LRT rolls at last: after a very long wait, we now get short waits

By John Dance

As keen inaugural day rider Dan Proulx put it, “It’s been a long wait”- but minutes later – and every five minutes after that – new O-Trains zoomed in and out of the Lees Avenue light rail transit (LRT) station to quickly transport riders both east and west.

Old Ottawa East (OOE) now has the sparkling new Lees station, and for OOE residents in the triangle north of the Queensway, a short walk to the University of Ottawa (uOttawa) LRT station provides ready access to the system’s new “Confederation Line”.

The long wait referred to by Proulx is the 16-month delay in opening the LRT. But since the system opened on September 14, the trains have run frequently and fast, albeit with some lingering start-up glitches.

The much-celebrated first official trip, with Mayor Jim Watson presiding, took a mere 20 minutes to travel from Tunney’s Pasture to the Blair Road station, a distance of 12.5 kilometers. Admittedly, the train travelled faster than it regularly will because there were no stops along the way, but passengers can readily see how
the LRT train easily beats Queensway and Nicholas traffic.

On opening day, Old Ottawa East residents – along with those from Old Ottawa South and Sandy Hill – flocked to the Lees station to take their first ride and explore the tracks and stations running from Tunney’s Pasture to Blair Road. There was general delight that Ottawa finally has a modern, clean, convenient and fast rapid transit system.

First-day riders noted that the new system will get them downtown much faster and others will use it as a quick way to do grocery shopping at St Laurent or Blair Road.

The Lees Avenue station sports a soaring roof and a bright and airy interior. On opening day, noted cellist Bryan Cheng filled the station with glorious music, while artist Amy Thompson explained the public art that she created for the station.

At each station, public art was commissioned, and Thompson’s art at Lees portrays “a story of transformation,” as she puts it.

The transformation begins with the Algonquin people living along the banks of the Kitchi Sibi River, and moves along with the founding of Ottawa, and agricultural and industrial activity, all of which is represented in the images on the westbound platform’s glass panels. In addition, on the eastern wall beside the adjoining multi-use pathway, Thompson has created a sculptural sequence of a bird in flight.

A bonus that comes with the LRT is the new #55 OC Transpo bus route which provides regular service along Lees Avenue and Main Street and, heading east, to the hospital campus of Smyth Road and, heading west, to the Civiccampus of the Ottawa Hospital and then all the way to Bayshore.

Another benefit of the new system is a parallel multi-use pathway which provides a quick route to the main campus of uOttawa and to the Laurier Avenue bike lanes.

The aggravation of the six-year closure of the Lees Avenue ramp to Highway 417 eastbound will come to an end as City staff have confirmed that the ramp will be opened the week after Thanksgiving, subject to weather.

The announcement could not have come soon enough for community association President Phyllis Odenbach-Sutton, echoing the sentiments of many residents of Old Ottawa East: “I’m waiting with bated breath to see if the ramp will actually reopen after Thanksgiving. Six and a half years of detouring was a very long time.”

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