Lanes, trains and automobiles: Mayoral candidates promise to improve how we get around town

Whether you get around on foot, bike or public transit, the folks running for mayor promise to make it easier for you to get around town, but they each have different priorities.

Sutcliffe promises $100M more on road maintenance, McKenney would inject $250M into cycling network

From traffic-calming meaures to transit improvements, several mayoral candidates are promising to improve how we get around in the city. (Brian Morris/CBC)

Whether you get around on foot, bike or bus, whether you drive every day or just on weekends, the folks running for mayor are promising to make it easier for you to get around town.

Everyone, it seems, wants to improve light rail or increase the frequency of OC Transpo buses, but there are few concrete details on how this could be accomplished. And several are promising a review of the bus service to make sure routes are serving communities better.

Each promise made in this campaign will be informed by a massive undertaking the city is embarking on right now: the transportation master plan. It's the blueprint for how we're going to move around the city in the coming years, and it was delayed after COVID-19 parked most commuters for the past few years. Now with most federal government offices adopting a hybrid work-from-home model, how workers move around the city, and how many will actually move each day, is tough to pin down.

The city is conducting an "origin destination study" to figure out how people are travelling around town — whether by driving, using transit or on foot — and when and where they are going. The results aren't in yet, but they are likely to be quite different than in pre-pandemic times. 

Mark Sutcliffe is promising, among other things, to increase spending on roads and winter maintenance by $100 million and freeze senior, youth and EquiPass transit fares. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

Mayoral candidate Mark Sutcliffe promises to increase the road and winter maintenance budgets by $100 million over the next four years, if elected.

In his transportation plan released Thursday morning, he committed to more accountability for "the bungled Phase 1 of light rail" by implementing the key recommendations from the provincial public inquiry.

"Some people view transportation through an ideological lens," Sutcliffe said in a statement. "They want you to walk or ride a bike, no matter where you live, no matter where you're going, no matter what month of the year. That might be easy if you live downtown and can get around on a bicycle, but there's so much more to Ottawa than just downtown."

He said he'd bring a "balanced approach" that isn't "prioritizing one form of transportation over another."

"I'm not prioritizing bikes over cars. I think we need to invest in all forms of transportation, including making it easier for cyclists and pedestrians and walkers to get around, and motorists and people who are using public transit," said Sutcliffe.

Sutcliffe's transit and transportation promises include:

  • Freeze senior, youth and EquiPass fares.
  • Double city councillors' traffic calming budgets to $100,000 per ward.
  • Support the Brian Coburn Extension Option 7, which runs through the Greenbelt, and which the National Capital Commission (NCC) opposes.
  • Accelerate Greenbank Road Realignment Project to be completed in next two years.
  • Create a "pothole line" that lets residents report them on the web.
  • Focus on "missing gaps" in the cycling network.
  • Start resurfacing and road-widening projects to include safety markings, paved shoulders and bike lanes "where feasible."
  • Oppose the permanent closure of the NCC-controlled Queen Elizabeth Driveway — it was closed to cars last summer — but support closure on weekends and other major event days. 

Sutcliffe also committed to secure federal and provincial funding for Phase 3 of the LRT to connect it to Kanata, Stittsville and Barrhaven. The city is not planning to pay for any of the $5 billion expansion plan

Catherine McKenney wants to build 25 years worth of cycling infrastructure in the next four years — at a cost of $250 million — and is promising, among other things, to provide free transit for anyone 17 and younger while freezing all fares. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Catherine McKenney put out their transit and cycling infrastructure plans earlier this month.

On transit, they promise to freeze most fares, if elected, as well as lower the EquiPass fare and make transit free for those 17 and younger. They also promise to increase local OC Transpo service by 20 per cent. McKenney says their transit plan would cost $35 million in their first year of office.

It's not yet clear how this will be funded, but McKenney has vowed to keep the annual tax increase to three per cent for each of the next four years if elected. (Both McKenney and Sutcliffe have promised to release their financial plans later in the campaign.)

If the LRT system does not improve, McKenney pledges to take the maintenance of the Confederation Line in-house should Rideau Transit Group be found in default of its contract by the courts. 

McKenney also pledges to massively expand the cycling network in the city by building out the next 25 years of planned pathways in the next four years. They'll pay for this, they say, by borrowing $250 million through a city-issued green bond, and servicing that debt with the $15 million the city currently spends each year on cycling infrastructure.

The point is to make it easier for people to cycle within their communities, or to a local transit station, they said.

"Most trips that are taken in a city are between one and five kilometres," McKenney told CBC News in an interview last week. "If we are able to put the right cycling infrastructure in your community where you live today, you would [be] more likely to take that two kilometre cycle to get to the store, to the library, for example, or your kids take it to get to school."

McKenney bristles at being painted by Sutcliffe as someone who only cares about cyclists, not drivers.

"There are still people that need to drive — I drive regularly because wherever I'm going, transit won't take me, or it's too far to cycle," they said in an interview last week.

McKenney said it's about having "an equitable approach" to roads, making them as safe for pedestrians and cyclists as it is for drivers. They said they are committed to the city's current maintenance budget, coupled with a belief it can be rejigged to create better results.

They are committing to having 90 per cent of potholes filled within 72 hours of being reported. The city's current standards range from two to 14 days, depending on the roadway.

Many candidates say OC Transpo service needs to be more reliable. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Candidates want more reliable transit service

Mayoral candidate Param Singh, who released his transit plan earlier this week, believes the transit system needs to become more reliable and affordable and would ask for feedback from OC Transpo operators and managers on how this might be achieved. He'd increase bus routes in suburban areas and temporarily freeze fares in the first year, and lower the price of the EquiPass. 

Fellow candidate Ade Olumide proposed to offer free transit to everyone who makes less than $53,000, which would be paid for by reducing OC Transpo's workforce by 500 people through attrition. He also suggests implementing a shuttle to bring rural residents to various LRT stations and getting large employers to offer ride-share programs.

Bob Chiarelli has stated in the past he wouldn't cancel any existing roads or infrastructure contracts, but wouldn't undertake any new work in his first year of office while he conducted a full program review. He told CBC News he'd release his transportation platform later in the campaign.