Getting back to Aylmer, since there are only three corridors possible to Ottawa, that gives us three options: rapid transit on Des Allumettières in the north, Chemin d’Aylmer in the middle and Lucerne along the river to the south.
Lucerne and Des Allumettières both have the same problem of much of their ridership areas being unbuilt, unbuildable or, in Lucerne’s case, underwater. Des Allumettières has the additional problem of encouraging development in the north of Aylmer instead of encouraging densification where it’s needed. I therefore conclude that Chemin d’Aylmer is currently the only desirable route for any transit: it passes through the heart of Aylmer, where density is existent and desirable, cultural institutions can be found and where the tight grid of streets is already made to accommodate transit and walking as opposed to the windy spaghetti streets of the new neighbourhoods to the north and south-east.
So, here is what I propose (click to enlarge)
Line – Red: Mixed with Traffic (with signal priority), Blue: Right-of-Way, Orange: Mixed with pedestrian traffic
Stations – Green: Park-and-Ride, Bold: Interior shelter or station (heated, cooled)
Coloured circles – 500 metre radius around the stations.
This is my proposition for a tramway line from Aylmer to Ottawa. There are five elements in particular I’d like to explain:
- The Tracks and the Trains
- The Station types
- The RoW
- The Bank st. Bridge
- What’s next
1. The Tracks and the Trains
Installing Tramway tracks has traditionally been a costly business – you have to first dig up the entire street, displace the sewers and pipes and wires, place a foundation, put the long rails on and then repave the street. However, a new type of tramway tracks, LR55, by integrating just the grooved part of the rail into concrete foundations which can be laid in the pavement of the street, removes the need to displace underground utilities which eliminates the need to dig up the street to save a lot of money, time and grief. At an installation rate of about 200 m per day (16h), the entire 16 km of track could be laid in three months, whereas traditional track-laying techniques would require more than a year and a half. That’s a lot of labour costs saved and much less disruption for the businesses along the affected streets.
The model of train is a detail to me, but one thing is important – low floor trams. Not only do they provide better accessibility for people with strollers or restricted mobility, but it just looks a hell’a’va lot better on a street when you don’t see the entire propulsion system of the train and it makes stations a lot easier to build when the only have to be 25cm from the ground.
2. The Station Types
As far as tram/LRT stations go, there are two big categories: at-grade and grade-separated. In my proposal, all but the Maison du Citoyen stations would be at-grade. The previously mentioned stop would be on the beginning of the bridge and would be placed about a storey above Laurier. But I digress.
The at-grade category has three types: centre platform, side platform or ‘other’. The centre platform stations have the benefit of being smaller and cheaper as well as being an efficient type for stations that have an almost uni-directional flow (like the Cormier or Des Allumettières stations). However, they’re ill-advised for busy stations in busy areas since you often need to have people cross the tracks to get to the centre platform which leads to a risk of someone being in the path of a train when there’s a lot going on (don’t worry though – when coming in to a station, trains are never going fast enough to seriously injure). I’d recommend centre-platform stations for the ROW stations that don’t have large numbers of people getting on or off like at UQO.
Side-platform stations are handy on the street since the stations can be permeable (people can pass through like a bus stop on a sidewalk) and therefore take up less dedicated space. It can also handle more people getting on and off quickly if the sidewalks are wide (like on Sparks st or Rideau). However, you need to put infrastructure (shelters, maps, benches…) on both sides, which costs a bit more. I’d recommend side-platform stations for the busiest stops as well as the stops in shared traffic areas like Downtown or in Aylmer.
Some features that a successful system would require in the stations are maps, ‘Next Train’ screens, Shelters designed with the surroundings for passive heating and cooling in addition to closed and heated/cooled shelters at some of the stops and lots of places to sit.
3. The RoW
A lot of the proposed route is RoW (i.e separate), not because I don’t want the trams to interfere with traffic, but I don’t want traffic to interfere with the trams. in the shared traffic areas, there’s relatively little vehicular traffic, so the tram can comfortably run. But the root cause of traffic is a too great number of vehicles, and not even prioritized signals could guarantee the trams a comfortable ride on Chemin d’Aylmer. That’s also why I don’t want to run the line along Alexandre-Taché: not only is there too much traffic, but there’s too little space for ROW, let alone stations. Instead, I’d want it to run along the former Aylmer railway from Val-Tétreau to Terraces de la Chaudière (much of that railroad still exists) behind the Université de Québec en Outaouais (UQO). The other ROW area, on Des Allumettières is ROW just because there’s plenty of space in the median. No other reason, really.
