Citizens of Ottawa set to take wrong turn

Two days from today, the citizens of Ottawa will either re-elect Mayor Bob Chiarelli or choose someone else. If Ottawa electors do what the polls say they will, Chiarelli will get turfed out, and his electric light rail dream will likely die.

This is not good, either for Ottawa or for Canada. Mass transit’s power as a major weapon against emissions is boosted when it is propelled by electricity—especially when that electricity comes from largely non-emitting sources, as it does in Ontario. Imagine how much dirtier air would be in Toronto if that city’s subways and streetcars were diesel-powered, rather than electric. See my May 23 post for more detail on electrified transportation.

I won’t elaborate on why Chiarelli’s southwest-to-northeast route is superior to that proposed by any of his opponents, other than to point out that it is a firm plan (whereas his opponents’ plans are vague suggestions cobbled together in the cut and thrust of a political campaign), and that it addresses the reality that the city’s growth is indeed proceeding southwest.

Mapping a route that follows (and will eventually drive) growth ensures that Ottawans will actually ride this train. And making it electric is truly visionary: it anticipates the trend toward electrification in transportation vehicles, while taking advantage of Ontario’s clean electricity. The multiplier effect of clean electricity will ensure dramatically lower emissions from motor vehicles.

Or rather, clean electrified mass transit will lower motor vehicle emissions—in some city other than Ottawa. It is disappointing to realize that Bob Chiarelli, apparently the only mayoral candidate who recognizes electricity’s central role in the post-Kyoto transportation economy, seems set to lose Canada’s first municipal election in which electric mass transit is the main issue.

Which beg the question: is Ottawa, supposedly the most intellectual city in the country, really just a backwater?

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