Note: I started this draft back in November then forgot about it. This issue continues, and I may write more about it in the coming days or weeks or months.
With the construction of the new LRT comes numerous hurdles. Once the planning is completed, routes chosen, money allocated and complaints about tree removal over, there’s the actual business of building the damned thing. Running through urban neighbourhoods, it’s easy to understand that certain challenges will arise.
A large challenge comes on Scott Street. Light rail is being built along the Transitway from Tunney’s Pasture to its connection with Albert St., leaving the buses homeless. The question becomes, what do we do with the buses? People will still be commuting from the west end to and through downtown.
A number of solutions are available–sending the buses to the Queensway, using the Parkway from Tunney’s to the core–but it seems as if the most likely solution is to simply put them on Scott St., paralleling the route they would otherwise take on the Transitway. There are logistical problems with this. Do the buses just mingle with regular traffic? Should they get their own lanes? Eric Darwin has written about this, offering an interesting solution: giving the buses the two centre lanes on Scott St.:
The City, meanwhile, seems to be leaning towards Scott St., but giving the buses two lanes on the north side of the street, essentially creating two roads running side-by-side:
Personally, I can’t guess as to the best solution, though I’d be inclined to think that the less disruption the better. This would seem to point to Scott St. as the best solution, whether we use the City’s plan or Mr. Darwin’s.
Of course, this presents an issue for the residents on and near Scott St. The proposed detour will greatly increase the traffic on the street, creating noise, traffic and safety concerns. And the degree of this is staggering. The detour would put (an additional) 192 buses on Scott St. per hour per direction during rush hour.
That’s one bus every 19 seconds. The disturbance will be near constant. The impact on quality of life, immeasurable. Having lived on multiple bus routes (including, currently, Bank St.), the disruption of buses is undeniable. It is, also, a cost of living in certain areas, but 192 buses per hour is a higher cost than anyone should have to pay.
There is little that can be done about it. We have created a city addicted to commuting. With bedroom communities sprinkled generously around the outskirts, and dense commercial zoning in the core, there is no simple way to alleviate the toll that will be levied against the residents of Scott St.
But maybe a shift can occur. Maybe we’ll be able to switch away from this commuter-focused city. Council is already working on this. Our focus on density, Complete Streets and walkable neighbourhoods should help to reduce the amount of traffic we would otherwise be burdened with. And, of course, the hope is that the LRT (the cause of the issue at hand) will also ease traffic congestion.
But this will require a shift in attitudes. This mentality to live as far away as we possibly can from where we work is not healthy for our city. It turns our more central neighbourhoods into thoroughfares for the commuter class, and results in more and more asphalt being laid down in our city. Collectively, our roads make up the largest public space in Ottawa. Is pavement really that great?
There’s nothing wrong with wanting your large plot of land upon which to build your home. There’s nothing wrong with wanting some physical separation between your work life and your home life, but when that separation has to be so large as to cram 192 buses per hour along Scott St., a street that is completely lacking the infrastructure for such a traffic load, then something is clearly wrong with the priorities of our community.
This is why the Complete Streets initiative and mix-use development are so important. It releases the congestion of our roads. Even if commuting persists, we can hope to reduce the length and duration of those commutes. It’s sound environmentally and economically, and it will benefit our spirit of community. As our streets become more walkable, more livable, more useful, we will spend less time in our cars and more times living in community.
One bus every 19 seconds is just too many.