Op-Ed article

Published on November 8, 2020

As COVID-19 continues to disrupt old habits and impels us to rethink how we move from home to work to play and back, a confluence of transportation initiatives currently underway offers an opportunity to re-think connections within the urban core of the National Capital Region.

First, at the request of the Government of Canada, the National Capital Commission (NCC) is currently undertaking a long-term interprovincial crossings plan, looking at expected future trends and the infrastructure required to meet them. Second, public consultations are underway regarding the planned replacement of the Government of Canada-owned Alexandra Bridge as it approaches the end of its lifespan. Third, the City of Gatineau and its public transportation agency - Société des Transports de l’Outaouais (STO) – are embarking on a tramway project that would see the tracks cross over to Ottawa via the NCC-owned Portage Bridge with proximate transfer opportunities with the City of Ottawa’s public transit system and downtown destinations.

So the timing, a few days ago, was auspicious on the part of the Supporters of the Loop – a network of citizens from both sides of the river – who launched their own campaign advocating for a tramway loop around Confederation Boulevard, lining Gatineau and Ottawa. The proposed loop would link Wellington and a north-south corridor such as Mackenzie or Sussex with Laurier Avenue in Gatineau via the Alexandra and Portage bridges. Their renderings of the loop envisioned a future car-free Wellington Street with a tramway, a tree canopy, and wide pedestrian and cycling paths.

Together, these projects and plans offer us a once in a lifetime chance to be visionary in our planning and bold in our implementation.

Building on the proposed STO tramway project, a Confederation Boulevard transit loop would make crossing the river easier for both Gatineau and Ottawa residents alike, providing convenient access to federal government job sites, arts and entertainment venues, restaurants and shops, and serve to deepen the ties in the region. It would also offer visitors to the Capital a convenient and enjoyable way to experience the main capital attractions – from Parliament Hill to our national museums, from our stunning shorelines to our majestic monuments.

These many benefits were foreseen when the NCC included the idea of a transit loop in its 2013 Interprovincial Transit Strategy and its 2017 Plan for Canada’s Capital. While it seemed only aspirational then, it seems much more possible now. The Alexandra Bridge replacement project offers the opportunity to ensure a streetcar can be accommodated from the get-go. The STO proposed link into Ottawa could be planned as a first phase of an eventual loop. And at a time when governments are moving to net zero carbon in the coming decades, electrifying our transportation system has taken on an even more urgent priority.

There would clearly be challenges to meet. The views of the municipalities of Gatineau and Ottawa are critical as key partners, owners of the roadways and public transit operators. Funding for the project would need to be identified. Residents of the capital, affected communities and many other stakeholders would first need to be consulted.

However, if these important considerations can be met, a completed the transit loop would be an inheritance to our children of not just better connections, but a more inspirational capital. The current renovation of Parliament Hill combined with plans for the re-imagining of the buildings on the south side of Wellington Street, will make the Parliamentary Precinct even more spectacular. A tree-lined boulevard that priorities people over cars and offers a place to appreciate the splendor and importance of the surrounding buildings and spaces would enhance every visiting Canadian’s experience of their capital.

The Supporters of the Loop have challenged all of us to use this moment to pursue a project that would achieve an even better Capital for residents and visitors alike. For our part, challenge accepted.

Tobi Nussbaum
National Capital Commission

Read this letter published in the Ottawa Citizen on Monday, November 9, 2020.

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