Ottawa has a reputation for being boring, unimaginative, and cautious. It is one of many planned capitals in the world, splitting the difference between more prominent economic centers (Montreal and Toronto) on either side of it, and this sense of being both deliberate and an afterthought suffuses the very air of this place. One does not get the sense that the people of Ottawa love or hate this place the way the people of Montreal and Toronto can love or hate their home. Rather, the pervasive sentiment of Ottawa is that we ended up here and, well, it’s nice enough, I suppose. This lackadaisical sort of affection synergizes unhelpfully with Ottawa’s status as an instinctively cautious but rapidly growing government town, preventing the kind of vision that gave Montreal, Toronto, and various world capitals such as Washington and Moscow their impressive passenger rail networks.
But what if Ottawa had such a vision?
I’m no city planner, and better amateurs than I have tried to imagine what Ottawa’s passenger rail could look like if this city and the National Capital Region around it had the imagination to pursue something truly wonderful. Adam Bentley’s concept takes its cues from other transit networks, proposing long, arcing paths that intermix north-south and east-west travel and thoroughly cover Ottawa in both rail lines and bus rapid-transit paths. His proposal predates the most recent changes to Ottawa’s transit system, the opening of the east-west Confederation rail line and the plans for second and third phases of same, and it is telling that many parts of these plans overlap at least partially with his. That overlap is conflicted enough that it’s clear Bentley’s concept is not the one Ottawa will pursue anytime, soon, which is a tragedy, but it leaves space for dilettantes like me to have a little fun. As a long-time user of Ottawa’s public transit system, I have thoughts.
So, here are my thoughts on Ottawa’s growing rail network.
The existing network’s deficiencies are many, given its newness, and almost all of them can be summarized as a dire shortage of east-west connectivity. Ottawa is sprawled out east-west against the southern bank of the Ottawa River and southward from there, and its east-west transit network is focused intensely on a single corridor near the river. Formerly, this was the shared Transitway and downtown path that numerous bus lines all traversed between separate eastern and western destinations, and much of this path is now the Confederation Line / Line 1 of Ottawa’s as-yet-tiny passenger rail network. Many paths between eastern and western destinations continue to involve traveling north to this line and then south again after departing from it, because no other east-west path of comparable scale or speed exists. Even other east-west paths often focus on funneling bus passengers toward this single corridor, contributing to—no, creating—the crowding and delays that currently plague Line 1 during peak commuting hours.
Additionally, the rail network is currently focused on the center of Ottawa, for obvious reasons. Expanding it farther into more outlying regions of Ottawa is critical to its purpose and to freedom of movement within Canada’s capital. The eastern neighborhood of Vanier, a Franco-Ontarian and lower-income stronghold within the capital region, is particularly poorly served, with Line 1 seeming to make a deliberate detour around it. That this line should go out of its way to connect to various shopping malls south of this neighborhood rather than easing the downtown commutes of its residents is a dubious proposition, but one that was settled into the line’s path long before the train was built, back when it was a bus corridor.
Let us imagine, then, that instead of taking a sharp turn south at Rideau Station, Line 1 continues east, passing through Vanier along Montreal Road toward Montreal Station. Let us further imagine that it continues along the current bus rapid-transit path from there to Trim Station, replacing the bus stations on that path with train stations. In the west, it follows the current proposed extension plans through northern Nepean all the way toward a proposed Palladium Station near the Canadian Tire Centre.
The disconnected piece of Line 1, containing uOttawa, Lees, Hurdman, Tremblay, St-Laurent, Cyrville, and Blair Stations, becomes part of two new routes. A new north-south route—let’s call it the Rideau Line—runs from Rideau Station to Leitrim Station, combining the stretch of what is now Line 1 between Rideau and Hurdman with the bus rapid transit path along the Rideau River south to Leitrim Station.
Two additional east-west routes add much-needed rail connectivity in central Ottawa:
One—let’s call it the Carling Line—primarily follows Carling Avenue, running from Lincoln Fields in the west, to Carling Station, through Ottawa’s much-loved Glebe neighborhood, north to the transit lynchpin Hurdman Station. Here, the Carling Line subsumes the existing line between Hurdman and Blair before serving the neighborhoods of southern Orleans and ending at Millennium Station. This provides a major boost to east-west connectivity in a region of Ottawa where it currently often makes more sense to travel north to access faster east-west routes before heading south again.
The second—the Algonquin Line—begins at Hawthorne in the southeast. It connects the Lorry Greenberg and Herongate neighborhoods to the network on its way to Heron and Mooney’s Bay Stations and then runs along Baseline Road to Baseline Station, crucially adding an east-west connection to Algonquin College (at Baseline Station). It continues into southern Kanata, ending near the existing termini of bus lines 61 and 62. In combination with the other routes, this adds northern and southern east-west rail lines to both Kanata and Orleans, vastly improving mass transit availability to two currently car-centric neighborhoods.
