The meeting of the mega-projects: A tunnel for Bank Street

Editor’s note: Many commentators have noted that the decision by Mayor O’Brien to run again in this fall’s municipal elections means that he can campaign by claiming two significant achievements: spearheading the decision to build an East-West LRT that includes a downtown tunnel, and backing the proposal to redevelop Lansdowne Park. So far, the two major projects have been presented as “stand alone”; here Spacing Ottawa contributor Dwight Williams suggests a way to link them.

In the months since the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) brought forth their proposal for redeveloping Lansdowne Park, many different aspects to the proposed plan – and those of several competing proposals as well – have been discussed in many different forums, including here at Spacing Ottawa. The issue of transit support for events at the redeveloped park, however, seems to have largely escaped notice.

It’s not that OC Transpo, City Hall and the OSEG partners have ignored the transit issue. They haven’t. They’ve worked out contingency plans of their own, and those have been shown at open houses, and posted online for anyone with the time and inclination to track down and look at. It is possible that their planners have not thought all the consequences through, particularly in terms of scale.

For some days now, on the unofficial OC Transpo community weblog, I’ve been discussing a possible alternative solution to the expected traffic and transit issues with other riders and drivers: expanding the LRT tunnel network to include a branch running under and parallel to Bank Street.

The map explains most of the idea right off the top, but the lines connecting the proposed Somerset Station to the East-West Tunnel with question marks need explaining. The explanation is forthcoming.

The greatest issue – in addition to the problems of supporting all the activities that we hope to see Lansdowne host in the years to come – that the Bank Street Branch Tunnel might also help address would be traffic volumes in general along Bank between Billings Bridge and Wellington. That entire stretch of Bank Street becomes congested on a regular basis during the weekdays, no matter what happens at Lansdowne.

Back to those question mark-tagged lines. They cover the possible options for where to connect the Bank Street line to the East-West line in the Albert-Slater corridor. Three are shown, although there’s a fourth to consider. The lines could be connected – each possibly feeding the other – at either Lyon, O’Connor-Metcalfe or Rideau. The fourth option is to simply run the two lines almost perpendicular to each other, vertically stacked atop each other.

This north-south tunnel would certainly be an added expense, as would be expected of such an expansion of the scale of the LRTT.


  1. I’d love to see it but I image we’re talking a huge amount of money to travel a fairly short distance. Somerset and Gladstone are so close together a train would hardly start moving.

  2. Doing this would require rerouting a MAJOR downtown sewer main, assuming you wanted to do cut and cover, which is the cheaper way to build subway. You also have the problem that they’ve just reconstructed bank street to a depth of 12′ and this would start that process all over again.

  3. The exact spacing of the stops isn’t set in stone, and it’s one more thing that’s already being discussed at length. Everyone should feel free to suggest any alternative routing that comes to mind.

  4. Yeah, to me, those stations are too close together, but I think it’s a concept worth talking about. I’d have stations downtown, one more in Centretown before the Queensway (at, like Gilmour or so), one at the Queensway, First Avenue, Lansdowne, Ottawa South (a few blocks south of Sunnyside), and Billings Bridge. Anything much more than that would be overkill.

  5. Thanks for bringing this up. A couple of the previous posters have mentioned the recent reconstruction of Bank St. and relocation of a sewer main as major hurdles to such a plan. Given the recent complete shutdown(s) of Bank St., for months and months at a time, it’s a shame that a little foresight couldn’t have been brought to bear on this issue. Regarding expense, I think it’s time we readjust what is “too expensive” for public transportation infrastructure given that $X00 million freeway interchanges are approved without too much angst. Furthermore, I like the discussion of a Bank St. tunnel because it puts the emphasis on rapid transit options for city residents (the more urban part of the city, that is), so one can move AROUND the city w/o a car, rather than INTO the city in the morning and OUT of the city in the evening…

  6. For Josh’s benefit, I should note that Isabella [St.] is just south of the Queensway where Bank St crosses it; likewise, Glebe [Ave.] is just north of First Ave. The “Isabella” stop could be renamed “Chamberlain” (since that street changes name from Chamberlain to Isabella at the Bank St crossing).

