Early Ottawa Man And The Late LRT

Nothing screams fresh air, brisk wind and sunshine in January in Ottawa like a jaunty walk to a light-rail station for your two commutes a day.

You know, that bracing breeze cascading down the length of the Ottawa River from Kanata is breath-taking. People who’ve trudged to Bayview station know the joy of it all.

And that’s why our genius light-rail designers decided to leave the New Orchard station, currently under construction, open to the elements despite all the rest of the line in the area being constructed underground. The LRT gurus wanted fresh-air circulation and sunshine for its joyful and thankful patrons. In that area many, if not most people in what might be the demographically oldest area in Canada, are seniors who are especially keen on cold weather.

Ottawa’s light rail is pretty much been a disaster from beginning to end … presuming the construction does end. And one of the greatest omissions was not heating the stations. Oh yes, be inspired by the jaw-dropping architectural beauty of our light-rail stations. The designers wanted to build an award-winning LRT line (the awards for themselves on your dollar) so they built monuments to their intellectual greatness. But damn it, heaters don’t win awards for municipal officials so let the patrons freeze.

In the early days of the LRT fiasco, the trains didn’t run so people, once they were through marvelling at the stunning architecture of the Tunney’s Pasture station, had to walk downtown. No doubt many of them welcomed the opportunity to be agog at the beauty of the Tunney’s edifice as they trudged to their jobs, exhausted and late. Had the train worked, well that would have been a bonus.

Which brings us to the New Orchard station. It is toward the end of the long cut-and-cover from the present-day Dominion Station to Lincoln Fields. It would have been no big whup to continue the cut-and-cover over the New Orchard station. But that would interfere with the enticing and subtle beauty of the hole in the ground. A cover might have protected the line from ice, snow, why even lightening that has felled our trusty LRT. It might have kept the clients (and our “clients” are the first concern of OC Transpo) slightly warmer in the winter or cooler in the summer and drier in both seasons because precipitation rarely falls straight down. Why the tracks could have been clear of snow like other stations down the line a tad which have a cover. The architectural ingenuity of that wobbles the mind.

This is not the only design wonk that punctuates the late under-construction line going west and south. Motorists, driving the only reliable method of transit in Ottawa … the car on Carling Avenue, might have noticed that two stations stand side-by-side at Lincoln Fields. There is the always reliable and venerable Lincoln Fields Transitway station and right beside it, the under-construction Lincoln Fields LRT station. The Transitway station appears to be working reliably but the LRT station doesn’t work yet … on the far-behind western extension of light rail.

Particularly galling were the recent words of our former municipal great helmsman Jim Watson who explained that each one of those new stations is a massive construction job unto itself so sure LRT takes some time. What he missed was that the Transitway stations and its bus roadbed were designed to be quickly converted to light rail. But Bob’s your uncle, there’s a new roadbed and a new station right beside the old roadbed and functional station. Keep those awards coming in. Possibly a cost-saving there your ex-mayorship? Maybe some cash available for extending the line to Kanata and Barrhaven before we are all dead?

But the ex-mayor always has an answer. It might not be right but fake it anyway. Had Watson been in charge of building the caveman’s first stone wheel, we would be still dragging our luggage on two sticks behind us.

So enjoy the weather at New Orchard station light-rail peasants. Wonder at the design. Break out some awards. Let’s hope the city finishes it before light rail is obsolete.

Ken Gray


stone and stone wheel


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