Transit Advocates Have Mused About The Rail Corridors

- September 29th, 2014

I had a chance to talk today with David Jeanes, past president of advocacy organization Transport Action Canada, after hearing Mike Maguire’s proposal for commuter rail on existing rail corridors. Jeanes is a bit of a frequent flyer at City Hall on transit issues and he has participated in several transit consultations over the years.

I was really only interested in one question: Is Maguire’s plan feasible?

“We think it’s feasible just like the O-Train was feasible back in 1997,” Jeanes said.

The O-Train was launched in 2001 as a pilot project on an 8-km stretch of an existing freight track. Today, it’s hugely popular. Frequency of trains will increase by this winter.

“We have always said there was opportunities to do that out to Gloucester and out to Kanata and farther south,” Jeanes said.

Jeanes said Transport Action has been advocating for the use of existing rail corridors for decades. He didn’t think regulatory challenges, such as running O-Trains on tracks primarily used for Via and freight trains, would be a significant. He also thinks Via would be open to the discussion.

That said, Jeanes said he was in no position to comment on if Maguire’s plan is good since Transport Action doesn’t take sides politically.

As an aside, Maguire said he has been getting advice from Friends of the O-Train (a group of transportation enthusiasts) on his rail proposal. Jeanes, a member of the Friends of the O-Train, said he has spoken to Maguire about the plan over the phone but there have been no face-to-face meetings since the start of the election campaign.

Maguire’s plan and Watson’s plan are completely different. Maguire’s commuter rail idea has major challenges, which I note in the article.

Important to note, though, that Watson’s LRT blueprint isn’t a slam dunk. The city and NCC are still negotiating over a strip of land along the Sir John A. Macdonald Pkwy. (Watson said Sunday he’s optimistic) and the results of the environmental assessments still have to come in.

And we’re still not sure how, or if, the airport might come into play.

Plus, there is no commitment yet from the feds on funding Stage 2 LRT.

Still, if Watson and a majority of council are returned in the Oct. 27 election, the LRT plan would have a full head of steam.

Follow City Hall reporter Jon Willing on Twitter at @JonathanWilling and at

Syed Struggles But Deserves Some Credit

- September 25th, 2014

Anwar Syed, Mike Maguire and Jim Watson chat before this week’s mayoral debate at Carleton University.

Anwar Syed has struggled to keep up with Mayor Jim Watson and top challenger Mike Maguire during this week’s debates.

A pretty affable fellow, Syed isn’t particularly well-read on city policy. More than once, he questioned what the city is doing to stop sewage from flowing into the river and Watson told him the city has something called the Ottawa River Action Plan.

In another moment, Syed took issue with how the transportation master plan is an old document that needs updating. Well, it is updated every five years.

He’s a smart guy — he’s a professional engineer working for a large construction firm — and he’s trying to juggle the demands of having a busy job while on the hustings.

Syed deserves kudos for, at the very least, not shying away from attending the debates. He might not get as much ink as the other two guys, but he’s been up there on the hot seat, answering the questions.

There are five other mayoral candidates who haven’t participated.

Follow City Hall reporter Jon Willing on Twitter at @JonathanWilling and at

Airport Rail Link Gets Debate Time

- September 23rd, 2014

MIke Maguire, Anwar Syed and incumbent Jim Watson take their seats during tonight’s mayoral debate at Carleton University.

I was happy to see the subject of airport rail service come up at tonight’s mayoral debate at Carleton University. I couldn’t squeeze it into my recap of the debate, so I thought I’d do a little summary here.

Credit to moderator Andrew Cohen for asking Mike Maguire, Anwar Syed and Mayor Jim Watson about the airport after a transit question.

As background, the city is looking into whether a rail spur to the airport off the O-Train (to be rebranded Trillium Line) is feasible under its plan to extend the O-Train to Riverside South. Businesspeople like the idea of a rail line to the airport, the taxi industry has been considering the implications, and it will be up to the next council to decide what to do.

Syed, who has travelled internationally with his job in engineering, likes the idea of an airport link since major cities have one.

