Chris Bradshaw is the co-founder of Vrtu-car, and was co-owner until 2006. He is also a co-founder and long-time (1988-2000) executive member of Ottawalk. He is now a member of the Ottawa Seniors Transportation Committee. Chris and his wife live car-lite in Sandy Hill.
Originally submitted as a comment, the following is Chris’s response to an earlier Spacing Ottawa post (“The History of the Ottawa subway”) wherein author Alain Miguelez outlined his reasons for supporting the City’s plans to build a transit tunnel underneath downtown Ottawa.
The history related by Alain Miguelez shows that the wonderful ‘moment’ we have today is partly thanks to the procrastination of previous generations of planners and politicians; otherwise, we would be stuck with yesterday’s technology and problematique. It is sobering to consider whether the plan now waiting for funding and environmental assessment will suffer the same fate. I expect so.
I start with the premise that people belong at the surface of cities. Let vehicles with their power and speed use the subterranean spaces. For instance, downtown auto users are either passing through or destined for an underground parking garage. Why don’t they go underground, instead of people? And the proposal’s enormous number of very long escalators should simply be strung out horizontally for moving sidewalks to connect two super stations at either end of downtown, like Denver does (linked for decades by free electric buses on the surface).
There is also the matter of the routes 1 through 18 that don’t use the transitway today, and won’t tomorrow. They serve the nearer urban sectors, housing people who have the good sense to live closer to their city-centre jobs. At least those traveling within the core will have these routes, rather than heading down 100 feet and back up for just a kilometre trip. And Alain makes too much of a point about standing waiting for a bus in cold weather. This is also the argument for underground tunnels and overhead passages, which Jean Pigott championed for so long, and which are going nowhere. ‘Climate’ also includes the feelings of isolation that breed dread when one is riding below-grade escalators, standing at almost empty stations, or wandering ‘plus-15’ passageways (often lost). Being a little chilly on a public street is my preference.
The argument about surface congestion is not just about too many cars, but the enormous number of buses serving different routes to commuters supposedly averse to transfers. That makes the buses poorly utilized, too. This inefficiency is to be overcome by a hub-and-spoke system that is beginning to be implemented (and which I defended in a Citizen letter four years ago — especially if the resultant transfers occurred at points where riders could do some shopping or other errands), but to suggest that implementation is unique to either an underground tunnel or even to rail transit is erroneous. It can be done on the surface with our current BRT (bus rapid transit). I simply don’t find downtown congested, except for the bus lane.
If one wants to look into the future a little further, one will find a decline in auto ownership and people living much closer to their work and to denser main-street and suburban activity-centre development. The corner store will also have made a comeback, making walking-only travel more common for errands. Trips of all types will be shorter and this in itself will make ‘rapid transit’ with its far-apart stations and isolated rights-of-way. Speed will be of secondary importance.
Yes, I’ll say it: rapid transit is a concept and technology to support today’s sprawl. It attracts only a) those commuting to jobs where parking is far from free (not in the suburbs), and b) at other hours, only those who don’t value their time or convenience very highly, thanks to low frequencies. So above-average-salary worker face the expensive option: own a car they don’t drive to work, and then pay an unlimited-use pass to commute, as well as transit subsidies in their property taxes. The suburban worker at least avoids the monthly transit pass and uses his ‘private transit.’ But the lower-income downtown worker (e.g., office cleaners, tourism/hospitality workers) have the worst situation: long-commutes at off-peak, higher property taxes, and still the cost of owning a car for non-commute travel.
We need to re-visit streetcars (they are a part of the long-term plan, with services on Montreal Road and Carling Avenue, but are so far off that every pundit has forgotten them), and just tell citizens that long trips in the city will be hell in the future (as if they aren’t now!). We can’t meet climate-change and peak-oil challenges by following the path we are following now.
photo by Rene Schwietzke