Who's driving this train? - R. Denley, Ottawa Citizen
Clearly, it's up to us to get a downtown route
Randall Denley, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Saturday, September 23, 2006
Comments and emphasis in Bold, added by Ron Rancourt.
Building east-west light-rail is the key promise in Mayor Bob Chiarelli's re-election campaign, but the majority of his own councillors say the way the mayor and city staff are going about it is wrong. They want the city to at least consider a fast downtown train route that would use the Queensway, Highway 174 or the transitway.
The mayor says he's offering leadership on the light-rail issue, but he can't even get his own colleagues on the same page. The Chiarelli caboose seems to have become detached from the train.
At a conceptual level, east-west light-rail sounds good. People in Orleans and Kanata want improved transit and they like the idea of rail. The problem is in the options city staff are putting forward. The three routes the city is studying won't really address the desire of people in the suburbs to get downtown quickly.
The city is considering what amounts to streetcar lines along Carling Avenue and Montreal Road, as well as a somewhat faster train that would loop south [hence why Diane Deans loves this plan], connecting Orleans to Kanata. The city plan calls for people making the main east-west commute to rely on buses or cars indefinitely.
The mayor backs this plan, saying these three options will give us the information we need, and if councillors want other routes considered, they can amend the existing studies.
I polled all 21 councillors to find out if they think those three routes offer the appropriate east-west solution, or if the city should be looking at alternatives. Of the 15 councillors who responded, 11 think the staff plan should be changed. Only four support the existing plan. Six did not
Councillors are backing away from the plan the city approved in 2003 because transit riders are telling them they want quick and direct transit access to downtown. That won't happen unless the people we elect take action.
If the do-nothing course is followed, there will be no quick route to downtown to consider. Just as in the north-south line, councillors have effectively predetermined where rail will go by identifying the corridors for study. The environmental assessment then looks at the best route within the corridor. Staff aren't going to consider things councillors didn't ask them to look at. Some councillors still think staff are studying all the east-west alternatives, not understanding that the alternatives are only minor route variations within the corridors councillors have already approved.
History predicts the next step. When the results of all these environmental assessments come back in 2009, councillors will be dismayed because none of the routes are really what they want. They will complain, then shrug and say starting over to study a new route would take too long, and it's urgent to get east-west built. Plus, they will already have spent about $9 million studying the stuff in hand. Then they'll choose a poor route, [the root developers urged city staff to take] arguing there's nothing better in front of them.
It doesn't have to be that way, but it will be, unless councillors show some leadership. It's clear someone has to act, and several councillors say they will, after the election. It isn't complicated. They need to add a study corridor that would include the Queensway, the transitway and Highway 174. There seems to be considerable support on council for this kind of route.
The fact is, councillors didn't get this right back in 2003, when they approved the three east-west corridors. Councillor Clive Doucet describes the situation well. The issue is really whether we want a rapid transit system to the downtown to serve commuters only, or if we want a slower transit system that provides both local and commuter service. The city plans provide only for the latter, but Doucet wants a debate to settle the point.
The councillors who want new alternatives include Alex Cullen, Michel Bellemare, Peggy Feltmate, Gord Hunter, Jacques Legendre, Rainer Bloess, Bob Monette, Peter Hume, Rob Jellett, Maria McRae and Doucet.
Councillor Diane Deans supports the staff plan because most of the future growth will be in the south, she says, so rail lines that serve the south are appropriate. Councillor Jan Harder thinks it's the public's job to shoot down the routes staff are studying and propose better ones. Must be what they're paying us the big bucks for. [In reality, the public isn't heard on this issue. Take the Public Working Group for the placement of the LRT Maintenance Yard for example.] Councillor Rick Chiarelli wants to leave it to the city's "highly-paid professional staff," believing that they will show councillors how to choose the best route. [Only dead fish go with the flow, Rick.]
The question for the election is not simply is transit good, or even is east-west transit good. Candidates for mayor and council should be able to tell us what approach they think is best. For the ones who haven't yet got the message that true rapid transit to downtown is what's required, now's the time to tell them.
Contact Randall Denley at 596-3756 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
© The Ottawa Citizen 2006