Local residents and businesses remain hopeful despite initial hiccups
By Anita Grace
It opened with much fanfare in September but had a tumultuous first week of full service in October. The Confederation Line of Ottawa’s Light Rail Train (LRT) has certainly attracted a lot of attention, both positive and negative. As November rolls around and the novelty begins to wear off, how are Kitchissippi residents adjusting to the changes?
For many locals, the LRT has improved their commute to work, despite the initial troubles. For example, as a professor at University of Ottawa, Wellington West resident Chris Huggins is happy with the new system and grateful that there is a station right on campus.
“It’s so fast and convenient,” he said. “I’ve only had good experiences with it.” He added that he enjoys the contemporary design of the new stations.
Another Wellington West resident, Kim Louttit, said the train has speeded her commute to Vanier. What used to be an hour in transit is now 40 minutes.
And for Laird Hindle, the LRT has shaved about 15 minutes off his daily trip from Westboro to Sussex Drive.
“Now the commute seems more reasonable,” he said, and noted that he is taking his car to work less frequently. “Generally, I’m happy with it. It’s the way I choose to get to work.”
But Hindle’s husband, Derek Lam, has the opposite experience. Like many people whose route to work does not line up with the LRT stations and new bus lines, Lam’s commute has become longer. It used to take him about 40 minutes to get from home to work in Gatineau, but now his commute is an hour long and he has switch from bus, to train, to bus, to another bus.
“It really doesn’t benefit me,” he said.
Clearly not everyone benefits from the new transit system, and residents point out that several issues still need to be addressed, such as controlling access to the platforms when things go wrong and improving pedestrian pathways.
But people like Wellington West resident Chris Henschel remain hopeful that the system will continue to improve.
“I see so much positive movement in Ottawa,” he said, pointing not only to the LRT, but improvements to bike infrastructure as well. “Ottawa has finally become a modern city.”
Kitchissipppi Councillor Jeff Leiper said he is reserving judgement on the LRT as OC Transpo continues to make adjustments.
“It’s still the early days,” he said. “I see a lot of things to be encouraged about.”
He noted that improvements are being made, and things are flowing more smoothly as commuters get used to the new system and the busy hub of Tunney’s Pasture.
Some residents are noticing changes from the new transit system even if they are not actually riding the train.
Marg Nelson drives from her home in Westboro to a downtown curling club each Friday morning.
“This year there is a visible difference in traffic with most of the buses gone after the Tunney’s Pasture O-Train station,” she said, adding that the change has cut her travel time in half.
At the Wellington West BIA, Dennis Van Staalduinen said the LRT is bringing new customers and opportunities to businesses in the area.
“We definitely see it as an opportunity for us,” he said. “It’s going to bring Wellington West much more into the downtown core, make us much more urban.”
Although residents may be settling into a new routine with the LRT, there are still many changes ahead. Kitchissippi Ward will see four more LRT stations in addition the current ones at Bayview and Tunney’s Pasture: Westboro, Dominion, Cleary and Gladstone.
Construction is already underway for Stage 2, particularly where the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway has to be rerouted. Trees are also coming down around Westboro Beach, along the Parkway and at the future sight of the Cleary Station in the Byron Linear Park. The city has promised to plant two trees for every one that is removed, but Leiper notes that replanting will not start until the extended line is complete.
Once the Parkway is realigned, work will begin for the trench that will take the train underground west of Dominion. The cut and cover construction activity between New Orchard and Harcourt Avenue will begin March 2020, and in August it will begin around Cleary station. Construction of Cleary station itself is slated for 2022.
“It’s a big construction project,” said Leiper of Stage 2, noting that it will span several years. There is lots of time for lessons to be learned and the system to be improved.