Special Report: Light Rail

Province Considering Alternatives to A-Line LRT Spur

CBC Hamilton reports that the Province is considering possible alternatives to the A-Line LRT spur on James Street North.

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 12, 2017

I was surprised to receive a call last night from Samantha Craggs at CBC Hamilton looking for a hot-take on a scoop: the Province is considering scrapping the A-Line spur from the Hamilton Light Rail Transit (LRT) project.

Rendering of LRT on James North
Rendering of LRT on James North

The article quotes Mayor Fred Eisenberger: "There's been a reassessment of the value of the spur, and they're looking at alternatives that would have more value."

It's too early to know what that means, what alternatives are on the table, or what a change would mean for the project as a whole, but rumblings from City Hall suggest this is going to be a good-news story.

The decision may have been motivated at least in part by a recent shift in the GO transit picture: due to difficult negotiations with CN, Metrolinx is unlikely to be able to provide all-day train service to the West Harbour Station in time for an LRT launch in 2024. For now it's just going to be rush-hour service.

West Harbour GO Station under construction (RTH file photo)
West Harbour GO Station under construction (RTH file photo)

Meanwhile, Metrolinx will be able to provide all-day train service to the Hunter GO Station, which is going to be connected to the east-west B-Line LRT by a higher-order pedestrian route along Hughson Street.

Proposed Hughson Street pedestrian corridor design
Proposed Hughson Street pedestrian corridor design

So the A-Line spur is not going to be essential to meet the Province's requirement that LRT connect to regional transit.

Possible Alternatives

As for what the Province has in mind, I can think of at least a few possibilities:

They might want to spend the money on some kind of higher-order bus transit that serves the entire north-south A-Line corridor from the waterfront up the escarpment and out to the airport. If designed right, this could incrementally grow ridership along the corridor until it makes sense to upgrade to full rapid transit service.

They could decide to extend the B-Line LRT to Eastgate Square instead of terminating it at Queenston Traffic Circle. This seems less likely, because it would face fierce opposition from Ward 5 Councillor Chad Collins, and because it could imperil the timeline of the entire project.

The Federal Government has been talking about getting into the capital investment business and could be planning to announce funding to build Hamilton's proposed B-L-A-S-T network of rapid transit lines serving the entire city. A short LRT spur line on the north end of the A-Line could be incompatible with the rest of that plan.

B-L-A-S-T Network map
B-L-A-S-T Network map

Council committed to building a citywide network of bus rapid transit lines ten years ago in its 2007 Transportation Master Plan, which is currently under review.

Since then, the City has implemented an A-Line express bus that runs every half-hour between the airport and Pier 8, in addition to the B-Line express bus between University Plaza and Eastgate Square.

Opportunity for Obstruction

There is another dimension to this change in the LRT plan. For those City Councillors who have built a cottage industry out of stirring up noise and controversy about LRT, this could provide a fresh opportunity to try and disrupt, delay and undermine the project.

Depending on how much this new development changes the plan, we can expect some councillors to try and argue that it has changed enough that previous Council votes to support it no longer apply.

On the other hand, the Council-approved plan stipulates that Metrolinx has the right to scale back the project as necessary, so this may be a moot point - especially if the "alternative" in consideration is a separate project serving another proposed rapid transit route.

And all of this is happening as Metrolinx and City staff race to complete a required Environmental Assessment Amendment that is expected to be presented to Council for approval in early spring.

Upcoming Public Meetings

Metrolinx and the City are currently holding a series of public meetings to present updated details about the plan.

There will be three "Community Update" meetings featuring a formal presentation followed by a question-and-answer session, as well as three "Public Information Centre" meetings that will be structured as more of an open house.

Community Update Meetings

Date: Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Time: 7 to 9 pm
Location: Sackville Seniors Centre, Fireside Lodge
780 Upper Wentworth St., Hamilton

Date: Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Time: 7 to 9 pm
Location: Dundas Town Hall, Level 2 Auditorium
60 Main St., Dundas

Date: Thursday, January 26, 2017
Time: 7 to 9 pm
Location: Cardinal Newman Catholic Secondary School, Lecture Hall
127 Gray Rd. Stoney Creek

Public Information Centres

Date: Monday, January 16, 2017
Time: 4 to 8 pm
Location: Dr. John M. Perkins Centre, Atrium
1429 Main Street E., Hamilton

Date: Tuesday, January 17, 2017 Time: 4 to 8 pm Location: David Braley Health Sciences Centre, 2nd Floor Auditorium 100 Main Street W., Hamilton

Date: Wednesday, January 18, 2017 Time: 4 to 8 pm Location: McMaster Innovation Park, Atrium 175 Longwood Road S., Hamilton

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

44 Comments

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By VivSaunders (registered) | Posted January 12, 2017 at 08:34:23

Does anyone know if the same track issues at West Harbour GO apply to the Confederation GO station?

