its 8 km length.
Others love the world class bicycle trail network that stretches from the far reaches of the east into the suburbs of Cumberland and west into Stittsville giving you some 1000 km’s of riding options. Other people move to Ottawa for significant paddle opportunities for people who love to kayak and canoe on the various rivers & canals found on both sides of the Ottawa river.
What will population growing to 1.8 million in the next decade mean for the Bank Street O-Train LRT Tunnel concept? What will the increase in population mean for emissions & and our environment? What about traffic congestion? Do neighbourhoods in the core care about road surface noise? What does it mean for city densification along the Bank Street communities and Ottawa South communities? Can Bank Street and Ottawa South become O-Train oriented communities? Should the city encourage more costly urban sprawl? When should the city start planning for the Bank Street O-Train Tunnel?
Ottawa’s Kevin Bourne, editor of Shifter Magazine, and sometimes radio/tv guy says “Ottawa is a frugal city”, and believes the Bank Street O-Train concept “would be a better option then Trillium Line because the Glebe should be a major attraction in the city, and Lansdown is already a major attraction in Ottawa despite recent problems with COVID19.” Kevin points out in an era of environmental concerns, “ideally Bank Street O-Train should be electric, especially in the city core” and “I definitely think residents in the core have been ignored to some extent as the focus has been on the suburbs.”
Philippe Thibert is an interesting voice in the Ottawa community. He’s connected to land development and urban design. Philippe believes “servicing the outer suburbs before building a reliable inner-city mass transit system was the wrong direction.” He also believes “expensive infrastructure out to future greenfield developments before existing neighbourhoods” is wrong “in so many ways.” Philippe is also very nervous about the future of Ottawa without “major shifts in our inner-city planning and infrastructure spending, the future of Ottawa continues to look suburban.” He shares the view that so many people have shared with me in recent months, “the thought of taking the train to Lansdowne to catch a game, or to meet friends along Bank Street at a trendy restaurant, is exciting.”
Matthieu Gilles is studying International Economics & Development at the University of Ottawa. “I don’t think we need to put one (suburbs vs core) against the other even if some will likely be reticent. On one side we need put back efforts to densify, gentrify and bring transit oriented development to the inner core ” and Matthieu believes we need to “make transfers with the confederation line a lot smoother.”
“I think the South end i.e., South Keys, Alta Vista, Old Ottawa South and all these areas surrounding Bank Street are the most forgotten in Ottawa Transit’s master plan.”
Matthieu also believes “people are not stupid, they know that an O-train subway line down Bank Street would be a game changer, for the South enders it would cancel 1 or 2 transfers on the way to downtown and for people leaving along Bank, a subway would be a incredible relief line and a major development driver in a very dense and touristic neighborhood.”
When asked about the issues that exist today he points out “the current city has always favoured the outer greenbelt suburbs to the point of prioritising Transit for them. This led to into the creation of suburb-oriented transit that is only viable during rush hour, and all of this to the cost of reducing transit services in Centretown, the Glebe and Ottawa South. These people have the right for better and they deserve better.”
He also thinks the O-Train lines “are big densification generators. We’re already seeing that along future and current stations of the confederation line. In the effort to bring back density back into the inner greenbelt a subway down bank street would be perfect to trigger in what we call TOD (Transit oriented development). Higher densification and TOD would also mean better turnover, higher foot traffic, likely better conversion rates for local businesses and would help build a sustainable local economy centered around stations on the alignment.”
“It would serve already highly touristic and populated areas such as Centretown, Lansdown, The Glebe, Old Ottawa South and the ‘Carleton University student ghetto.’ Transit along that corridor would be greatly relieved, I think. Not to mentions that these areas are highly touristic (Lansdown, TD Place, Restaurants, the Gay Village, Rideau Canal Skateway, Festivals like Glowfair, Escapade or Folk Fest) and that for anybody visiting Ottawa it would facilitate commuting around massively and lastly encourage them to use public transportation a lot more. It would take numerous cars off the road, reduce green house emissions and put these same people using cars inside trains & buses.”
According to Matthieu the Bank Street O-Train Tunnel “would certainly give a sign that Ottawa is a city with ambition, a city that develops sustainable ways of going around the city and most importantly a city that doesn’t only think about suburban populations.”
West end resident Ryan McBride is someone connected to the financial industry. Ryan, believes the issue of the Ottawa Gatineau O-Train network should be examined from a business perspective first. He wants “the existing Confederation Line 1 to be fixed and working correctly; I agree with the Bank Street O-Train Tunnel, but let’s get Confederation Line 1 working first, we spent a lot of money and need it to work correctly - once that is done, we can plan for Bank Street.” Ryan also points out the business case for the Bank Street O-Train line - “there are more people living in the Bank Street area, and more development being planned in the core - more people would use the Bank Street Line compared to Trillium Line if they build it right.”
Ryan expresses doubts the city fully understands how to plan the O-Train properly, “I would insist on running it underground from Parliament Station to Billings Bridge so people can escape the cold winter temperatures, no one wants to stand around outside in -40 in Ottawa. This way transit users can escape the wind and rain and this way O-Train will get higher more consistent ridership numbers.”
Architect Toon Dreessen is a pillar in the Ottawa community. A successful entrepreneur, an advocate for progress, a community voice with a record of design and building achievement. He has grave concerns how the city is more focused on urban sprawl with little attention given to what he and others believe can be good densification of the urban core.
