----- Keep light rail -- in Ottawa!
Several years ago, with Ottawa planning a light-rail line or two, Gatineau councillors began re-studying a rail line here in “West Gatineau”. The Bureau administration opted for a compromise between rail and bus, the Rapibus. These buses were fast, with limited stops, running mostly along a dedicated route, an old rail bed in Gatineau sector.
Presumably this was not entirely successful, maybe because it is difficult for planners to put dedicated routes through neighbourhoods that are built and now being intensified. Finding more, separate routes through an already-congested traffic network seems impossible.
Yet, while Ottawa was building its first line, our council decided we needed a light rail network, too. Keeping up with the Jones, perhaps, or projecting a modern, progressive image was another. But the same question applies: where? Light rail needs a fixed rail bed – and it’s wide, once all the buffering and protective measures are drawn into the plans. So where does the city put a brand new rail line so that it effectively serves the greatest concentrations of commuters?
Right down Aylmer Road?
Hello!? Calling Planet Aylmer . . . Aylmer Road is already congested, and crammed to the gills during commute times! The road is lined with large, old maples, quite stately and attractive. There are front yards, most nicely landscaped. Can Aylmer afford to lose these historical trees? Those yards and sidewalks?
The old Hull Electric Railway ran to Deschênes, largely through what was then industrial neighbourhoods, but which is now midriff-bulging suburbia, each condo or house a home for at least two cars. In the other direction is Allumettières, which does have space for an extra lane. Yet both of these routes don’t satisfy the criteria of taking transit to its users. Maybe in another decade, building will have tsunamied itself into these areas, and then they would serve intensified neighbourhoods. But the rail promoters don’t want those routes: they want to bulldoze their way right down Aylmer Road.
Meanwhile, Ottawa, funded by the feds and Ontario, has opened its first light-rail line. A second is underway. And every day’s newscasts seem to include some problem, big or small, along the rail line. We know the problems: stuck doors, falling power lines, obstructed tracks, broken equipment – and even bedbugs! OC Transpo is fighting a bedbug infestation in several of its office buildings. Don’t picture bedbugs infesting rail cars!
Plus there are accusations of SNC Lavalin and its partners cheating on its responsibilities; even the cleaning and maintenance contracts seem to have questionable elements. Legalities loom.
With all this as our model, why are we even thinking about rail? It is inflexible (to population changes) but very expense to build. Picture the protests when the old maples are chainsawed. Picture the disruption caused in the heart of Aylmer’s road system for several years as this rail line is pushed through.
The alternative? Add more (and more) buses -- electric ones.