The AVTC Environmental Assessment.
Comments for consideration by the Ottawa City Transportation and Transit Committee
(Quentin Bristow 15th November 2002)

As a member of the E.A. Public Advisory Committee I have followed the process thus far with great interest. The ramifications and potential consequences of the various alternatives on offer have been vigorously debated in the media and elsewhere, and various special interest groups have now crystallised around them.

It is probably true that no other city of this size in Canada has the luxury of a wide green corridor crossing through it which is available for a major transportation infrastructure project, without having to resort to expropriation of property or demolition of existing roads or structures. It presents a golden opportunity to put in place a bold and comprehensive transportation solution which no other city has had for many decades. We must not blow it.

The case for "light-rail-only" has been made by many people - me included, because it is surely clear by now that with a projected 400,000 extra people by 2021, (and the similar number of vehicles they will bring with them), mass transit in some form or other is the only viable alternative for this corridor. If a road for cars is included, then it will inevitably be widened and any initial restrictions on truck traffic and the number of access points, will also eventually be removed, until we have a major transportation artery comparable with St. Laurent Blvd, and soaring pollution levels within the city boundary.

Diesel Pollution - a Cautionary Tale
We have a considerable investment in the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), with its dedicated transitways and more recently the O-Train. Unfortunately all of these run on diesel fuel, which generates significantly more (and more noxious) pollution, than gasoline. It also tends to generate particulates if engines are not properly maintained. Prime examples are the jet-black mini-mushroom clouds emitted by cement trucks as they change gears getting away from traffic lights.

There is a tendency to think that atmospheric pollution is something fairly abstract, rather like war in a far-away land and dry statistics tend to make people's eyes glaze over. After all, no one is going to die from it are they? Well - thereby hangs a tail.

Pollution in the London area of the U.K. was pretty appalling in the early fifties. On December 4th 1952 there was a freak temperature inversion combined with a traditional ‘pea-soup' fog. The zillions of tons of particulate matter that was spewed out daily by coal-fired residences and industry, was trapped below 200 metres above ground. It combined with the fog to form a lethal cocktail of acidic aerosols which enveloped everything and reduced visibility in some parts to practically nothing. This daily discharge continued to accumulate over the next four days, during which time the normal average death rate of 135 a day (from all causes), peaked up to 900 a day.

When it was all over, it was estimated that between two and three thousand people had died as a direct result of the fog. It was thought that a contributing factor was the recently completed replacement of the old electric trams and trolley buses in the London area by diesel buses.

A dry statistic to you - but as a student commuting into central London at the time, it was a four-day experience which I will never forget. We had got used to washing the grime from our detachable plastic collars under the tap each night, but we had never encountered anything as threatening as that blinding choking acidic fog.

I am not suggesting that we are in imminent danger of anything like that here, but nonetheless the invisible pollutants churned out from hundreds of thousands of vehicle exhaust pipes idling in rush-hour gridlock throughout the city, can raise the atmospheric concentrations of some pretty nasty pollutants to alarming levels in a short time under the right conditions. It is something which we ignore at our peril.

The way to avoid this in my view is to have mass transit with electric traction. This pushes the pollution problem back to the electricity generating stations, where it can be tackled with large scale environmental scrubbing technology which is not possible for individual vehicles. This would mean for example converting existing diesel buses on the major routes to electric buses (the ideal solution), or hybrid gasoline/electric technology as a compromise. In the U.K. there is now a move afoot to re-introduce the all-electric trolley buses, for details go to:

Trolley buses U.K.

We can't stop at Nicholas Street or the Ottawa River The opportunity we have in this corridor for a really effective mass transit system - be it light rail or some other form, must be planned in concert with a link across the Ottawa River, as well as with the other elements of the Master Transportation Plan. There is a great deal of inter-provincial commuter traffic, as the large percentage of Quebec licence plates in the parking lots of the General Hospital every day clearly shows.

The Federal government has had an ongoing policy for many years of a 60/40 split of its employment between Ottawa and what is now Gatineau. It, together with the Quebec government therefore has a duty and a responsibility to become involved in the solution of the inter-provincial transportation problem which is a direct result of that policy.

Any mass transit system which has a level of service good enough to entice people out of their cars, cannot possibly be funded by the city alone. The other levels of government must come to the table - just as the whole nation paid for Montreal's Metro a generation ago in the heady euphoria of Expo ‘67.

The need for an immediate solution for the Smyth Road/Alta Vista Drive traffic problem The failing intersections and general congestion around the intersection of Smyth Road and Alta Vista Drive, is a direct result of the actions of previous civic administrations in allowing untrammelled commercial and residential development in and around the General Hospital complex, without ensuring that the transportation infrastructure was in place to cope with the additional traffic which it generated.

We know that the National Defence Medical Centre (NDMC) lands owned by the federal government are soon to be declared ‘surplus to program requirements', at which time they will be handed over to the Canada Lands Corporation (a crown corporation), for disposal on the open market. This corporation has a mandate to maximise profits from these kinds of disposals and to return a portion of the proceeds to the Treasury.

We should pressure the federal government to retain these lands which comprise about 25 hectares (50 acres), until a permanent solution has been put in place to solve the transportation bottleneck which now exists. Failure to do so might mean that the equivalent of about a million square feet of office space could be available for development there in the next two or three years. The additional traffic from this, coupled with that from the soon to be completed Train Lands development, would be an absolute disaster for Faircrest Heights and the other communities in the area, and as far as I am concerned would be totally unacceptable.

I am aware that the impetus for this study in the first place was the need to provide a road from the General Hospital ring-road, through to Riverside Drive, and given the foregoing I fully support that initiative - provided that it does not foreclose on the option of a light rail solution for the entire corridor at some future time. I checked with the consultant Delcan and they advise that this would not be the case.

The power of the Road Lobby
This particular study, for a major corridor through the heart of the National Capital, is no doubt being watched closely by the well-connected and well-heeled Road Lobby. The current assumption seems to be that no matter what the study recommendations are, there will be no money for anything other than the small segment between the General Hospital and Riverside Drive.

If however the recommended solution involves a road of any kind for the full length of the corridor, albeit with parallel mass transit of some sort, then that lobby will move into high gear. Their argument will be that the continuing economic growth of Ontario depends heavily on annual increases in the sales of cars, SUVs, trucks, buses and auto parts, manufactured in places like Oshawa and Windsor, and that road construction jobs are also a part of the equation, all of which would be difficult to refute.

They will then maintain that provincial politicians have a duty and responsibility to ensure that all recommendations for roads stemming from E.A recommendations such as this one are promptly and adequately funded. Given this sort of pressure it would be no surprise to me if the necessary funds might then be forthcoming from the province a good deal sooner than we might like.

I am also concerned that even putting in the Hospital-Riverside Drive link, will provide ammunition for the Road Lobby, who will then argue that it would fly in the face of logic not to complete the route between Conroy Road and that link. For example, Councillor Deans has already referred to the AVTC as the ‘Conroy Road Extension' in an email to her constituents, inviting them to attend this meeting.