    I believe that the reconstruction mentioned above only covered Bank St. north of Catherine (i.e. north of the Queensway). That would not be an issue in the Glebe, which would be the main beneficiary of this scheme. However, I rather doubt it would be feasible to add other stops, such as near Gilmour/Lewis or anywhere between Sunnyside and Billings Bridge. There probably would not be enough ridership to support this.

    Aside from the reconstruction issue, I sincerely doubt that any tunnel, even a cut-and-cover one, would be feasible to build on or near Bank St.; it would simply require too much money An elevated line may be feasible, but a proposal of that type would bring the NIMBYs out in force; this is particularly true if the proposed route is not on but near (and/or paralleling) Bank St.

    A terminus at Billings Bridge is also awkward. Why not extend the line through to South Keys (or Greenboro)?

  7. We’ve already got two southbound rapid transit corridors (O-Train and the SE Transitway). You want to add a third?!?

    – RG>

  8. This post reminded me of “The Scubway”, an Ottawa light rail concept posted ages ago to the now-defunct web site.

    Not sure who created it, but I saved the PDF. It has a subway going down Bank AND Carling. If only money was unlimited!

    Here’s the link:

  9. I appreciate the schooling Duncan, but I know the geography of the area. Those are just the names I happened to pick. The main point I was making was that I feel there are one or two stations too many in the poster’s proposal.

  10. Easier to put surface light rail on Colonel By Drive (connecting Carleton O-train and Ottawa U. East-West LRT) with a footbridge over the canal at Lansdowne.

  11. The idea of surface light rail along the canal makes me wonder if we could not use the canal itself as a seasonal public transit corridor? It’d really cool to have little ferries chugging up and down the canal spring thru fall, then use some kind of vehicle on the ice in winter… Actually probably too awkward to implement given freeze-thaw on either side of winter, but I like the idea nonetheless…

  12. I think the general idea of an LRT
    tunnel under Bank Street is great
    (the exact details are obviously up
    for discussion). The station at
    O’Connor/Metcalfe would probably
    provide the best connection to the
    East-West line because it’s central
    and the area is already busy. There
    should probably be a few stations
    downtown before Somerset.

    The City should’ve had better
    foresight about the potential of a
    Bank Street tunnel before any
    recostruction, but I think the
    benefits (for the Glebe and
    Lansdowne) far outweigh the billions
    of dollars it would take to build

  13. Arrgh! More tunnels? Why are some people so convinced that transit is only good when you bury it?

    Bank is a pretty good choice for on-street running, though, with lots of retail and restaurants along that stretch. A surface route means that you needn’t be as stingy with your stops.

  14. A tunnel under Bank St. is not a new idea and we had a golden opportunitiy while sections of Bank St. were/will be dug up for sewer and water main work. As a transport planner it would not be difficult to plan and design a completely inclosed tunnel built in prefab concrete sections that are lowered into the ground before the new sewer and water lines are placed. Now, the stations would not be the overly massive subway/metro stations of the Downtown Transit Tunnel project but would be similar in size and nature to the simple tunnel stations of Toronto’s Transit City LRT Lines (built close to the surface and only 90-120 metres in length). Station spacing could be figured out during the planning phase and simply leave the appropriate empty space for elevator and stair access. Since the whole right of way (Wellington to Billings Bridge) had to have all water and sewer lines replaced anyway, it could have been done cheaply and efficiently and progressed along with the waterservices replacement plan. With the massive debate over the Lansdowne Live Project, it’s proponents could have silenced a lot of contriversy by supporting this idea and would have made it a much simpler process for everyone. A simple tunnel portale could have been built on Bank in Old Ottawa South somwhere between Cameron Ave. and the bridge over the Rideau River. A short street running section could be built to the Transitway Station at Billings Bridge. All it would have taken is just a bit of pre planning and belief that yes, it’s time for bigger and better Ottawa. Instead we have a Bank St. that is most of the time very close to it’s functional traffic handling capacity. When our new stadium complex is ready to go (between 2013-2014) we are going to be wisked to Lansdowne in a massive fleet of busses half of which according to the latest plan will have to use the same old traffic clogged Bank St.

  15. Interesting idea, but the problem of congestion along Bank Street doesn’t arise from the volume of transit traffic but largely from the mix of local and through vehicular traffic. A transit tunnel would not solve the issues. It might offer a very expensive partial solution to the LPP transit problem, but must be considered against other solutions to that problem and likely would not prove to be cost-effective.

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