Transportation Committee adopts Western Light Rail Transit “Preferred Route”: Richmond Underground

10 07 2013

The city’s preferred route for the western expansion of light rail was passed by a city committee  on July 10th, even though it does not meet the National Capital Commission’s requirements.  All recommedations were passed, with an amendment to include all the public and delegation input received at the meeting. 

The following was MPCA’s presentation:

The McKellar Park Community Association (MPCA) represents one of the communities directly impacted by all of the northern routes that have been proposed for the Western Light Rail Transit corridor. 

Our Association co-hosted an open consultation on May 5th with our community after the preferred Richmond Underground transit line was unveiled by the City in April. We wanted to get input from the community about their impressions and concerns regarding the proposal. As a result, we prepared a report entitled “LRT Report” in which we collected the responses from the community.  We have provided this report to you as part of our submission.

Overall, the McKellarPark community supports comprehensive transportation planning that addresses current and emerging transportation issues for present and future users. We also want to be served by good transit choices that are effective in meeting our transportation goals and are efficient and affordable.

The goals of the city’s preferred route are stated to be:

  • Protecting the Byron Linear Park;
  • Preserving the Parkway (and access to the Ottawa River); and
  • Connecting (rather than dividing) the Community.

On the face of it, we support these goals.  However, this community wants to be part of the discussion defining these goals going forward and identifying the means of achieving the goals that does not result in any degradation but rather enhancements.

Having seen the agenda, we cannot support the recommendations that the Committee is being asked to adopt, in particular the first recommendation:“ [To] approve the Richmond Underground corridor as the preferred corridor to extend Light Rail Transit westerly from Bayview Station to Baseline Station …”. 

Our remarks are intended to provide a summary of the concerns that have been raised by residents regarding the proposed Richmond Underground option.

1)     Carling Route

Why not Carling? continues to be an overriding question. Large parts our community and other adjacent communities have envisioned stations along Carling that would serve residents, services, businesses and other commuters.  The expectation was that there would be a comprehensive analysis and a comparative look at all of the options that would be easily accessible to the public, for consideration and comment by the public before the City chose a route. 

We also had the expectation that there would be a transparent process which included involving the multi-stakeholders to identify the preferred route and those who objected to the route would have their concerns transparently answered by the city. 

At the April Open House held by the City, many residents present, not just from our community, stated that they favoured a Carling route.  We were surprised that a route had been chosen by the City and that many stakeholders, including the community, businesses and the NCC were blindsided. It was made clear at that meeting, Carling was off the table and that the City was now only concerned with “mitigating the preferred Northern route”.

The City’s response to the Carling option was the White Paper on the Funding Potential for a Carling Avenue LRT and there was an article in the Ottawa Citizen addressing this issue.  White papers and newspaper articles after route options are removed do not hold the city accountable for their decision.  All the objectives for WLRT are not addressed in the white paper (such as smart growth suitability, historical and cultural protection, safety and environmental suitability), nor was the White Paper analysis done for any other routes. It appears that the City is now only interested in minimizing construction costs when maximizing all of the objectives was supposed to be the goal.  It seems like we are down to the details of design mitigation when the community impacted has not agreed on the details of costs/benefits on Carling. It seems that the goal posts for this project have moved from assessing whether this is the best route to serve both urban and suburban users to finding the fastest and cheapest routes for suburban users and to save money for future extensions beyond the Western LRT. 

The City has not answered the questions raised about this approach. Due to our time limits here, we refer you to our May 5th LRT report that outlines many of the concerns about the preferred route.

The last Open House on June 17 was divided into themes and spread across City Hall which provided disjointed information.  There was no plenary as requested by stakeholders to understand and respond to the City’s full proposal. 

In addition, we were reassured that any comments provided by participants at the Open House would be made available to the public during this process.  We have yet to see these comments or any responses to those comments.

In the attached report to the agenda for this meeting, there is a section on the Carling route.  However, the analysis seems to pick and choose what objectives to emphasize for light rail transit.  For example, there is an emphasis on getting a certain class of users from the suburbs to downtown, specifically commuters from the West. Why is there is a focus on not inconveniencing the suburban commuters without consideration for other users?

