Aylmer, as it has already been established, is a town of commuters. What hasn’t been established, is that it is a town in itself and what implications that has for mobility.
This whole thing can really be attributed to golf. The popular pastime, as you know, requires a great deal of space to be enjoyed and space is sometimes hard to find in a city, which is why golf clubs are almost always found either in the country or in tacky suburban areas where people pay some sort of premium for the privilege of running the risk of losing a window to a golf ball. I’m certain I’ll rant about that some other time, but this isn’t the place. When the rich Ottawans started demanding golf courses, they set up shop in what was once the absolute middle of nowhere, in between Aylmer and Hull.
The implications of this, according to me, were good in some ways and bad in others.
Firstly, the ‘golf-belt’ (if you will) altered the pattern of development of both RoG (Rest of Gatineau) and Aylmer in that Hull couldn’t extend west towards Aylmer because of the golf courses (and so took all the nastiness to unsuspecting Gatineau) and Aylmer, since it wasn’t integratable with Hull’s urban fabric, grew around itself. In other words, the ‘rings’ of development usually centred around a metropolitan area as the suburbs extended out through the decades are centred around Aylmer in Aylmer. So, a trip from the western edge of Gatineau through Aylmer and towards Ottawa would look something like this:
Country-Suburb-Urban-Suburb-Country (golf) -Suburb-Urban-Downtown.
Since the golf courses forced Aylmer to evolve organically around Aylmer, it strengthened the heart of the town. That means that it would still be correct to say that Aylmer is a distinct town within amalgamated Gatineau, something that couldn’t be said of Pointe-Gatineau, Templeton, or any other towns that have been swallowed up by rampant development.
The second implication of this is that Aylmer is not very accessible. There are about three roads one can take to get to Ottawa, discounting the two rural roads that aren’t used as commuter thoroughfares. That means that all the traffic is concentrated along the three streets that are: Lucerne, Chemin d’Aylmer (often referred to as lower and upper Aylmer road respectively) and Des Allumettières.
Since Aylmer consistently tops the fastest-growing district lists in Gatineau, this is becoming and will become an even bigger problem: how to get people from home to wherever they need to go, often outside of Aylmer. With such limited possible road capacity and such rapid growth, there are two solutions which would work best in tandem.
- Reduce the need for commuting to Ottawa by bringing in more of the jobs that most Aylmerites already occupy (medium-to-high-paying government jobs)
- Build rapid transit to Ottawa and Gatineau.
Number one is pretty straightforward, but, as I explained in the previous post, the jobs need to be in the middle of Aylmer to strengthen its core and not be on the peripheries in an office park-style way.
The second is more exciting and is the heart of this post. Since Aylmer is connected by three paths and there isn’t the possibility of creating any more (nor, in my opinion, would that be desirable), we have to augment the capacity of the ones we have. Building more lanes is a completely self-defeating strategy since, time and time again, it’s been shown that more lanes encourage driving which just causes more traffic on more pavement. I humbly suggest a more sustainable method of reducing traffic by reducing the total number of vehicles (the only way to do it). You know what I’m talking about and the venom of the word is probably already making you cringe: PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION.
For most of us, that means buses. Everyone hates buses, but no one really knows why: they’re clean, relatively quiet, modern… But it’s a social thing that we just don’t like them.
Tramway, Trolley, Streetcar, Tram… These seem to be like a sweet whisper, don’t they? Who in their right mind would chose a Bus over a Tramway? Who indeed! Studies consistently show that rail transportation, even when mixed in traffic and following the exact same route as a bus, will attract several times the number of people than its rubber-tyred counterpart. People will even walk further: In a US study, it shows that most people (50%) are willing to walk no more than 150m for a bus, but will do almost half a kilometer on foot for rail transportation before taking alternative modes (local bus, bike, car…) .
Now, the real question is “Who will leave their car at home to take the bus to work?” Few. But when asked, “Who will leave their car at home to take the tram?” ,the response is very positive. We all know someone it Toronto or Montreal who cringes at the prospect of getting on a bus, but takes the streetcar or metro everyday and can’t get enough of it. I even know someone who, instead of taking a direct door-to-door bus to get to Carleton University, will take extra transfers and waiting time to take the O-Train and to get there in the same amount of time it takes the bus.
There are plenty of real-world examples of this: In 1967, when the Ardmore tram line was converted to bus, “(it) resulted in an almost immediate 15 percent loss of ridership”. Or when, in the Virginia suburb of Washington DC, Springfield, received MetroRail commuter train service, not only did the reserved busway, line 18, whose ridership had been struggling to stay above 2500 trips per day, drop even more, but the train service attracted over 13 000 rides ‘a day from Springfield despite a higher fare and equal travel times. Even assuming that every bus patron started to take the train, it means that more that more than ten thousand trips that were previously made by car were then made by rail.
So I think it’s safe to say that rail has a much better rate of attraction than the bus, even reserved busways. That is not to say that tramways are inherently more efficient or faster or anything-er than buses (except for providing a smother ride. That’s been proven). A tramway in a busy street is just as slow and unreliable as a bus, which is why we need to prioritize a system that prioritizes the tram through strategies such as separated Right-of-Way (RoW) lanes and signal prioritization where such space isn’t available. See my plan in part II for my proposal.
INTERESTING TIDBIT! Did you know that, at maximum headway, one tramway line can transport more people per hour than a 16-lane highway?
I conclude this part by saying that it is a fact that Aylmer needs a bigger capacity to move people in and out now and in the future and, short of building a highway (which is doomed to encouraging more vehicles and therefor more traffic as we’ve seen with Des Allumettières), the only viable option is better transit and the only mode which can attract enough people to take care of current and future congestion issues (among other things) is a tramway.
See my next part where I’ll detail my plan for a future system on rails.