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A few weeks ago the Ottawa Citizen journalist Maria Cook asked me to submit a few lines for a best-of/worst-of public spaces and buildings end-of-year feature she was putting together. I was pleased to be asked but I misread the email and thought Maria was asking for best and worst, period — not limited to this past year. She soon put me right, and I submitted something a little more “2010”, but meanwhile I still had my notes from the original reply to her. I wanted to give her some “quotables” so I had I given them some colour; rereading them the other day I see they may well have come across like an intemperate rant:
Situated between the overhang of the Rideau Centre on the north side and the towers of DND HQ to the south, the location of this transit station seems to have been carefully calculated to trap and store the maximum volume of diesel exhaust. For departing passengers the choking stench exacerbates the sense of claustrophobia; waiting around on the butt-strewn, chewing gum-encrusted sidewalks helps a little more to dispirit people who are waiting for their bus. The sense of entrapment is completed by the knowledge that there really is no where else to go, at least, not safely.
For those arriving at the station, security-conscious DND seems content to welcome them with an escalator to the bridge underpass that is more or less permanently out of order. Most OC passengers arriving on the south side of the bridge don’t even try it anymore; instead, many look for a gap between the buses and then run across the roadway to the centre island where they shimmy along a railing until they get to the signaled pedestrian crossing in front of the Rideau Centre doors. It’s dangerous but a lot faster than pushing through the crush on the south sidewalk.
Still, Rideau-bound walkers are advised to get to the north side of the bridge however they can manage it, even if it means backtracking, as the crossing that awaits them at the bottom of the bridge at Waller and Nicholas is probably the legal definition of attempted suicide; the city’s own signage prohibits it and one wonders why they even run a sidewalk to the spot in the first place.
So last week I went out to take a few snaps to accompany my thoughts; I suppose I wanted to be sure that the way I picture the station is something like what it really is. Looking at them, I think they do show just how dreary and rundown the facilities at Ottawa’s central transit station have become over the past few years. To me, it’s like the three major stakeholders — the City/OCTranspo, DND/Public Works, and the Rideau Centre itself — have each decided that if anyone is going to spend even a dime to make the area more pleasant, it won’t be them.