“The bank street train corridor is important for the core and old Ottawa South because it connects key parts of the city: running the length from Wellington Street in the north to Billings Bridge, it connects neighbourhoods seen as vital to healthy communities. Bank street is, essentially, a long Traditional Main Street, connecting a series of 15 minute neighbourhoods. Promoting sustainable transportation along this corridor would support small business and residents by providing a key, efficient, link to get from their homes to businesses and jobs along this 4.5km street. Along this street, we can see historical land use patterns that have resulted in key social infrastructure, as well as the results of misguided planning and development that is in the process of being rectified. Moderate intensification on Bank Street, as well as along side streets and filtering into the communities on either side such as 6 storey buildings on Bank Street, and 3–4 storey buildings within 1–2 blocks on either side) helps promote the walkable density that Ottawa aspires to.”
Toon has some thoughts on what the issues are downtown and along Bank Street South, that an “antagonistic relationship between the development industry and the public that is not enhanced by councillor attitudes and gerrymandering of committees. Part of the challenge has been that the construction of the 417 in the post-war years furthered east-west development (Orleans/Kanata) while orphaning Ottawa South (Barrhaven, Riverside South).
“We now have the challenge of thousands of commuters crossing the greenbelt from north/south without adequate road infrastructure. Though the 416 provides some relief; Riverside South commuters, however, have lengthy detours to get to the 416 and the result remains that traffic is congested once it gets to the Metcalfe/Nicholas off ramps with no effective way to increase capacity between Carling and the Vanier Parkway. Aside from which increasing road capacity doesn’t work, see principals of induced demand. The only really viable answer is to increase moderate density within the core inside the greenbelt with targeted higher density in key areas and vastly improve transit infrastructure that has not kept pace with road investment.”
Toon also believes “high quality rail service on Bank street could have tourism benefits provided there is sufficient draw: key connections to Lansdowne, for example, could draw tourism. Other opportunities may exist, such as building a case for tourism in communities like Old Ottawa South, Glebe, Centertown through walking tours, targeted destination buildings like galleries or development of tourism districts, art gallery row, restaurant row etc, these, however, may face competition from other areas.”
Toon has also given a lot of thought to development and potential future driving patterns the city may wish to avoid. “Bank Street has the potential for moderate densification over time. Using some very high level, rough, math. From Wellington to Billings is 4.5 km which equals 9km of building frontage on both sides of the street. 40% of the frontage is cross streets and existing buildings that can’t be altered - heritage buildings, or already meet density goals such as near Gladstone that gives us a conservative 3600m of frontage. Assume average lot depth of 100 ft (30m) and building height average is 5 stories, some at 4 and some at 6; and a 75% lot coverage, that is well over 300,000 sq m of built area. If buildings are 80% efficient, stairs, elevators, etc, then that translates to 240,000 sq m of building area. The potential revenue stream for the city in the way of property taxes, even if development charges were modest along this core, since there are existing services here, we should be encouraging development through deferred or waived DCs. Obviously, this has to happen slowly, over time, but the city can lead by creating the infrastructure we need. If the city waits to put in transit until there is density in the area, everyone will be driving in the mean time, and then the land use pattern is set and they won’t want to change.”
Retired OC Transpo Operator David Loney says “I favour the idea, it would help the local businesses, there is no parking downtown, the current bus service just doesn’t work because of the lack of space in the core, the O-Train would eliminate the service issues for sports, entertainment and culture events.”
“Bank Street O-Train means reliable service to move large numbers of people.” David is also concerned about safety, “the O-Train is safer compared to busses because it’s grade separated, no traffic issues and if it’s a tunnel it won’t interfere with the core during construction.” When discussing the idea further, he points out “if the Ottawa Senators NHL team move somewhere downtown or LeBreton Flatts area or Billings Bridge the train would be able to get people in and out of the downtown quickly.”
When it comes to environmental concerns, David says “the push from government is being green, the O-Train is green, that is where some of the excitement is.”
David feels “the issue now is when will the people come back downtown as COVID19 subsides? And I agree with former Mayor Larry O’Brien on the network effect - build it and they will come. These things take 5 or 6 years from a planning point of view, we are almost there now with the current population approaching 1.8 million already - they need to start planning it now!”
David also believes “as we see condominium development continue to happen downtown that will make the demand greater for the Bank Street O-Train.”
“We need to get people out of cars and onto the O-Train - if you want people to truly use light-rail you need to accommodate them - so if you take the train it will be consistent all day not just during peak hours, it’s fast and reliable and seamless unlike bus transfers. You also need to have minimal transfers to the airport getting people in and out of the downtown back and forth from the airport.”
He continues to explain why the Bank Street O-Train appeals to so many people, “the train keeps stuff simple, a bus takes you all over and the frequency, and reliability is not there because of traffic and weather. Regular people lean towards rail instead of busses and you will get a lot more people using it because of that reason.”
The Bank Street O-Train Tunnel concept has captivated Ottawans to the point that a 50 PAGE online discussion thread has started. Attracting polite Ottawa voices from residents and entrepreneurs throughout the Bank Street core and Ottawa South bedroom communities. The discussion includes everything from potential station locations, tunnel sizes, train types and transit hubs.
For more news stories on the Ottawa Bank Street O-Train see links below:
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Clinton Desveaux can be reached at ClintonDesveaux@gmail.com