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By DanJelly (registered) | Posted January 12, 2017 at 12:07:32 in reply to Comment 120548

Most likely, yes. CN owns that line and the bottleneck is probably between Aldershot and West Harbour, which would affect all points east.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted January 12, 2017 at 09:16:47

I would LOVE to see A-Line BRT developed in Phase 1 that goes to Mohawk College, then over to Limeridge Mall. This airport idea is a head-scratcher to me. Limeridge Mall is one of the biggest drivers of transit on the Mountain, and with some park and ride facilities developed could be very useful for commuters. To make the A-line really work well and be an attractive option for Mountain residents, we need to develop a location for bus-only lanes up/down the escarpment.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted January 12, 2017 at 17:11:09 in reply to Comment 120549

Agreed, or to expand on the bus terminal at Mohawk College to be expanded and include BRT/LRT hub from here.

As well, the Claremont could easily be adapted to provide up/down access on one side, and the other to be 2-way traffic like at the West 5th and Garth/Beckett accesses.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:34:21 in reply to Comment 120549

One of the 2010 plan's recommendations was a bus lane on the mountain... but not a big beast like was built downtown, but a very specific bus-lane on Mall Road just to get buses into and out of the lime ridgemall bus terminal as quickly as possible. That would definitely be nice.

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By VivSaunders (registered) | Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:27:37 in reply to Comment 120549

The approved 2017 budget sees Limeridge Mall getting a $2.5 million bus terminal redevelopment; so maybe part of your wish list will come true.

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By lyndalukasik (registered) | Posted January 12, 2017 at 09:19:53

We should be pushing for Phase 1 to include an extension all the way to Eastgate Square. This transit hub makes much more sense as the east end terminus for Phase 1. The Centennial Neighbourhood is a high density neighbourhood - and there are many residents here who depend on transit to move around the city. Full disclosure - I also live in that neighbourhood - so I definitely want LRT right to Eastgate for that reason too!!

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By molybdenum (registered) | Posted January 12, 2017 at 09:36:32

Can anyone point me in the direction of some evidence to support this statement 'due to difficult negotiations with CN, Metrolinx is unlikely to be able to provide all-day train service to the West Harbour Station in time for an LRT launch in 2024. For now it's just going to be rush-hour service. Meanwhile, Metrolinx will be able to provide all-day train service to the Hunter GO Station'?

I've been unable to find any other information about this.

Comment edited by molybdenum on 2017-01-12 09:36:48

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 13, 2017 at 14:02:43 in reply to Comment 120551

From the City of Hamilton's LRT FAQ:

Metrolinx is committed to expanding GO Train service to the City of Hamilton as part of its ten-year plan to transform the GO rail network.

Current plans include service to Toronto in the morning rush from Hamilton GO Centre every 15 minutes and from West Harbour GO Station every 30 minutes. This service would operate in reverse in the evening rush.

During weekday midday and evenings, and on weekends, there would be hourly service in both directions between Union Station and Hamilton GO Centre Downtown, but no rail service to / from West Harbour.

Service levels west of Burlington GO Station, including service levels at Aldershot, are dependent on infrastructure and service agreements with CN and CP, who own the rail corridors. Final plans may vary as the ten-year program evolves. Learn more about the Lakeshore West GO Line.

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By Connie (registered) | Posted January 12, 2017 at 09:54:21

I am glad the spur line on James N is getting a rethink. It didn't make sense. I hope the East-West LRT gets extended to Stoney Creek as originally planned. I agree with Ryan that the #20 A LINE can serve the two GO stations and develop ridership for a possible A line LRT in the future.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 12, 2017 at 09:55:15

My proposal: Express bus from Confederation Park GO station to Aldershot station, add a bus bypass shoulder to the Red Hill and the Linc (widening is estimated at $100M) and bus lanes on the parclo ramps.

Then make this BRT:

Linc-BRT

https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=1...