Maguire, too, said an airport rail line would be fine to look at, but he said top priority should be improving arterial roads.

Watson said an airport spur can’t hamper wait times for other non-airport customers. He suggested that running a line to the airport wouldn’t be built solely with property taxpayer money. “It has to be affordable and we have to make sure the airport puts money on the table,” Watson said.

I don’t know if this topic will gain much more ground in the election campaigns, but it could be a big decision for the 2014-2018 council.

Follow City Hall reporter Jon Willing on Twitter at @JonathanWilling and at

Planning Bites: “Travesty” In the Glebe, Hobbs Votes Against Developer

- September 23rd, 2014

Two Canderel proposals for Bank St. in the south end of the Glebe.

A couple of interesting bites from today’s planning committee…

Canderel had a rezoning application on the agenda for 852 Bank St. at Fifth Ave. in the Glebe. The company wants to tear down the service station and build a two-storey commercial building, featuring a restaurant with second-level patio. Capital Coun. David Chernushenko asked for, and was granted, a deferral so he could discuss the parking plan with the company. Alta Vista Coun. Peter Hume couldn’t resist chiming in before carrying the deferral. Hume said it’s a “travesty” the company wasn’t thinking of creating something a bit more, along with another Canderel-proposed development just south on Bank St. where the Beer Store is. It’s something Hume says he’ll take up with the company when the Bank/Fifth application comes back to the committee in October. He’s interested in more density in that area.

Kitchissippi Coun. Katherine Hobbs got a chance to prove to people she can stand up to developers, which has been a bit of an issue during the municipal election campaign. Claridge Homes wants to use the vacant property at 281 St. Andrew St. in Lowertown to temporarily park construction trailers for a residential development about 100 metres away at 324 Bruyere St. Some neighbours oppose having the trailers at the property, citing light blockage and safety issues. Hobbs was the only member of the planning committee to vote against the necessary rezoning. The city needs to send a message to developers that they “should not be disrupting the neighbourhood,” she said.

Follow City Hall reporter Jon Willing on Twitter at @JonathanWilling and at

Police Face Finding More Savings For 2% Promise

- September 22nd, 2014

Mayor Jim Watson’s 2% tax cap promise could throw a curveball at the Ottawa Police Service, which has been planning for a 2.5% hike each year until at least 2017.

From the 2014 police budget:

“We always present a four-year outlook and that four-year outlook projected a 2.5% increase in our police budget to deal with the pressures that we have, but at the same time delivering on a $2.5-million efficiency as well,” Chief Charles Bordeleau told reporters today.

Bordeleau didn’t say that the police force will try to get the rate hike down to 2%. The service continues to find savings, Bordeleau said, but we all know that if Watson wins the election, police will have to reassess their spending plans.

This all might sound familiar.

Police, under former chief Vern White, had to rejig their budget after Watson won the 2010 election with a 2.5% promise.

So how would police do it this time?

For one, looking at more uniform positions that can be held by civilians.

And the force is trying out new ways to handle recurring calls, such as crashes. Now police have collision reporting centres.

There’s also an interesting matter of the police force’s hiring plans starting in 2015. An extra 23 officers were to join the service each year until at least 2017, but Bordeleau said police brass are taking a look at their forecasts to see if it’s necessary. He didn’t draw a line between the Watson 2% promise and the hiring analysis, but holding off on new cops would certainly provide the necessary budget relief.

There are some statistics and reports pulling the force in different directions. A Fraser Institute study released today put Ottawa-Gatineau police in the “understaffed” category. But then we have evidence that Ottawa police’s emergency calls are decreasing.

On top of all this, arbitration awards could throw financial plans off track.

Watson would have a good idea what the police’s requirements are as mayor and a member of the police services board.

I’m not predicting any drama with the 2015 police budget in December if Watson wins re-election. Police have shown they can find savings and I don’t think Bordeleau is the kind of chief who wants to poke City Hall over money.

Follow City Hall reporter Jon Willing on Twitter at @JonathanWilling and at