Tracks, trains and automobiles: Mayoral candidates promise to improve the way we get around the city

Whether you get around on foot, by bike or by bus, whether you drive every day or only on weekends, the candidates for mayor promise to make it easier 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 about how that might be accomplished.

Every 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’ll get around the city for years to come, and it’s been delayed after COVID-19 parked most commuters for the past few years. Now that most federal government offices are adopting a hybrid work-from-home model, it’s unclear how workers are moving around the city and how many will actually be moving each day.

The city is conducting an “origin-destination study” to determine how people move around the city – whether by car, using public transport or on foot – and when and where they go. The results are not yet known, but they will probably be very different from those of the pre-pandemic period.

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

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

In its transportation plan released Thursday morning, it pledged to bring greater accountability to “failed phase 1 light rail” by implementing 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 go, no matter what month of the year. It might be easy if you live downtown and can get around cycling, but there is so much more to Ottawa than just downtown.”

He said he would bring a “balanced approach” that “will respect how people choose to get around Ottawa.”

Sutcliffe’s transit and transportation promises include:

  • Freeze senior, youth and EquiPass fares.
  • Double councilors’ traffic calming budgets to $100,000 per ward.
  • Support it Brian Coburn Extension Option 7which crosses the Greenbelt, and which the National Capital Commission (NCC) opposes.
  • Accelerate the Greenbank Road realignment project which will be completed over the next two years.
  • Create a “pothole detection line” that allows residents to report them on the web.
  • Focus on “missing gaps” in the cycle network.
  • Begin road resurfacing and widening projects to include safety markings, paved shoulders and cycle lanes “where possible”.
  • Oppose the permanent closure of the NCC-controlled Queen Elizabeth Driveway – it was closed to cars last summer – but support the closure on weekends and other major event days.

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

Catherine McKenney wants to build 25 years of cycling infrastructure over the next four years — at a cost of $250 million — and promises, among other things, to provide free public transit to anyone 17 and under while freezing all the rates. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Catherine McKenney unveiled her transit and cycling infrastructure plans earlier this month.

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

It is not yet clear how this will be funded, but McKenney has pledged to keep the annual tax increase at 3% for each of the next four years if elected. (McKenney and Sutcliffe promised to release their financial plans later in the campaign.)

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

McKenney is also committing to massively expanding the city’s bike network by building the next 25 years of planned trails over the next four years. They will pay for it, they say, by borrowing $250 million through a green bond issued by the city and servicing that debt with the $15 million the city currently spends annually on cycling infrastructure.

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

“Most commutes in a city are between one and five kilometers,” McKenney told CBC News in an interview last week. “If we are able to put the right cycling infrastructure in place in your community where you live today, you [be] more likely to ride that two-mile bike to get to the store, the library, for example, or your kids ride it to school.”

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

“There are still people who need to drive – I drive regularly because wherever I go public transport won’t take me or it’s too far to cycle,” they said during from an interview last week.

McKenney said it was about having “a fair approach” to the roads, making them as safe for pedestrians and cyclists as they were for drivers. They said they were committed to the city’s current maintenance budget, and were confident it could be adjusted to create better results.

They promise to fix 90% of potholes within 72 hours of reporting them. Current city 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 OC Transpo operators and managers for feedback on the way to achieve it. It would increase bus routes in suburban areas and temporarily freeze fares in the first year, and lower the price of the EquiPass.

Candidate Ade Olumide proposed offering free public transit to anyone earning less than $53,000, which would be paid for by reducing OC Transpo’s workforce by 500 through attrition. He also suggests setting up a shuttle bus to bring rural residents to various LRT stations and incentivizing large employers to offer ride-sharing programs.

Bob Chiarelli has said in the past that he will not cancel any existing road or infrastructure contracts, but will not undertake any new work in his first year in office while he conducts a comprehensive review from the program. He told CBC News he would release his transport platform later in the campaign.

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