The downside, of course, is that parclo ramps aren't exactly high-density locations, but they're still a good place for transferring to the north/south buses servicing the mountain.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2017-01-12 09:58:15

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:04:58 in reply to Comment 120553

I really like this. Hits several high density nodes, and several N/S bus routes on the Mountain. I know the city continues to flog this airport dream from the 60's, but Confederation GO, Eastgate, Queenston Circle, Meadowlands East, Limeridge, Meadowlands and the employment district out on Wilson in Ancaster are all have much higher transit potential than the plazas of Upper James and empty airport.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:14:25 in reply to Comment 120554

To be fair, the component west of the Meadowlands may not be realistic since that part is regular mixed-traffic roads that are often quite congested.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:42:35

I thought there was not sufficient track capacity at the Hunter Street station to accommodate all-day GO? When did this change?

Also, there is ongoing construction of new track at the rail bridges near the waterfront trail ... I thought this was supposed to provide the extra track capacity for James N.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 12, 2017 at 11:30:55 in reply to Comment 120558

I'm told that negotiations with CP have been going much more successfully than negotiations with CN.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:59:10 in reply to Comment 120558

I assume they're hedging their bets. CN and CP own the two respective tracks, so building the JN GO station seems like it was really about creating a bidding war between them for which station will serve the bulk of Hamilton traffic. The JN GO is Ontario's preferred option I think because that can continue service East, but it sounds like they'll take what they can get.

That said, there was a recent scandal in the news about how much the Ontario gov't overpays CN for track work, so I imagine there's pressure to find savings in their dealings with these guys.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted January 12, 2017 at 11:00:45

CN still owns the track that the James Street Station uses. If they want to move freight and make money at the expense of GO transit so be it, its their track. Many of the changes needed for GO service in the corridor requires a huge amount of new infrastructure to be built, which I bet CN wants the province to entirely pay for and the GO Trains will still play second fiddle to CN freight trains! Which is probably why the negotiations between Metrolinx are progressing so slowly. The main Class 1 railways in North America really still want nothing to do with passenger service. Historically speaking, the railway passenger systems as a whole never made money in North America, it was the baggage and mail service attached to each passenger train that actually made the majority of the money. Yes, some individual lines made money but the networks as whole did not make money by selling passenger tickets. When the railways lost the mail and baggage services to trucks and highways in the 50's, 60's and early 70's, so went the last of most the Class 1 railway's passenger services.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 12, 2017 at 11:34:16 in reply to Comment 120560

Do you know for a fact that they will own the new track being built parallel to the old track? I know that GO built its own new track near Aldershot station so its capacity could be increased.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted January 12, 2017 at 12:49:41

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 12, 2017 at 13:05:56

An Andrew Dreschel column was just published on The Spec:

Multiple sources, however, say the proposal is to replace the James North spur with an express bus service from the waterfront to the airport on James and Upper James — essentially building the full A-line route that's part of the city-wide BLAST express bus service.

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By VivSaunders (registered) | Posted January 12, 2017 at 13:38:14

Must admit - my head hurts now. Rapid transit, I thought, was suppose to be about moving people via a regional public transit system. The airport to me, doesn't fall within "public transit". An "express" bus service also doesn't fit the criteria for funding for the very reasons the province has stated they won't give us $ for a bus barn. An express bus service is HSR. With every piece of info coming out, it seems decisions are in fact being made for political reasons. Guess we'll all just have to wait a few weeks for the announcement to see,

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 12, 2017 at 14:20:07 in reply to Comment 120566

The "express bus service" in the article is Dreschel's words, not a quote. Since transit terminology is notoriously fuzzy about the sliding spectrum between plain old bus service through express bus service and then the various degrees of rapid transit, that particular expression could mean anything.

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By VivSaunders (registered) | Posted January 12, 2017 at 14:58:14

My bet's on Ancaster - GO bus - perhaps with dedicated lane on 403. Anything else delays overall project due to Environmental Assessments and/or costs more than the $200M for the A line spur.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted January 12, 2017 at 18:14:12 in reply to Comment 120568

There'll never be a dedicated 403 lane from Hamilton to anywhere west of the city - it's mainly 2 lanes each direction and would require either widening a shoulder to drive on like on the 403 in Mississauga or adding another lane to make it all 3 or 4 lanes. I could see from Ancaster to Burlington getting a widened, paved shoulder though since there's enough space for that I think.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted January 12, 2017 at 18:16:49 in reply to Comment 120571

One thing we could do easily is shoulder bus lanes on the Linc, Red Hill and 403 west of the Linc. East of Aberdeen wouldn't work though.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted January 13, 2017 at 05:14:34 in reply to Comment 120572

With all the construction going on East of Aberdeen with the replacement of the bridge near Princess Point, I think some creative solutions could be found - either the narrowing of the lanes (though they are, or at least "feel" pretty narrow as you go under the ramps) to extend out the shoulders, or even something like realigning the lane to enable one side to be wider than the other to accomodate it. Or, we could make it work up to Aberdeen, merge into normal traffic, then start again after the Main East onramp.

