When I was moving to Ottawa, I asked a few folks that had previously lived in the city what it was like (since the first time I’d set foot in Ottawa would be when I made the big move). After the magnificent Parliament buildings and the Rideau Canal, a common source of pride was the Transitway, which is as close as Ottawa has gotten to a intracity train. It’s a dedicated roadway for transit buses and it mostly transports people East-West.
Having lived in Vancouver for many years, where there is a Skytrain (beautiful views from the elevated tracks outside of the downtown core, where there are tunnels) as well as near Tokyo, where the trains will take you near and far and most places in between, and having visited many a city where intracity travel is heavily facilitated by trains, it boggles my mind why Ottawa has not optimized their transit system by incorporating a rail system.
If you visit the downtown core of Ottawa or Tunney’s Pasture (federal government compound just west of downtown) during rush hour, you will likely see bus after bus after bus clogging the Transitway. It can take well over half an hour to traverse the six or so downtown blocks as a result. Why so many buses? Because there are many bus routes that rely on traveling the Transitway, not just a few dedicated Transitway buses; the latter would actually be one way of optimizing travel efficiency without building rail infrastructure.
In all fairness, when I moved to Ottawa and complained to colleagues about the lack of light rail trains (LRTs), I was informed that the city had actually had a contract to build a LRT system…but had walked away from it, ending up having to pay a penalty and leaving Ottawa with no LRT once again. The city has decided to incorporate a LRT system into its transit plan but the debate currently is the physical route for this system.
I’m not too familiar with the internal workings of the city here but I feel like Ottawa, as the nation’s capital, should be leading the rest of Canada by example through the embodiment of lifestyles and philosophies of Canada’s future…which I don’t feel like it currently is. It seems as though the city gets mired in poor contracts or procedures on big, very public projects (resulting in more negative press) and struggles with striking a balance between forward-thinking (thinking with a vision of the future 10-25 years from now) and conservatism (maintaining status quo).
Some folks call Ottawa a small town with a big city mentality while others would easily argue to reverse that order. Either way, I can’t wait until Ottawa builds its LRT line!