Let’s get light rail right

“Light rail is coming to Ottawa.”

This is something Ottawans have been hearing for years. After debates, discussions and delays, a plan for light rail transit (LRT) has taken shape: LRT will arrive in two stages, with the first scheduled to come online in April 2019 and the second arriving sometime in 2023.

The politicians tell us that LRT will be a game-changer for the city. We’ve been told that LRT will relieve congestion in our over-stretched Transitway system, dramatically curb climate emissions from transportation, and alter the very fabric of our city as dense, walkable communities are put in next to LRT hubs.

Yet for all that we’ve been told, there are often important pieces missing. For example, deadlines have been pushed back repeatedly, with council and the public only finding out on extremely short notice. Stage 1, once destined to roll out in 2017, has been pushed back repeatedly and is now destined for an April 2019 release. The implications of Stage 1’s many delays on the timing of Stage 2 remain unclear.

And then there are monitoring and inspection reports covering a wide range of economic, safety, operational and engineering items. The City of Ottawa has been highly secretive with this information, leading some local researchers to doggedly pursue answers with access to information requests in order to bring them to light.

From an environmental perspective, the challenge is clear: there remains no clear, systematic reporting regimen set up to account for, or monitor, the project’s impacts on Ottawa’s environment, whether through climate impacts, energy usage or impacts on urban form.

This is where you come in. The time has come to raise public awareness and engagement in a vibrant and ongoing discussion over the environmental outcomes of LRT. We can also have a frank public dialogue about alternative options – whether in the form of different routes or alternative approaches to design.

It’s time for an Ottawa LRT monitoring matrix – a citizen-led tool to track LRT’s interactions with Ottawa’s environment. It is critical that the LRT network incorporates the highest environmental standards into the planning of stations, routes, and surrounding development while also considering broader factors such as affordability and health and safety. At the same time, purely environmental factors do not exist in isolation; we must think holistically about what LRT means for the future of the city, and in doing so we must consider factors such as information transparency and social outcomes.

Ecology Ottawa is reaching out to individuals and organizations who are actively interested in the future of LRT, or have subject matter expertise in relevant areas to design a comprehensive monitoring matrix. The list of partners, along with a link to the matrix, will be updated on this page as time goes on.

A comprehensive monitoring matrix could include environmental considerations such as:

  • Active transportation connectivity to light rail;
  • Active transportation infrastructure at stations (e.g., bike parking);
  • Transit connectivity to light rail;
  • Access to parks and green space at or within range of stations;
  • The use of energy, including the use of renewable energy, at stations;

The matrix could also examine factors that have deep environmental implications but are not primarily environmental in nature, such as:

  • Transparency of projects;
  • Affordability of housing within range of stations;
  • Impacts of light rail on surrounding communities;
  • Impacts of light rail on local walkability and traditional active transportation connection points; and
  • Health and safety implications for light rail users.

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