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By VivSaunders (registered) | Posted January 13, 2017 at 07:04:00 in reply to Comment 120576

Couldn't this imaginary Ancaster GO bus simply exit the 403 highway at this point (the narrowing)? Come into town, have a stop/connectivity to the LRT, and re-enter the highway further down where it's wider?

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted January 13, 2017 at 19:36:25 in reply to Comment 120578

Who said it's from Ancaster? I am envisioning GO linking London to Toronto, via Woodstock, Brantford, and Hamilton. Linking regions near one another with express service between makes more sense, but having it dipsy-doodle through isn't express. Stops need to be in the route, not near it. My $0.02.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 12, 2017 at 15:14:24

Relevant to CN negotiations:

http://sirf-online.org/2016/12/12/canadi...

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By DavidColacci (registered) | Posted January 12, 2017 at 19:30:32 in reply to Comment 120569

wow!

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By Deleted User (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2017 at 19:46:16

Predicted October 26 in Comment 120355:

"... The James St spur will not be built."

And I know it was the cost. "Capital expense" according to Ryan. Hmmm. You seemed to overlook that before.

Funny thing is that now Ryan is framing this like he was secretly against it the whole time. " Supercrawl supported the spur right on this forum when I pointed out that it would interfere with the annual event. I wonder what they think now? I'll bet they'll also be excited for the "cost-effective alternative." This thing is turning into the biggest joke of all time.

Comment edited by JimC on 2017-01-12 19:46:50

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By HamiltonTransitHistory (registered) - website | Posted January 13, 2017 at 12:14:24 in reply to Comment 120574

You mean like how the Queen Streetcar interferes with Beaches Jazz in Toronto?

During Supercrawl they'll just shut down the A-line north of James, and extended the 2, 3 & 4 buses to a side street-like they do already.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 13, 2017 at 13:50:22 in reply to Comment 120585

Precisely - the Supercrawl issue has always been a red herring, which is why the event organizers themselves support LRT.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 13, 2017 at 08:08:39 in reply to Comment 120574

now Ryan is framing this like he was secretly against it the whole time

Not at all. When the Province made their LRT funding announcement, they insisted that it connect to regional GO transit, and that meant a connection to the West Harbour GO station. As a result, they decided to fund most of the B-Line and the first part of the A-Line.

Now the situation has changed in at least two specific ways:

  • First, the Hunter GO Station will receive all-day GO train service before West Harbour (and Hunter already has all-day bus service).
  • Second, Mayor Eisenberger has indicated that Metrolinx completed its business case analysis on the A-Line spur and determined that it does not deliver strong value for money.

So now we are hearing from multiple sources that the Province is going to fund some kind of rapid transit for the entire A-Line, rather than LRT for just two kilometres of it. Since expanding rapid transit to the entire A-Line and the rest of the BLAST network has always been Hamilton's long-term rapid transit strategy, I am cautiously optimistic pending the details of what they have in store.

As John Maynard Keynes famously said, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted January 13, 2017 at 05:17:04 in reply to Comment 120574

And I know it was the cost.

If you know this, what else do you know? Please share.

I think everyone was scratching their head over the spur line piece and knew it'd be the first to go should any sort of hiccup arise. Hopefully a better use of the money for that, and with less headaches will be implemented. Remember, this is a "living document" if you will as we're not even in the RFP stage yet.

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By HamiltonTransitHistory (registered) - website | Posted January 13, 2017 at 02:57:06

"Meanwhile, Metrolinx will be able to provide all-day train service to the Hunter GO Station, which is going to be connected to the east-west B-Line LRT by a higher-order pedestrian route along Hughson Street."

How?

The Hunter Street Tunnel to the west of the GO Centre is a single track tunnel. That limits the number of trains that can pass through it. It's also CP Rail's only access to the Niagara Peninsula and New York State.

Is Metrolinx going to pay to have the tunnel rebuilt?

