By Michelle Ferguson
Students at Algonquin will feel the benefits of light rail up to a decade sooner, thanks to an updated city transportation plan.
The accelerated plan promises to be a boon for Algonquin.
“You’re going to have a complete light rail network much earlier than it was anticipated,” said Councillor Rick Chiarelli.
The blueprint highlights seven light rail or bus rapid transit stations in and around the College ward.
“Way more than any other ward,” said Chiarelli.
That is because the College ward finds itself conveniently located within the city — at its geographical centre in fact.
Due to its central location, Baseline Station will act as a hub for Ottawa’s west-end and central areas. It will be used as a transfer station where commuters will switch from buses to light rail and vice versa.
The new station is expected to handle over 300,000 people a day.
The new rail system will connect directly to Algonquin through the transitway tunnel built under the Algonquin Centre for Construction Excellence (ACCE) building.
Two of the four lanes will be dedicated to light rail while the other two will be used by buses that will travel from Norris to Confederation Station. It is part of a southeast-southwest bus rapid transit system that is expected to greatly improve travel speeds to and from areas outside the downtown core.
While the plan for the tunnel is not news, according to Chiarelli, the acceleration of the project is.
Adding LRT will not only give some closure to the $50 million project, it will also enhance accessibility to the college by extending the service to the west, east and south.
“Algonquin serves the entire community,” said President Kent MacDonald, “and we know there has been some difficulty for students living in the far east and even to the south to get into our campus. So this will really allow us to better serve those communities in the future.”
Along with new measures to speed buses in the east along Blair — connecting La Cité Collégiale to LRT — Baseline Station will play an important role in conecting the city’s post-secondary institutions.
“Now that’s an education powerhouse in the capital connected by rapid transit,” said Mayor Jim Watson during a speech on Oct. 9.
This will significantly improve the experience of those who plan to enrol in a collaborative degree program, such as the bachelor of information technology, offered in partnership with Carleton University.
“We have been adamant that we need better solutions for student mobility particularly between Algonquin, Carleton University and University of Ottawa,” said MacDonald.
For the first three years students in the bachelor of information technology interactive multi-media and design (BIT MED) program had two out of five classes a week at Algonquin. The rest of their time was spent at Carleton.
“A light rail transit (system) in Ottawa would be amazing, because (commuting) is obviously a large part of being a student,” said Jim Silvester, a 2012 BIT MED graduate.
Silvester, who is now completing his graduate studies at Simon Fraser and who has experienced the benefits of Vancouver’s SkyTrain, said he would not move back to Ottawa until they have a complete LRT system.
“There’s no driver on the SkyTrain — it’s all computerized. It’s never late; it never leaves early,” he said. “Buses in Ottawa suck. But that’s just buses anywhere. Having a light rail makes being a student and commuting 20 times easier.”
But LRT isn’t the only thing in the books for the college.
In order to improve the use of cycling in the Algonquin College and Centrepointe area — a key employment and education area — the city performed a detailed review of infrastructure gaps and recommended improvements to routes in the area.
A new bike-lane on Navaho, from Woodroffe Avenue to Baseline Road, is the result of this review.
“What I really like is that they’re building in a cycling plan, which we’ve been told by our students is really important,” said MacDonald.
But the city plans to improve cycling infrastructure throughout the ward, not just near the college.
A new segregated bike lane is also planned for Richmond and Robertson roads between Moodie Drive and Baseline Road. This will help residents of Bells Corners — at the south end of the College ward — commute safely by bike.
“It’s one thing to ask people to consider biking to work,” said Chiarelli, “but when you’re asking them to consider biking to work on a five-lane road with no bike lanes, it’s a foolish request.”
Now residents as far as Kanata will find themselves connected to downtown through the city’s bike network.
Chiarelli said the implementation of better transit and better cycling infrastructure were the last pieces of the puzzle for Bells Corners, which features many boarded up buildings, but is about to pull a 360 with the arrival of the new Department of National Defense headquarters at the old Nortel campus.
“To this point it seems like a good plan for our ward. It seems like it addresses most of the concerns of college students and of the ward itself,” said Chiarelli.
“The big picture is emerging for our ward,” he added.