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Martin Laplante

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Thu, 07 Jun 2007

A Tale of Two Cities: Two Ottawa-Gatineau Transportation Studies

Two studies have come out roughtly simultaneously regarding long-term transportation planning in the Ottawa-Gatineau area. Two very different studies with very different visions.

One is the terms of reference for the Environmental Assessment Study of Future Interprovincial Crossings, a study that looks at bridges over the river separating the two cities and the two provinces.

The second is the report of the Mayor of Ottawa’s Task Force on Transportation, formed in the aftermath of the light rail fiasco where the new mayor and council voted to cancel the contract for construction of a rail system that had been voted by the previous mayor and council. People who lobbied for the vote against it were a coalition of people who thought that it was too ambitious, not ambitious enough, or about right but using the wrong technology (electric vs. diesel).

The new Ottawa proposed plan actually shows some vision, while the interprovincial EA seems like old-style business as usual. The Ottawa plan focuses on rail, that's its job, but also presents it in the context of larger-scale transportation planning. So the idea of using rail to provide key interprovincial passenger and freight capacity and to therefore reduce vehicle transportation demand is proposed, along with integrated multi-modal transportation strategies. Their objective is to make automobile and truck transportation the least attractive of many transportation options. Not to the extent of the Vancouver "congestion is our friend" plan to let roads degrade, but by not making the tempting compromises that make transit a little cheaper but also makes it a poor alternative to cars. So their plan makes transit seem positively luxurious. The glorious old downtown train station, currently converted into a conference centre, is turned back into a convenient train station. Downtown transit stops are underground, with climate-controlled passages to main office buildings. Sounds a lot better than what we have now where passengers, pedestrians and cyclists use umbrellas to protect their legs from the constant spray of slush that buses mete out.

The interprovincial plan, however says "There is a need for additional capacity across the Ottawa River even if aggressive Official Plan transit modal split, Transportation Demand Management (TDM) and Transportation Systems/Supply Management (TSM) targets are achieved." By "capacity" they of course mean auto capacity (what else matters?) Their count of lanes and capacity ignores pedestrian and cycling lanes, and rail bridges. It just focuses on cars.

Both plans talk about the necessity to eliminate the heavy truck route through ordinary downtown and residential streets, currently featuring 4 different 90 degree turns through signalled intersections in mostly residential heritage areas. The Ottawa plan talks about dangers to the health of residents because of fine particulates and the transportation of dangerous goods, and the damage to traditional neighbourhoods. The interprovincial plan talks about congestion and the economic impact on tourism. All right that's not all they talk about, but it looks like when they see an idling vehicle, the interprovincial planners think of the cost of gas and the frustration of the driver, while those breathing in the fumes are a secondary concern.

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