Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Ottawa Underground Subway

My opinion with reference to a possible Light Rail referendum. We have a democratic country in which rules are set up in the most optimal way. A selected group of people sit in the City arena and make those decisions for us; whatever it is that should be done within the limits and the affordability of the city parameters. A referendum is not a valid solution at this point. If we digress once, we will always face the possibility of another referendum in the future.
At the same time, because of my underground subway proposition, I would stop all major decisions related to the Light Rail Project. 45 minutes from Barrhaven to downtown is too long and 45,000 passengers daily is not enough as Light Rail expectations are. In my opinion, Light Rail is an old fashion way of transportation, good as an addition, short distance travel, or solution for a small size city that is not going to grow. This is the most expensive project in our city’s undertaking and we must not repeat the mistakes made in the past.
Looking on a map or a satellite view of our city, a child would realize that Ottawa is 3 times wider East-West than South-North. I would gradually connect Kanata with Orleans, connected with downtown Ottawa in between. This would be my starting point. The City will grow in almost all directions therefore we cannot just concentrate on the future residential areas lying South and forget our present residents living along the West-East banks. To make the South residents happy I would widen some main streets going this direction, making separate Bus lanes, and speed construction of a Bus corridor towards Barrhaven.
For the long time I have asked myself why an underground subway wouldn’t work in Ottawa. The bigger question is why do we not have one yet? The reason for this might be the tectonic region in which Ottawa is placed. However, Tokyo in Japan has more earthquake probabilities than Ottawa, yet Tokyo has its own huge subway.
My second guess was that maybe the Capital of one of the richest countries cannot afford a subway? A subway that will reduce traffic, pollution, expenses (winter cleaning and maintenance reduced), generate more revenue, and in general it will save time and money for the taxpayers. For example in the past decade Warsaw in Poland has been able to afford a subway (still keeping light rail, street cars, buses) and Poland is not one of the richest countries in the world.
The third reason why we still do not have an underground subway could be that we want to keep our city small and not too modern? Keeping streets overcrowded will not stop the city’s growing expansion or modernization. If we continue this way, it will push us to the moment that we all will regret, not having an underground subway and still be stuck in terrible, horrible traffic especially during a freezing rain. Maybe there are people who do not wish to change Ottawa’s image that they remember from their childhood; maybe they do not really care about the problems our society will face in 20 years. As our society gets older, seniors need faster access to hospitals, and we need new Ottawans. How to reach these objectives without a universal public transportation solution?
This is the 21st Century, we cannot afford to keep city transportation only on the ground surface level and money here shouldn’t be our concern.
Here comes a key question: why do we not have an underground subway system in Ottawa?
Instead of wasting our money on ground surface trains I would propose to build an underground subway. We should start this big construction project as soon as possible, starting from downtown in both West and East directions. Later, to make life for South Ottawa residents easier, we could move in the South direction, and finally connect Hull/Gatineau via a tunnel beneath the river.
We would of course continue to utilize the busses because of their flexibility and in the case of emergency. Some one would say that the whole idea about underground subway seems unreal, because subway will be much more expensive than light train. However, this plan has much more pros than cons. It will pay for itself very fast. For the eventual financial problem I have also few surprising solutions.
This mega-project will generate a huge job market for many years; it will not only create business, but also brings business downtown. There is opportunity to have more businesses such as boutiques, restaurants, etc. in each of the stations. A subway can run under or close to the Malls; downtown will be more exclusive, real estate will go up and parallel with it the property taxes can be utilized by the city for other purposes. It will create a more vibrant social life downtown and to the city; less pollution, less drunk drivers to contend with on our streets, since there would be more pedestrians than cars. A subway stations and trains can be full of advertisements; as an opposite to highway, it doesn’t affect a safety.
People usually spending evenings at home, will not have to drive 30 minutes, find and pay for parking to enjoy a social coffee with friends or enjoy the downtown atmosphere. By subway it would be more attractive and convenient if it could allow you to get there in 10 minutes for less than $5. Gas stations and parking facilities will loose but the citizens will win.
Teenagers and others can avoid inclement weather to pursue their hobbies, education etc. A lot of them living in satellites residential areas such as Barrhaven are bored there and look for all kinds of attractions. Having easy, reliable, and fast access to other parts of the city we give them this opportunity. Another asset would be the safety problems, being encountered now on our buses. On a subway it would be easier to monitor and control situations as they arise.
In conclusion, I am against the North-South Light Rail as Mr. Chiarelli proposed, and its costly referendum as Mr. Munter would like. My alternative is an underground subway that will be less expensive for the city to operate and maintain. It will transfer many more passengers in one hour, will be much faster, will reduce pollution, and will not be dependent on weather conditions.