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted January 13, 2017 at 08:57:43

I want to see station density stats and current transit ridership from the Mountain before accepting that an incredibly long run to Mount Hope should be our next priority. A simple eye test would lead most people to believe that there is far more ridership potential at Limeridge Mall and either of the Meadowlands - Ancaster, Stoney Creek - as a terminus.
Mohawk Road and Fennell Ave between West 5th and Upper Wentworth are high density streets.

Upper James is parking lots and 1 storey plazas with no residential.

And I'm strongly of the opinion that any of the aforementioned spots on the Mountain from Stoney Creek to Ancaster deserve and need rapid transit long before Mount Hope does.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted January 13, 2017 at 09:41:25 in reply to Comment 120580

I agree. The only somewhat densely populated area is around Mohawk Rd and Upper James. South of that is all car dealerships. And I've never understood why anyone would take a bus to the airport. You're going to drag all of your luggage / carry on etc on to a bus? Maybe some people would but I doubt enough to make it worth setting up an express bus system. Likely this is the same problem the Union-Pearson link has. Parking is cheap and way more convenient.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted January 13, 2017 at 09:40:36

Any physically segregated Bus Rapid Transit right of way or a Bus Only Lane on a 400 series highway or the Lincoln Alexander Parkway is a bad idea when you don't have a core Busway for this highway right of way to connect too. Rapid Transit highway right of ways alone unconnected to any core rapid transit system all by them selves, are usually very bad generators of passenger numbers.

Ottawa's Bus only lanes along the 417 leading to Kanata in the west and Orleans in the east work because they connect to a significant existing rapid transit system. Alone they would not generate anywhere near the numbers they do. Plus consider this, currently there is 3km of bus Transitway under construction parallel to the bus only lanes leading to Kanata on Hwy. #417 (from Bayshore Station west to the new DND HQ site at the former Nortel Campus on Moodie Dr.). So O.C Transpo even then prefers having there own segregated and somewhat grade separated private busway than use highway bus only lanes.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted January 13, 2017 at 11:30:26

Union Pearson express trains have luggage storage racks and food service. Not to mention the trip from Union to Pearson can take along time by car or taxi, a lot longer than 23-25 minutes anyway.

All that being said if, and its a big if, you can have a really fast and efficient trip to the Airport, with an easy transfer to the terminal that is efficient, a bus can make a good airport feeder service, even if you have to bring luggage. In Ottawa the Transitway network has a one of the 90 series buses (the #97) which goes by Transitway in a very quick express route then, uses a off-ramp from the Transitway to directly access the Airport Parkway via a very short trip along Hunt Club Dr. to the short on-ramp. As long the traffic is not too bad on the Hunt Club or the Parkway itself the trip can be blazingly fast and efficient. However, if the traffic on Hunt Club is heavy, even that short a trip, about 120 metres from the ramps off the Transitway to the Hunt Club on-ramps for the Airport Parkway, can slow everything down and just that short section can add 5-7 minutes to the entire trip. Hunt Club Drive, which is a major east-west road in southern Ottawa, is usually very busy in both directions at peak periods especially in the afternoon. Traffic is so heavy during the peak hours, the city is considering bus only lanes on the section of Hunt Club from Riverside drive east past the Transitway, all the way to Bank Street or Albion Road. About 2.5 km. due to the car traffic slowing all the buses in both directions trying access the Transitway.

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By VivSaunders (registered) | Posted January 13, 2017 at 12:02:30

This is a little off topic, but not totally. Was talking with a neighbour. They're looking for a 4th vehicle. Her son just started at Mohawk College, Fennell Campus. Needs 2 hours lead time to get to a class via public transit from our area - urban medium to high density Stoney Creek. I'm pro LRT, but would be vehemently opposed to the enhancements being tossed around on the ALine ahead of improvements for other areas in this predicament.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted January 13, 2017 at 14:13:40 in reply to Comment 120584

I agree. Virtually anywhere in the city could use BRT before Mount Hope.
I would prefer to leave the current A Line Express as is. Then use this extra money to build the T-Line, and a transit-only escarpment crossing between Limeridge/Mohawk College and Downtown.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 13, 2017 at 16:46:12 in reply to Comment 120588

iirc there was a plan to make James Mountain Road transit-only, since it gets the least use of any mountain access and is pretty redundant with the Jolley and Beckett.

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By KarlAndrus (registered) | Posted February 01, 2017 at 16:18:08

Looks like we find out tomorrow morning!

https://news.ontario.ca/mto/en/2017/02/m...

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