The north-south bus rapid-access corridor running south from Lincoln Fields Station becomes a train line (let’s call it the Woodroffe Line), following its existing path through Barrhaven and turning east to circle around to Riverview and Leitrim Stations. This replaces the existing proposal for a spur line from Line 1 connecting Iris and Baseline Stations. Most of this line’s stations are in Barrhaven, similar to the existing bus network, since the span between Baseline and Fallowfield stations is largely greenbelt but has the space and straightness required for aboveground rail.
In the center of the network, the existing Line 2 follows current expansion plans, adding stations at Gladstone, Walkley, and South Keys and extending toward the airport. Rather than reaching the airport as a spur line, this is its standard and only southernmost point.
The proposed new stations are nearly all in built-up areas away from existing bus rapid transit infrastructure that could be repurposed. Ottawa has dealt with this challenge before, with the stretch of the current Line 1 between Pimisi and uOttawa stations, and the solution in this proposal is no different: putting those stations and tracks underground. This preserves the residences and shops of Vanier, the tree-lined community center streets surrounding Lorry Greenberg, and more while also connecting them to the wider rail network. Most of the new western tracks and stations as well as the proposed Rideau Line are overlaid on existing bus rapid transit infrastructure and thus do not need to be underground but could be to maintain existing road capacity. In a few places, most notably around Carling, Heron, and Mooney’s Bay Stations, the proposed underground connections would require substantial refitting of the existing stations, comparable to and more involved than the previous rebuilding of Bayview Station to accommodate Line 1. Since we’re already dreaming here, let’s go ahead and imagine that all of the proposed routes and stations not based on existing bus equivalents go underground, whatever the cost. This brings Ottawa closer to the world-class subway system it ought to have built decades ago and which, as a national capital, it ought to have.
Listed out, this is the proposal, with each line presented west to east or north to south as appropriate. Stations in italics are part of existing proposals or bus rapid transit lines. Stations in bold do not yet exist as of this writing. Stations that are bolded but not italicized are my ideas, with their approximate location in parenthesis.
|West — East|
Line 1 Revised
|Palladium||Lincoln Fields||Stittsville (Stittsville / Hazeldean)|
|Terry Fox||Carlingwood (serving Carlingwood Mall)||Walter Baker (Terry Fox / Hazeldean)|
|Eagleson||Westgate (serving Westgate Mall)||Castlefrank (Castlefrank / Hazeldean)|
|Moodie||Civic (serving Civic Hospital)||Hazeldean (Eagleson / Hazeldean, serving Hazeldean Mall)|
|Bayshore||Carling||Bells Corners (Moodie / Hazeldean)|
|Pinecrest||Glebe (Glebe / Bronson)||Queensway Carleton (serving Queensway Carleton Hospital)|
|Lincoln Fields||Lansdowne (serving Lansdowne Park and TD Place)||Baseline|
|New Orchard||Main (serving Main Street and Saint-Paul University)||Merivale (Merivale / Baseline)|
|Cleary||Lycée Claudel||Prince of Wales (Prince of Wales / Heron)|
|Tunney’s Pasture||St-Laurent||Herongate (Jefferson / Heron, serving Herongate Square)|
|Bayview||Cyrville||Lorry Greenberg (serving Lorry Greenberg Public Library and Community Centre)|
|Pimisi||Blair||Hawthorne (Hawthorne / Hunt Club)|
|Lyon||Blackburn (serving Blackburn Hamlet)|
|King Edward (King Edward / Rideau)||Gerry Lalonde|
|Olmstead (Olmstead / Montreal)||Millennium|
|Notre Dame (St-Laurent / Montreal)|
|Montfort (serving Montfort Hospital)|
|Elwood (Elwood / Montreal)|
|North — South|
|Longfields||Mooney’s Bay||Lycée Claudel|
|Beatrice||South Keys||Pleasant Park|
|Nepean Woods||Airport||Billings Bridge|
This schematic diagram shows this proposed rail network. Note that this map does not reflect the actual geographic locations of the stations, only their proposed rail connections, as is common in transit network diagrams.
And here’s a version done in Metro Map Maker, which my readers can play with:
I hold no illusions that Ottawa’s transit network will ever look like this. The people making those decisions have other priorities, and far more appropriately educated minds than mine are desperately trying to convince the people running the national capital region that Ottawa is worth big public transit projects. Either way, I had a lot of fun putting this together, and I’m proud to show it off. I hope you readers find this dive into one of my map-based special interests as enjoyable as I found it.