Clive Doucet: My Prediction for Ottawa in 2019
My opinion of the tunnel and its extensions has always been it is too expensive, (8 billion), too difficult to build (cave ins) and too long to make happen (20 years). Surface rail would have been faster, cheaper, safer and more effective. Further the river parkway extension was the wrong choice for the western route.
If I am wrong, and for sake of city one hopes I am, it will be crystal clear once the LRT is operating. There will be faster commutes downtown; an increase in transit ridership will occur; congestion on the 417 will ease as the LRT absorbs commuters, and the cancellation of 20 community bus lines and the firing of hundreds of bus drivers will be justified.
But what if I’m right? What if there no new dawn for Ottawa once the LRT finally operates. What if transit ridership does not rebound? That it continues to fall, growing from 7 per cent to 10 per cent? What if the LRT means poorer transit service, not better and (difficult as it is to believe) that traffic continues to grow denser on the 417.
This is my prediction for 2019. If I am right and it transpires the way I expect, then Council will grow restive because the LRT is the Mayor’s baby, not council’s and councilors will want to distance themselves from it. If I’m wrong then everyone will race to cut ribbons and share in the Mayor’s sunshine – that’s politics. But my guess is behind the scenes of council harmony the Mayor is leaning towards the flop side of the equation.
This is why he has been racing to approve high rise development along the western parkway, (we’re now up to 65 stories) because who builds a city subway with nothing but seagulls on one side and small single-family dwelling communities on the other? The people, shopping and public institutions of Ottawa all live further south. This is why the race has been on to create customers for the LRT western extension and it’s been frenetic. Something like 48 per cent of all requests for land use and zoning changes that the Planning Committee deals with come from Westboro and Hintonberg areas.
Given the thousands of units being approved in or near the western parkway, it’s conceivable that at some future date, the LRT will actually have people to serve but that’s for the future, not now. The present will bring no relief to east/west-north/south and cross river congestion and no increase in transit use; because when the LRT does finally arrive, riders from Orleans to Barrhaven/Kanata are going to be greeted by new bus/rail transfers at both ends and one of the deepest LRT lines in North America with only four access points. Get your walking shoes on.
My prediction for 2019 is that in spite of the Mayor’s iron control of Planning Committee, difficult questions about cost, service and land planning will finally surface.
If I’m wrong, all of this will remain moot. People can just put it down to Clive Doucet being a sore loser, but my prediction for 2019 remains that while the stations will be beautiful and the new bombardier cars impressive, 2.3 billion won’t actually do anything to relieve east/west road congestion or get more people onto transit.