Deachman: Closing Pimisi Station for major events may not be the long-term answer

“On Canada Day, our top priority is public safety.”

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The city’s much-beleaguered LRT system is easily the most useful scapegoat in Ottawa when looking for examples of civic mismanagement and engineering ineptitude.

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That transit system and the city took another hit after commuters were confused by mixed messages about access to Pimisi Station ahead of Canada Day last week. It later emerged that the station, the closest LRT stop to LeBreton Flats, was not designed to accommodate large crowds, according to police.

So where does that leave us? Presumably we’re going to continue to have big events there, like Bluesfest, and we’re planning to add a lot of development to the area, including, quite possibly, a new arena for the Senators. Will Pimisi be able to handle an outdoor Shania Twain concert in front of the Canadian War Museum, for example, on the same night an NBA exhibition game is taking place at the arena? Or will the LRT station need an upgrade, similar to how current Lansdowne 2.0 plans call for blowing up part of the original 1.0 design?

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Admittedly, Pimisi wasn’t designed for Canada Day festivities, which are potentially much bigger, more seamless, and less predictable than Bluesfest, where attendees are given tickets. The station’s current design, according to OPS, “does not facilitate the efficient handling of large crowds”, which, after discussions with OC Transpo, Canadian Heritage and an anonymous “crowd management consultant”, led to the trains They will jump for two hours. on the evening of Canada Day, and passengers are encouraged to get off at the nearby Lyon or Bayview stations and walk or take a bus to LeBreton.

Should we accept that at face value? The station handled last year’s Bluesfest without hesitation, and will be open for this year as well, with OC Transpo rides included with festival admission. Is the station really incapable of handling an event the size of Canada Day, or was this an example of the police being overly cautious at the expense of Canada Day attendees? Or, on the contrary, are the public outrage and ridicule over the closure of the station unjustified?

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It is always difficult to challenge any decision made in the name of public safety, which is what PAHO invoked to defend the temporary closure of the station.

“On Canada Day, our top priority is public safety,” he wrote. “While OC Transpo must prioritize customer service, we must balance the intricate dynamics of managing large crowds with ensuring the safety of all attendees. Lack of planning and preparation for the sudden and rapid movement of major events can cause tragic results. The environment containing a large crowd should be set up and maintained in a way that mitigates problems that could be caused by panic (real or perceived) or a severe weather event where crowds quickly leave for shelter, which is hopefully avoided saturday thanks. to our plans and early notification.”

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If you squint a bit, it sounds like there’s a hindsight bias here, as if “the decision was made and there were no tragic outcomes afterwards, so the decision was a good one.”

And that could be true. As Count Steve Desroches, chair of the city’s Light Rail Subcommittee, told me Wednesday: “I would rather have this conversation than a conversation about a tragedy under different circumstances. If we had had a medical emergency or a tragedy, we would have very different questions today than the ones we are discussing.”

Earl Glen Gower, chairman of the Traffic Commission, said police have indicated that lessons learned from last year’s convoy protests have affected how they now handle crowds and events.

“Every event that happens on the LeBreton Flats is different, and in this case, their review of event security and crowd management made them decide they didn’t want to use Pimisi as the main station.”

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Pimisi Station is built on a bridge over the LRT, with exits and entrances on Booth Street. Police said the station was to be closed when it was this year for police to “hold” Booth Street and ensure emergency vehicle access to the road, which it said was overcrowded on Canada Day last year, and expected growing crowds. this year.

In the days and weeks ahead, the Transit Commission, police and the feds must look at the station and its challenges on days like Canada Day and come up with a better plan. It may be, as Desroches suggests, creating better connections from trains down to street level. “If there is going to be a station at this location, then we are going to have to look at perhaps improving connectivity. You can’t have a transit station without that, be it roads or additional road connections.”

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But closing the station when passengers most want to use it may not be the answer. Other cities with centuries-old transit systems somehow find ways to make them work during large-scale events. Meanwhile, it’s beyond strange or disappointing that Ottawa, which constantly talks about becoming a world-class city, rarely makes any plans that take it there. If Pimisi Station was never intended to host something as big as Canada Day, then we are simply dreaming too small.

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