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City council green lights $148 million Baseline busway

Algonquin could become the epicentre of one of the largest bus transit developments in Ottawa after city council approved a plan for the 14-kilometre Baseline Road bus rapid transit corridor on Feb. 8.

The cross-town busway, in the works since 2012, would bypass downtown and run along the Richmond-Baseline-Heron corridor. It includes 24 new stations and connects with the Transitway and the planned O-Train Confederation Line.

It would cost up to $148 million with construction expected to begin by 2020 and buses running by 2022. Phase one will be built from Baseline to Heron, with a second phase starting in 2031 between Baseline to Bayshore.

It is expected to receive funding from all three levels of government, although the federal and provincial governments are yet to pledge their share of money.

Most of the corridor will use bus lanes in the middle of the road, with stops placed on the median. City planners said this design would help shave up to 11 minutes off the average commute end-to-end.

Vivi Chi, the city’s manager of transportation planning, told the Transportation Committee on Feb. 1 that the busway is needed because of increasing transit demand and population within the city. Up to 6,700 transit users ride along the corridor every day, according to city documents.

Chi said building the lanes would increase transit reliability and encourage more people to take the bus – an estimated increase of up to 3,300 more riders on the corridor by 2031.

“It’s going to be higher order transit,” said Chi.

Transit staff at the meeting said median bus lanes have a big advantage over curbside lanes, because they reduce conflicts with traffic that hold buses up, such as a car turning or backing out onto the lane.

“What you have before you is a golden opportunity,” said John Manconi, general manager of OC Transpo. “What this will do is unleash those bottlenecks for the transit user.”

“We’re very, very confident it will work.”

Median lanes are currently used for a small stretch on Chapman Mills Drive in Barrhaven, as well as in other cities.

In addition to the bus lanes, the corridor will include 23 kilometres of sidewalks, 22 kilometres of bike tracks, four kilometres of multi-use pathway and 1.5 kilometres of paved shoulder bike lanes.

Although supported by councillors, the feeling was not mutual for some community members, who were concerned about station location and accessibility.

Part of the plan involves replacing stops with median stations in new locations, some several hundred metres away.

Marjorie Shaver-Jones, head of the Copeland Park Community Association, told the committee that the design as is doesn’t mesh with their community.

“We’re not against bus rapid transit, there’s a place for this… in our community,” she said.

Her group was particularly concerned about the relocation of the stop at St. Helen’s Place, which serves a condo complex with a large senior population. She said moving the stop farther away would make it harder for seniors with mobility issues to get to it.

Transit staff initially resisted adding a new stop closer to St. Helen’s Place, but after consultation agreed to build traffic signals at the intersection.

Shaver-Jones got what she wanted during the city council meeting, after a motion by transportation committee chair Keith Egli to add a stop at the intersection for $1.6 million received unanimous support.

“We’re very pleased with that,” she told the Times by phone after the meeting.

“There are still people who are not keen on lanes in the middle of the road but we’ve lost that battle.”

She said she was glad the city listened to their concerns and acted on them.

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” she said.

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