What about looking at the socio-economic factors on the routes such as Carling which would actually serve people who need to take transit.  The focus seems to be people who work for the federal government at Tunney’s Pasture.  What about other workers who don’t work for the government in the areas around Carling (i.e. mall, hospitals, etc.).

As well, if the intent is to consider costs then why is the savings for a secondary line on Carling not being taken into consideration if there was a primary line on Carling?  Conversely, if the primary line is in the Northern Corridor then why is there no costing for the secondary line.  The absence of this information and consideration provides an incomplete analysis. 

As well, questions were raised at the Open Houses about the assumptions and weight given to certain criteria used in the analysis. Yet, there has never been an adequate response to the process used for this analysis.

 

2)     Intensification and Traffic

There are also legitimate questions regarding the possibility of greater densification in areas close to the proposed new LRT stations at Dominion, Cleary and New Orchard.  During this process, the City has de-emphasized the impact of the proposed new stations at Cleary and New Orchard, and the upgrading of the station proposed for Dominion. The City had previously emphasized intensification as a companion to the development of Light Rail Transit. Now it appears that the message we are hearing is that there will be little intensification impact around these proposed stations, and little increased traffic as a result of dropping passengers off. From our perspective, many questions remain to be answered on this issue.

 

3)     Mitigation

Overwhelmingly the proposed northern routes have been a great concern to our community and neighbouring communities. The establishment of strong grass-roots organizations like the Neighbours for Smart Western Rail and the Underground Solution group are evidence of this. Every northern route that has been proposed has the potential to severely impact green space, parks, shaded pathways and recreational opportunities, in turn impacting a walking and biking culture in the neighbourhood. Unless mitigated properly to maintain their quality, these environmental and social assets are in jeopardy of being degraded with each of the proposed northern routes, including the preferred route. This is important when suburbs are built, as green space and parks are part of the planning process for new communities and there is intensification in our communities. We do not have this option. We must preserve our parks and green space all along the Ottawa River Parkway, Rochester Park and the Byron Linear Park which is valued by residents and brings visitors to our vibrant neighbourhood, adding to our neighbourhood economy.

Even though many residents in the neighbourhoods that would be affected by a northern route want a Carling route to serve them, there is overwhelming support that any northern route must be fully underground west of Dominion station, in order to protect the green space in the neighbourhood, including the Ottawa River Parkway, Rochester Field and ByronLinearPark. In addition, such a route should not impede access to this green space, nor divide the community. This position has also been supported by the National Capital Commission.

In conclusion, we encourage the Transportation Committee to not support these recommendations to Council because they do not serve the needs of both the suburban and urban residents of Ottawa. The proposed western Light Rail Transit extension service should not favour one over the other. We need to find a win-win solution that enhances not only our community but all of Ottawa. 

Through this process, we have found that the residents in our community are thoughtful, resourceful, and talented and want to be part of finding a solution that meets Ottawa’s transportation needs without degrading anyone’s neighbourhood. 

In the interest of fairness, mitigation must meet the expectations of both the users and those most impacted by proposed WLRT extension.  If not, our communities in the Northern Corridor will be unnecessarily shouldering the environment, social and economic costs of a city wide collective good.

We also encourage the Committee to reconsider the Carling option and assess it in a transparent and fair manner which includes full meaningful consultation and input from users and communities impacted by it.  The Transportation Committee must not start from the perspective that Carling is “off the table” and therefore find rationales that eliminate that option in the early stages of planning the WLRT. 

There is still time to do this right.  The NCC has clearly stated that it does not support any route using NCC land that will impede continuous access to the corridor lands and shorelines of the Ottawa River and ensure the project has minimal visual impact on the corridor landscape quality and its experience by users.  These conditions were adopted by the NCC’s Board on June 28, 2013.  There is no mention in the report attached to today’s agenda about what would be costs if the preferred route was fully underground as sought by the NCC.  What will happen if the NCC refuses to allow the city to access the parkway for this route?  If this is the case, isn’t it premature to make a decision today?

Our objective is not just about protecting our assets in our neighbourhoods but also to get the best possible transit for our community, other urban communities south of Carling, as well as, suburban users.  This current proposal does not meet these objectives. We want our City to have one of the best transit systems not only in Canada but also around the world.

 

Submitted by:

McKellarPark Community Association

July 10. 2013

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