Alta-Vista Transportation Corridor Environmental Assessment,
Second Update for the Greenspace Alliance 10th April 2003

In the previous update (October 2002), the point had been reached where all members of the Technical Advisory and Public Advisory Committees (TAC, PAC), had submitted their weightings for the 26 evaluation criteria as percentages to the consultant. In November 2002 there was a presentation by the consultant DELCAN to the City Council Transportation and Transit Committee to provide the members with a progress report and to receive what might be termed any "mid-course corrections" for the future conduct of the study.

The meeting was open to the public and anyone who wanted to speak was permitted five minutes to address the committee. There were forty-five people who took advantage of that, including me. I made the case (as I had done earlier in a Citizen article), that the only sensible solution for the corridor was light rail with electric traction, coordinated with the master transportation plan.

The results of this exercise were as follows:

1 A motion was passed which directed that only the recommendation of the E.A. dealing with the transportation problem around the Ottawa Hospital be implemented and that money for only that segment be set aside. This is really code for creating a link between the Hospital and Riverside Drive with either dedicated transit, or a combination of transit and vehicular traffic.

2 A motion was passed directing that the E.A. include an investigation into the possibility of estimating air quality costs to human health of each of the various options and make such data available to the public. This investigation has now been done and the conclusion is that while it is very difficult because of the number of factors involved, nevertheless an attempt will be made to quantify the cost, based on a modified model widely used in this field.

When the AVTC E.A. was originally approved in 2000, there was a requirement to look at rapid transit as a solution for the whole Southeast Sector and the role of the AVTC in such a solution. I believe Rapid Transit is defined as a separate right-of-way for transit (bus or light rail), as opposed to mixing it up with other traffic. A separate study has been underway since then to address that issue and the report, entitled "Alta Vista Transportation Corridor - Evaluation of Transit Alternatives", was tabled at the April 1st meeting of the PAC.

Unfortunately, this whole study has started to be overtaken by events from the very beginning. Since 2000, there has been a Rapid Transit Expansion Study (RTES), which has now been completed and accepted by Council as the blue print for the network of bus and light rail transportation to deal with the city-wide growth out to 2021. This blue print includes comprehensive north-south transit routes, based on extensions of existing "O" train and OTC transitways. As a result, the secondary study pertaining to transit-only in the AVTC, boiled down to a decision on whether the north-south route offered by transit-only in this corridor, would be a better option than the one already included in the RTES.

It came as absolutely no surprise to me that the conclusion is that it would not be. The reasons advanced were that it would cost a great deal more per passenger than the solution included in the RTES, because of the much lower population density in the corridor. Transit-use projections used to justify the conclusions were based on peak afternoon traffic measurements. Objections to this line of argument were raised at the PAC meeting from those who maintained that the Ottawa Hospital involved a large number of shift workers that did not fit the peak travel hour pattern and that the dedicated rapid transit option should still be included in the main AVTC E.A. study.

It is crystal clear to me that this is simply not going to happen, meaning that the only options left are:

  1. Do Nothing
  2. Roadway with bus lanes and HOV lanes
  3. Road only

Furthermore there is another more ominous twist to the story and that is that the new Transportation Master Plan (TMP), has identified several corridors to accommodate the projected travel demand and increased road capacity, one of which is the AVTC. As far as I am concerned this makes the remainder of this study irrelevant, since it is perfectly obvious that realistically there can only be one outcome and that is option two above. For details see Figure 14.1 of the Transportation Master Plan under "Roads" by clicking on:

TMP Roads

It shows that the segment of the AVTC from "Nicholas to Smyth" is on the list of new roads for funding by 2008 .

It is worth while to examine just what influence the Public Advisory Committee has had so far in this process. The easy answer is "thirty percent", since the business of quantifying the criteria as percentages was done separately by three groups (of which the PAC was one), with a simple average of the three being used to arrive at the final percentage value for each of the 26 criteria.

The PAC consists of representatives from 29 groups, of which 17 represent community associations bordering the AVTC, and were the only PAC members asked to submit weightings. The numbers provided by each one of them were boiled down to a single figure for each of the criteria under the column "PAC". The second group was the Technical Advisory Group. It consists of one representative from the Rideau Conservation Authority, and eight from various city departments, including transit services, infrastructure services, development services and emergency services, for a total of nine votes. The third group is the consultant's team of experts. It is not known how many people are involved in assigning the weightings, but their results have equal weights with the other two groups.

The difference in priorities between the Public Advisory Committee and the two others, is underlined by a comparison of the weightings given to two criteria which are especially relevant to the road-versus-rapid-transit debate. As indicated above, the weightings for all the criteria were evaluated separately by the PAC, the TAC, and the Consultant Team. The percentages assigned for Air Quality and for Transit-based mobility are given below:

PAC TAC Consultant
Air Quality 10.49 2.432.80
Transit-based Mobility21.648.485.35

The PAC considers air quality to be about five times more important than the other two, while it is pretty clear that the consultant doesn't attach much value to transit-based mobility!

The message here is that the representatives of 17 community associations, representing perhaps 500 households each, the inhabitants of which will be breathing in any pollution generated by a road in the AVTC, take a very different view of the importance of these two criteria than city officials concerned with such matters as development services, or consultant experts on transportation infrastructure. Nevertheless the opinions of these people's representatives have only the same weight as a few city officials and members of the consultant's team.

I am not suggesting that this was ever portrayed as a truly democratic exercise, because for obvious reasons one cannot set city-wide transportation policy based entirely on local referenda. Nevertheless, we have here a situation where there is a huge diversion of views between the local stakeholders (residents adjacent to the corridor) and officialdom, essentially on the matter of road versus rapid transit. It is therefore doubly unfortunate that acceptance of the RTES has effectively pre-empted the rapid transit as an option in this study.

My personal view is that the influence of the PAC has been minimal at best up to this point, and now that the rapid transit option has been taken off the table, there is really nothing further of any import to discuss, apart from choosing between a road with or without bus lanes.