Good news, everyone! Ottawa is about to move from the awkward adolescence of a transitway bus system to the sleek maturity of light rail.
I am told (but have not looked into the facts) that Winnipeg was once considering light rail (in 2010?) but decided to go for an Ottawa-style rapid transit bus system. TERRIBLE IDEA, WINNIPEG.
But back to Ottawa!
When I first moved here, I'd lived in Montreal and Toronto for six and two years each, and to be perfectly honest I thought of Ottawa as more of a town than a city, mostly because everyone seemed so darn proud of their stupid bus system. I, meanwhile, had come of age (ha!) with the STM and TTC (imperfect systems, yes, but I loved them!). Indeed, I've never bothered to learn how to drive, so adequate were the metro and subway systems for me. So I was a little… disdainful… of Ottawa when I first arrived. I am no longer disdainful (though seriously: would it kill H&M to set up shop here?!), but am quite pleased to live in a city where I can watch things get done and see changes being made for the better (for example: a new footbridge across the canal). It is the first time I've lived in a city where things are rapidly growing and changing for the better with relatively little contention. Montreal, the first city I loved, is quite literally falling apart. Toronto, where I felt the most at home, is dynamic and changing, yes, but it is in the midst of a civil war being fought between the Etobicokian Fordians and the Downtown Atwoodians (to greatly oversimplify everything). It was a civil war I felt welcome to participate in, but it was already underway when I arrived and continues on now that I've left. And really, as great as Toronto is, it is depressing and discouraging to live in a city that removes bike lanes. Here, I've had no trouble getting in touch with the mayor or my city councillor, which amuses me to no end.
Did you know that the Ottawa area is Canada's fourth largest city by population? I've lived here for over a year and I just learned that the other day. It is larger, say, than Calgary, a city that does an excellent job of promoting itself. Ottawa, dominated by parliament as it is, doesn't always feel like a cohesive whole–not helped, I'd imagine, by all those who come here to work for the government in some way and (maybe) don't expect to stay. Plus there is the issue of muddled jurisdiction. Ottawa is a city, but it shares the name National Capital Region with our neighbours across the water (and provincial border), Gatineau, Quebec. It gets a little confusing, sometimes, trying to figure out what is Ottawa and what is the National Capital Commission and what is just… “The Government.” But Ottawa is about to come into its own, and the first step is a grown-up public transit system; and that is how I come back around to light rail.
It would be easy for me to be a curmudgeon about the whole thing–the line will run east-west, for example, and so will not do much to help people like me who are oriented north-south in the city. Or I could complain that it isn't going to go out to the airport. I shall not do that thing, however tempting it is to berate the universe for not aligning things just so for me, because there are times when being a critic just to be a critic doesn't make anything better. Yes, I do hope that everything will be a roaring success and that a second line south down Bank Street and to the airport will be built; but I am just as happy, for now, that there will be easy access to the train station. I love taking the train! If you buy a ticket on sale, you can easily go business class and VIA Rail will wine and dine you all the way to your destination. They will even serve after-dinner drinks and chocolates.
I remember when I told people that I was moving here, 90% of them expressed the opinion that I would now have to learn to drive. Well! No. I do not. Getting around by bike here is relatively safe (though there are always tragedies) and part of the city's plan for light rail includes building additional bike lanes, all without Fordian strife. Plus there seem to be more and more interesting things happening on the food front; even the most basic grocery stores offer local, organic meat; and people are so active and joggy their gazelle-like leaping through all sorts of weather makes me feel grumpy and frumpy. It's not all good, of course, and I've vented my share of complaints about certain Ottawa behaviours (people standing around visiting and taking up the whole sidewalk, anyone?)… but I really do feel like these next few years are going to treat Ottawa well, and that the city will finally, at last, for real, feel like the nation's capital.
Before I forget, I should also mention that I'm quite pleased at the potential for Sparks Street, at present a sad pedestrian mall that shuts down around 5 p.m.: someone came up with the fun idea of building a 3 Brasseurs pub there (but you don't need to wait for it in order to have a nice time on Sparks… I've never had a bad experience at the Centretown Tavern, for example). And of course, this area will be easily accessible via light rail.