Re-imaging Bank Street as a transit hub

I’m looking for a dare-to-be-great situation.


Transit talk is picking up in the city, and this is very much a good thing. There are a number of unwise decisions being made that will hinder ridership and hurt the potential success of LRT.

Recently, there’s been the issue of the number 12 and how the route was cut so that it would only get residents from Vanier as far as the Rideau Centre–expecting them to transfer to LRT if they wanted to actually get the next few blocks into the core. It was a rather incredibly bad plan.

Now, the plan’s been changed. The 12 will get riders all the way to Metcalfe before ditching them and turning around. So if you want to get to, say, Kent Street, you’ve still got a few blocks to hike–and if the weather’s bad, or if you’re lugging something or, heaven forbid, you have the gall to have a mobility issue…well, too bad.

This got me to thinking about how the buses are moving around downtown. Yes, with LRT we’re trying to get as many buses off the streets as possible, but there’s still going to be a need for local, urban mobility that LRT can’t provide. So there are still going to be buses. Maybe the 12 can’t cross the city like its predecessor, the 2. And maybe east-west buses need hit the core then turn around, forcing people to transfer and wait a bit. Okay, I get that. But I think we can still bring a better, more complete vision of what transit should look like in the old city.

And that got me thinking of Bank Street…and what if we turned Bank Street into a real, true transit hub?

Here’s how we do this: first of all, we understand that routes like the 6 and the 7 will still be going north-south along Bank, and beyond, just as they are now. But the local east-west routes, like the 12 or the 11, could get you all the way to Bank Street, maybe go down it a few blocks before turning around to start its return route.

To do this, we’d have to get rid of cars. No more cars on that stretch of Bank Street, at all.

Now, to be clear, I’m not talking Bus Rapid Transit. I’m not talking about a new Transitway. Bank Street would still be the city’s main street. It’d still be alive with businesses and residences and restaurants and people. Buses wouldn’t be allowed to zip along at 50 or 80 km/h; they’d need to adhere to the 40 km/h speed limit (or, better yet, 30).

(This is something similar to Toronto’s King Street pilot, except they actually allow cars on King Street.)

The main driving lanes would be turned over to buses, with the extra space being allotted to bicyclists, pedestrians and maybe some patios. Pedestrians would be able to cross at every block, and maybe we could put in some raised crosswalks or intersections. Keeping the road narrow and allowing for ample crossings would help ensure speeding is kept to a minimum.

This wouldn’t really be feasible for all of Bank Street, but (at least to start), we could implement it from Wellington to Somerset. Hell, there are a ton of turning restrictions along many of those blocks, so it’s not as radical a change as it might seem. We could take it all the way to the Queensway, but eventually, there are going to be cars and drivers–and as much as I’d like to extend it through the Glebe, I don’t think cutting off Lansdowne from driving (except along Queen Elizabeth) is do-able…just yet.

This would make for a radical shift along Bank Street, currently absurdly categorized as an “arterial mainstreet”. Much of Bank would still be an arterial, but once you get closer to more urbanized areas, that would slowly subside. No longer would it be the means to blow through Old Ottawa South and the Glebe to get downtown. We could make those stretches of Bank far more welcoming and hospitable. We could reduce traffic, as less would be coming from the north, and that coming from the south would be disinclined to use Bank because they couldn’t get all the way downtown.

We could also throw in a park-n-ride at Billings Bridge to let people easily connect with the downtown transit hub (or those who park for free at City Hall could pop over to Bank for quick and easy access to neighbourhoods and events to the south).

Further, we could implement a fare-free zone. I’ve mentioned before (somewhere) that it’d be worth considering making buses free on Bank Street from downtown to Billings Bridge, since traffic is getting quite bad along Bank. This would encourage more transit and make Lansdowne more successful (a problem the city and OSEG would surely like to address).

(It’d also be neat to incorporate street cars, reviving a glorious remnant from Ottawa’s past, but there’d be issues with bicyclists crossing tracks, and the buses need to get onto other streets, so that’s probably less feasible.)

Now, there are some issues. What about deliveries? Well, there are still all the cross-streets, and we could create space for unloading on them (and there’s no reason a truck has to be right outside the store…that’s not what happens in malls, and they still get stock). Or we could do like Sparks Street and allow limited delivery times, at certain specific spots. Now, this could occasionally slow buses a tad, but it’ll just take a bit of imagination and some patience to get around.

There are also possible accessibility concerns. If we feel there are people who must drive because they can’t physically take the bus or ParaTranspo (by the way, we should make ParaTranspo suck less), well, maybe we allow for taxis to have access. Or, better yet, we can put in on-street parking on the cross-streets at every intersection and make them all accessible parking spots. Our current set-up doesn’t guarantee a parking spot nearby for those who need one (it could be blocks away); this might actually improve access for those with mobility issues.

And then there are issues with the alternate routes. This is going to result in more people taking Bronson or the Driveway, no doubt. Well, we could certainly do something to make Bronson less of a freeway, encouraging more people to switch to transit. And the NCC has already thrown in on the side of urban freeways, so they can just fucking deal with people driving. If they don’t like it, get rid of the damn QEW and fix our access to the canal.

Now, there’ll be a whole lot of reasons why we can’t do this. People might complain about cost. They might complain about access. Or, more likely, they’ll just say we can’t do that. It’s too big a change and it won’t work in Ottawa.

My friend Alex has been tweeting about what we could possibly do in Ottawa and what’s stopping us. For the most part, the only thing stopping us is will. We could build more light rail, if we had the will. We could improve transit, if we had the will. We could create more crossings over the river, if we had the will.

I’m tired of politicians and community leaders and pundits and bureaucrats telling us we can’t do these things just…because. I want leaders who are willing to lead. I want politicians who have a vision. I want people running this city with the imagination and drive to see what we could be and find a way to get us their.

I want a council looking for dare-to-be-great situations.

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