Talking South Keys with RM Transit

Talking South Keys with RM Transit

Perhaps the most important element of the transformation of South Keys Centre is the OC Transpo O-Train Line 2 expansion project currently underway. While the former Line 2 (“Trillium Line”) ended at Greenboro, after construction is completed next year the line will run to Barrhaven, with several new stations along the way, including at South Keys.

Future map for Line 2 when it opens in 2023 (Source: City of Ottawa)

High-capacity public transit at South Keys Centre, combined with walkable amenities, will enable more people to live there without depending on cars to get around. With this in mind, we decided to reach out to prominent public transit YouTuber Reece Martin to get his views on how the project will shape South Keys Centre.

Q1: For our readers who are not currently following you on YouTube, tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.

Hey! Thanks for having me on. My name is Reece, I make YouTube videos about transit systems and how they work. My background isn’t formally in urban planning or transportation, though I have done some work in the space. What I really love about the new age of platforms like YouTube is they make it possible for people who are truly passionate to break into subject matter they otherwise couldn’t.

With regard to transit and cities I really like the idea of not being overly tied to one’s own backyard when trying to figure out how things “should” look, and so I cover transit around the world, from Tokyo, to Delhi, to Paris to Toronto and Ottawa! So far I have made over 700 videos from explaining the history of transit systems, to unique lines and technical solutions, and new projects — it’s a wide range of stuff!

Q2: One of your recent videos included a tour of the new trains that have been purchased for Ottawa’s Trillium Line (O-Train Line 2). Tell us why you’re so excited about the trains and the project overall.

Oh this is a fun one. Ottawa’s Trillium Line is a really unique transit system, in that when it was originally created it was done so on a shoestring budget and using completely off-the-shelf trains and equipment from Europe. Despite this, the system was able to offer a compelling all-day 15-minute service on an old industrial line that was mostly just one track. This is a far cry from many transit projects we see today in the English speaking world that too often do not offer a compelling enough service, run too infrequently, and use trains that are not as high quality as something you could find overseas.

The old Trillium Line trains were purchased from German national railway Deutsche Bahn, and identical models operate on regional lines in Germany. Now, the limitation with Line 2 historically has been that it only served five stations and had lower than ideal capacity, especially as its ridership has exploded in recent years both because of its fairly small trains and low frequencies (for rapid transit). The new expansion project solves a lot of this; for one, the new trains are twice as large as the old ones, and have way more doors, which will let them operate more reliably and frequently in the future. They are from Swiss manufacturer Stadler who have a great reputation for building excellent trains for countries around the world — particularly in Europe, including a few select models in North America. The new trains are much larger (roughly two times), they have far more doors (four times as many), and they are built on a more modern electric architecture.

One of the new trains in the maintenance facility in Ottawa (Source: CBC)

The new upgrades to the line are also quite exciting, there will be a lot more stations and new destinations made rapidly accessible by transit which will massively boost the connectivity of all the current locations accessed by the line. That’s not to say it’s perfect, I would have liked to see a boost to frequency and full electric trains!

Q3: Ottawa has lots of plans underway to add new developments along Line 2, including a long-term vision that will add thousands of residents to what is currently a big-box mall at South Keys. What are some of the essential ingredients for success for these new and growing transit-oriented communities?

There are so many critical things for Ottawa to do on the line, but here are a few that come to mind. For one, there needs to be frequent service which Line 2 already has, but which connecting buses should also have. A minimum of a bus every 10 minutes all day tends to be a good standard. I also personally think 24 -hour service should absolutely exist wherever rail service exists (if you have enough people riding to require a train you probably have enough people traveling at 2 a.m.). Having 24-hour service is a really good enabler for those who want to live car free but are worried about being able to travel at an off hour (and with Line 3 a new link to Line 2 connecting to the airport this is just generally wise).

Present day transit map of Greenboro and South Keys stations, showing the high number of bus routes that converge on these stations. None of the routes currently operate every 10 minutes though. (Source: OC Transpo)

I think it’s also really important that any new development integrates well with the transit, by having open spaces which face the transit and clear pedestrian connections, as well as higher densities closer to the transit stop itself. At the same time, cycling should also be integrated with transit, while the new trains can certainly fit some bikes onboard, providing a high quality facility where people can secure their bikes at stops is a really important thing! Of course all of this also needs to be considerate of Ottawa’s climate, which can be very hot in summer and cold in winter and will only get more extreme as the climate continues to change!

Q4: Wrapping up, what’s your favourite Line 2 station and why?

I really like Carling! It’s a small single platform station in a open cut which is always a nice reminder of the geology of Ottawa, and it features better rail service than some pretty major stations in North America with trains coming and going from the station every six minutes! It’s a also just a great example that you don’t need a massive facility to provide a high quality and comfortable train service!

Rendering of Carling Station, recently renamed to Dow’s Lake Station (Source: City of Ottawa)

Thanks for your time and everything you do, Reece!

A reminder that our survey about the new park coming to South Keys Centre is still open – have your say!

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