Plan needed for “Ugly Duckling” OTrain station

ABOVE: Artistic representation of the proposed Leitrim Station. The final station may not be exactly as shown. (SOURCE: CITY OF OTTAWA)

By Steve Desroches

A planning makeover is needed for one of ugliest OTrain location in Ottawa. The gloomy site is located in south Ottawa close to the airport, along Leitrim Road. The new rail station will serve a very important purpose by providing gridlock relief to the growing population of suburban and rural area residents including Greely, Findlay Creek and Riverside South.

While landscaping and fancy stations upgrades will help beautify the location and complement the Park and Ride, the site has major challenges from a city planning perspective. To see the site disadvantages you need to take a somewhat “egghead” (sorry urban planners!) and futuristic city planning point of view. Ideally, all of the new OTrain and LRT stations should be transformative for our city in terms of how we facilitate and encourage urban growth around the transit stations.

The new rail transit hubs should be developed with a goal of encouraging high density communities that rely on transit to live work and play. This is not a radical point of view or something unique to Ottawa.

To get a better idea of the objective just take a look at an aerial view of Toronto to see the high density employment and residential development along the TTC subway line. From a high altitude view you can identify the subway line by the building density along the transit corridor. This approach to urban development is not just a smart growth strategy. These ambitious development plans are part of the business case to help pay for the day-to-day operations of the new rail lines.

Building the infrastructure is half the battle. In order to succeed from a financial perspective, the rail system needs reliable fare revenue that is generated outside peak commute hours. Beyond the lofty academic discussion of urban planning, actual development often runs head-on against the real-world realities of geography, land ownership and site limitations.

Make no mistake, there is great potential in Ottawa along the new transit nodes and we should foster plans that capitalize on these new transit-oriented growth opportunities.

The Leitrim OTrain station will need some extra attention to maximize its full potential. Unfortunately, the area is on the frontier of the city which lacks the profile and notoriety of sites like the LeBreton Flats. The location has some special features that limit its growth potential. The station is very close to a large residential area but the international airport puts a severe damper on building height limitations. The Greenbelt lands complicate matters by closing the door on development and introducing another government regulatory agency. To make matters worse, the station is down the road from a decommissioned dump that has left a sad legacy of ground water pollution.

Despite the city’s grand plan to have the urban area on water and sewer systems there is currently no sewer system to serve the adjacent lands. As a result there is a smattering of old lot homes and small industrial businesses which pre-date the transit station. They are nice neighbours but do not represent the full potential for the expensive transit investment. The starting point for smart development is a detailed community design plan instead of the current gritty patchwork.

The city also has a number of surplus municipal land assets in the Leitrim area that could help finance and leverage positive long-term development under a new blueprint. There is also a modern private sector hockey rink and athletic centre located steps from the future OTrain transit station that could serve as anchor for the growing community. The prerequisite for action is a well thought out plan that aims to transform the ugly duckling into a National Capital swan.

Steve Desroches is a former City Councillor and Deputy Mayor. Twitter @SteveDesroches