Baseline Road rapid bus plans move ahead

Ottawa's transportation committee approves the design for an east-west rapid transit corridor, even though the trade-off will mean a longer walk to the bus stop for some seniors.

Construction could begin by 2020

Ottawa's transportation committee approved a design Wednesday that would create a rapid transit route for buses down the middle of Baseline Road.

If federal and provincial funding comes through, construction could begin by 2020 on the $140-million stretch between Baseline Station at Algonquin College and the Heron Station near Billings Bridge.

By separating buses from regular traffic, giving them priority at intersections, and making them stop only 14 times on that stretch, transportation staff hope to save riders 6 and a half minutes.

A rendering of the Baseline Road Rapid Transit Corridor with station on a median. Vivi Chi, the city's manager of transportation planning, said the cost of first phase of the project is pegged at $160 million. (City of Ottawa)
A second leg from Baseline Station, west to Bayshore Shopping Centre, is on the books to be built after 2031.

The city's transportation manager, John Manconi, called a rapid corridor for buses on a major east-west artery a "golden opportunity" that would "unleash the bottlenecks" for drivers, and speed up the bus ride to boost transit ridership.

Transportation committee chair Coun. Keith Egli underlined that government funding hinges on the project being an "enhancement," so the stops can't simply stay at the curb as they always have.

Councillors supported the overall idea of the project, but debated the trade-off that would see seniors cross lanes of traffic to stations spaced farther apart, in favour of a route that would mean a faster trip for transit riders overall.

Seniors struggle with stop spacing

Barbara Giles was one of three residents who went to city hall on Feb. 1 to share her concerns with councillors, mainly about the stops being farther apart and placed in the median rather than at the curb.

Giles is a senior citizen and regular transit rider, and says at her condominium houses many senior citizens use a walker or cane.
Barbara Giles, who lives in a condo near the future Baseline rapid bus route, described the difficulties of seniors who ride the bus to Ottawa city councillors on Feb. 1, 2017.

This winter, she struggled to get home after getting off a bus and being faced with a metre-high bank of snow left behind by a plow.

"I could not get over it. I was teetering over back and forth. Finally a van stopped, and a gentleman got out, took my hand and helped me over the snowbank," Giles described to councillors.

"If this happens on Baseline, the van could not have stopped."

Her councillor, College ward's Rick Chiarelli, said the area near Baseline Road and Clyde Avenue has one of the highest concentrations of seniors in Ottawa and felt the city could do more to shorten the walk for seniors.

Egli said transportation staff did listen to seniors, and alleviated a lot of their concerns in a meeting last Friday by promising better snow removal and more benches.

15 private properties to be expropriated

Chiarelli also spoke in defence of the 15 private property owners, whose homes the city would need to buy in order to build the Baseline transit corridor.

He wanted to be sure that they wouldn't be left in limbo for years if the city doesn't manage to get the project off the ground and purchase their homes for market value by 2018, which is the city's goal.

Councillors also expressed concern about the city needing to expropriate a strip of the Central Experimental Farm.

"If we just keep eating it up bit by bit and edge by edge, ultimately one day we'll wake up and say 'What happened to all the green space in the urban areas of our city?'" said Coun. Diane Deans.

She suggested the city look for ways to create new green space elsewhere, in order to compensate for the land being taken for the bus corridor. 

Staff said they had not yet looked at that idea with respect to this project, but that they are ​working with the federal government on a "shelter belt" of trees and shrubs that could protect the farm from salt, snow spray, and erosion.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada — the federal government department that owns the Central Experimental Farm — told CBC News in an email that it "supports the new transit corridor" and has agreed to make farm land available for it. 

The department said it has been working with the city to create a "buffer zone" between the farm and the road.

"The width and the landscape features will be tailored ... to minimize impact of existing research field and achieve the desired results," the department said.

The report directing staff to start the environmental assessment process for the Baseline Road bus rapid transit corridor goes to full city council for a vote on Feb. 8.

The proposed 13.8-kilometre Baseline Road Rapid Transit Corridor. (City of Ottawa)