The ROW I propose along Chemin d’Aylmer would take up two lanes of traffic (leaving enough space for a Bike/Pedestrian multi-usage path (MUP) along the line). Now I know that many people might be scratching their heads wondering how on earth removing lanes of traffic can possibly relieve it from congestion, but, as stated in part I, the maximum capacity of a tramway track in one direction is eight times greater than that of a highway lane, let alone a lane of a road. I propose removing what are currently the Aylmer-bound traffic lanes and turning the two remaining lanes into a two-way road like Chemin d’Aylmer was for so many years. Since tramway lanes take up less space than that needed for a car lane, the extra space can be devoted to a MUP, something currently missing from the corridor and in high demand from cycling commuters tired of having to make a 3-km detour to get to work on their own two wheels. Landscaping can also play an important role in returning Chemin d’Aylmer back to the pastural image the city seems so keen on promoting with faux-stone on every neighbouring building (it ain’t pretty). The reason I recommend the Aylmer-bound lanes is because there’s a good deal of traffic from both directions towards the Champlain Bridge (southbound) and, in the spirit of wanting to assure a rapid ride and freedom from traffic, I think it’d be best to have it bypass that intersection to the north. It’s either that or an overpass or underpass, two rather expensive things that would be very restricted by the NCC which owns the adjacent lands. The only major level crossings in the path would be Wilfred-Lavigne, Vanier and Saint-Raymond, all of which could simply be fitted out with priority signals and/or crossing arms so the trains wouldn’t even need to slow down. The tracks would also have to cross Alexandre Taché at the western edge of Val-Tétreau and again to cross towards the Terraces de la Chaudière, so traffic lights or a traditional Railroad crossing there too.
A little note on the intersections: for the RoW areas, since the trains will be going faster, I’d recommend crossing arms when trams pass. For the shared areas, I think that small mounted lights would be enough such as this one in Manchester.
Driveways, and there are about 15 of them, pose a bigger challenge. They should be rerouted if possible and perhaps the MUP could double as a ‘front alleyway’ to eliminate the need for driveways to cross the tracks. If they do, they should also have small mounted warning lights installed. But alas, an issue to resolve.
4. Bank Street Bridge
The new bridge is important because it lets the line serve both downtown Hull and Ottawa directly. The only alternatives are the Prince-or-Wales RR bridge completely outside of both downtowns, the Alexandra Bridge, which would be very difficult to direct downtown because of both the NCC and the American Embassy. Alternatively, there could be a tunnel, but it would have to be very deep and, more importantly, very expensive. Plus, the bridge would definitively have to also incorporate bicycle and pedestrian paths, greatly improving the woefully deficient pedestrian integration of the two downtowns. To reduce costs and to make it more pleasant for other forms of transportation, I recommend not having any automobile traffic, though perhaps buses could pass along with the tramway.
The bridge would begin at the top of the Hôtel-de-ville street in Gatineau before it slopes down towards Laurier. The bridge is almost completely flat, passing beside the raised plaza at the Gatineau City Hall, over Laurier and would end just before Bank st. and Wellington. The Krüger factory, which is set to be demolished anyway, would have to be removed. There are two notable features of the bridge: the pedestrian accesses from Laurier and the Gatineau riverfront as well as the Maison-Du-Citoyen station: the station would serve City Hall and the Museum of Civilization (Harper can call it what he likes, but it’ll always be the Museum of Civilization to me!) and would be located on the bridge just after the Laurier overpass towards the river. It would be the only elevated station on the whole line and you may as well make it special: have it covered and interior and put a big emphasis on the views of downtown which you can get from there (it’s quite breathtaking). It has to be able to accommodate a lot of people and a high frequency of trains since I see a whole network of these trams throughout Gatineau and I’d expect most lines would pass through that station at frequencies as high as a tram a minute per direction for all lines combined).
It will be an exciting design opportunity and I suspect this part could be open to international architectural competition for the best design, though the NCC will certainly have something to say about this.
5. What’s next
Though I’ve focused only on the Aylmer line, I can see a whole network of trams in Gatineau: one to the Plateau, one through Hull to the CÉGEP, one along Gréber and Vérendrye, another along the future Rapibus (urgh) and even some ‘Stadtbahn’-style commuter trams to places such as Wakefield and Chelsea, Buckingham and Papineauville.
Maybe someday, It’ll look a little more like this:
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
To conclude a very long post, this is would be a fist step towards a better connected future. I believe that we can do this inexpensively thanks to new technologies like the LR55 track and that, thanks to the attractiveness of rail, it will pay itself off and then some. Aylmer is the right candidate for a first corridor because we need one: there is no way Aylmer can keep growing with such limited connections and such a growing strain on our roads. The way I see it, this is a short- and long-term solution and opportunity for a new, exciting chapter in Gatineau: doing things right.