Thursday, August 19, 2010

How I Would Fix Ottawa's Transit Problem

The city of Ottawa is now one step closer to implementing its most recent Light Rail Transit (LRT) plan after receiving environmental approval from the province this week. According to Mayor O’Brien and other city councillors, this is a major step towards making the plan a reality.

The Ottawa LRT system will include a 12 km rail transit line that will run from Tunney’s Pasture to Blair Station. Within the line, there will be a 3 km tunnel serving the downtown core from LeBreton Flats to the University of Ottawa.

Estimated Cost: $2.1 billion. And remember, it’s not often that these city projects come in on time and on budget. Plus, that estimate doesn’t take into account the obvious economic hit that downtown businesses will take while 3 km of road is dug up to make way for an underground tunnel. We won’t even get into the roughly $37 million spent on settling a lawsuit after the cancellation of the last plan. Needless to say, this thing is expensive.

I have another idea to fix Ottawa’s traffic/public transport problem. Well, it’s not mine really, and it’s not going to happen here, but imagine if it did. The idea: giant catamaran-looking buses that cars can drive under.

Huh? A Chinese design and technology firm, Shenzen Huashi Future Parking Equipment, has designed buses that will straddle the two sides of a road, and load passengers from raised platforms. All the while, cars and trucks under 2 m high can drive under the bus unimpeded. Though this all sounds like science fiction, these things are supposed to be on the road in Beijing’s Mentougou district by the end of this year. Imagine one of these shuttling commuters from Albert st. to Hurdman Station. Imagine that stretch of buses parked on Rideau st. in the afternoons replaced with a few driving catamarans with taxi’s and traffic driving underneath.

The video of the technology has gone viral this month. I saw it first on engadget.com. (See their story here) The “3D Bus” has been featured on the New York Times Wheels blog and in the UK’s Independent. People are understandably fascinated by something that seems like it makes so much sense.

The article in the Independent lays out my argument pretty clearly: “the advantages are obvious - it requires far less building than a light rail or subway system, it's unaffected by congestion, it doesn't impede traffic and, as it's powered by solar or electric cabling, it's pretty green.”

After Ottawa spends billions of dollars and a few years on this LRT plan, I wonder if we’ll be wishing we went with these buses.