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Saturday, December 15, 2007

brt vs. lrt in edmonton.

I got this email the other day on the topic of Edmonton City Council's recent decision to axe Bus Rapid Transit...

30 years after our community was the first in North America to build Light Rail Transit, the city ought to be commended for scrapping the Bus Rapid Transit or ‘Super Express’ plans to focus on future LRT expansion plans. Unfortunately, with an aging demographic, major growth pressures, as well as increasing concerns about our climate and looming fuel price shocks in the years ahead, even the current LRT “fast-tracking” starts to look grossly inadequate for the 21st century.

With BRT gone, and an update to the 9 year old Transportation Master Plan in the works, as well as a forthcoming 30 year growth strategy for the city headed our way, the existing HST plan needs to be drastically updated into a comprehensive, robust and aggressive LRT plan which addresses the challenges that we face. There is little known about the so-called Long Term Comprehensive Public Transportation Strategy that the city is developing now, but in addition to not reflecting the realities above, several things are abundantly clear.

First of all, the current method of studying potential LRT routes is insufficient. Each of the studies are separate from one another, disconnected in a political vacuum. With no plan for how the end system will look or operate, it’s not good enough to place the potential impacts on area residents and vehicular traffic above the long term interests of the city as whole.

Secondly, the new LRT plan must integrate the TMP with our new Municipal Development Plan which proposes three distinct scenarios. Two of them advocate status quo of unlimited sub-urban sprawl for the next 30 years. The only MDP strategy that is economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable is called, the “Compact Growth Scenario 2040”. Not only is it the best option for the city over the long-haul, but it optimizes “smart growth” with Transit Orientated Developments ala` Century Park - a platform component of several recently elected councilors.

Thirdly, the new LRT plan must be a catalyst for regional cooperation and integration. While it may not make sense to build LRT out to St. Albert, Fort Saskatchewan, Sherwood Park, Leduc, Devon, or Stony Plain immediately, planning our corridors to get there eventually does. In the meantime, we can integrate our LRT and TOD’s with regional air and rail nodes, further strengthening the Edmonton region into ‘Port Alberta’.

Finally, if we want to design and build a system which encourages a modal shift, we need to re-analyze the costs and benefits of all potential route alignments for the system as a whole. Ideally this means shifting at least one of the new lines off of the existing track, where timing and scheduling logistics could easily congest the tunnel downtown.

Currently, the north LRT alignment stops short of the Edmonton City Centre Airport. Why not finally close the ECCA and build a massive urban village supported my a NW LRT extension to St. Albert? A separate line could split and follow 97th Street north after stopping at NAIT. South of Kingsway, the two lines could merge and follow an empty corridor to 109th street and St. Joseph’s before hitting MacEwan and Grandin. From there the new line naturally goes SE via the High Level, Garneau, Whyte Avenue, and through Strathcona Junction – where the High Speed Rail could terminate. From there, existing rail corridors lead the way to Argyle and 91st south, before turning east to Lakewood and Mill woods TC via 28th ave. We would need to extend the South LRT to the International in time to close the Municipal Airport, but this could be a great first step before building lines East, West, and South West.

The next leg of the LRT system may not look like this exactly, but we’ve got to be far bolder in how we design and plan for it now. Other cities such as Denver, have invested massively to rapidly expand their LRT in the past. To maximize efficiency, each leg must run as a distinct line from one end of the city to the other, while using existing rail or natural corridors wherever possible to reduce cost, and we need a new plan in 2008 to guide it all. Where there’s a will – and enough cash - there’s a way.

As the capital city of the richest province in the wealthiest of nations, what are we waiting for?


Anonymous said...

thoughts? yeah i have some thoughts for you: public transportation is for LOSERS.

in this white hot economy theres no excuse for not owning your own car.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

It sounds wonderful. Probably utopian, but wonderful. Who wrote it?

BR said...

Whoever wrote this is definetly a big-picture thinker. The ideas around linking the LRT with a potential high-speed rail link from Calgary (go Flames!) are especially clever.

I do have one rather strong objection, though.

Any idea that involves shutting down the Edmonton City Centre Airport is absurd.

ECCA is an important economic link for business travelers. More importantly, it provides a VITAL medical link for Medical Evacuation flights from the North.

It's not realistic to expect medical emergency passengers to spend an hour or two on the medevac plane, only to have to land at the International and spend another 45 minutes in an ambulance to get back into town.

The anti-business socialist utopians have not yet succeeded in shutting down the City Centre Airport. Hopefully, Edmonton's new left-wing council won't cave in.

Anonymous said...

yeah dave go back to cuba with your bus riding friends and take kevin DAFT along with you. LOL

Anonymous said...

I think this is a great idea. Too bad the political capital and brain power in the provincial government is unsufficient. I do trust the City, but they have no way of funding this.

Anonymous said...

Call me an anti-business socialist utopian, but I think it's a bit ridiculous to take up 60 hectares of centrally-located land to cut the travel time of relatively small number of northern workers by 30 minutes and only marginally impact emergency evacuation times.

I be interested to know how many medical evacuation flights actually use that airstrip in a typical year, and the extent to which a typical medical evacuation time would be affected by closing the ECCA. I'm guessing it takes at least a few hours to actually get someone onto a medical evacuation flight, which means their total journey time would be, typically 6-7 hours. One has to wonder how many lives adding 30 minutes to this going to cost -- and this is discounting the possibility that alternate medical evacuation strategies could be devices that would maintain the current journey time.

It just seems that keeping a giant swath of land adjacent to downtown solely for marginally reducing the travel time of a small amount of medical evacuations per year seems unreasonable. It might sound callous, but it's not as if we have ambulance-only lanes built all over the city to ensure that ambulance response times are minimized. A balance has to be found, and in my opinion we're currently on the wrong side of it.

Also: I truly struggle to believe that any revenues that might be lost from the patronage of northern business travelers at the ECCA would not be recouped by a combination of revenue from the sale of the land that the ECCA is on and the tax revenue that development on this land would generate.

Anonymous said...

I think this was written by someone who doesn't spend a lot of time worrying about how things are paid for:

"Where there’s a will – and enough cash - there’s a way."

Well, yes. But there are obviously downsides to spending the cash on transit. The rhetoric is there, but I'm not quite sold on the "cost-benefit" part of it.

High speed rail isn't going to happen. LRT to Stony Plain isn't going to happen. But shutting down the Muni just might... and it wouldn't be a moment too soon.

Anonymous said...

^^What Josh said.

Also, calling anyone who disagrees with you an "anti-business socialist utopian" adds nothing to the debate. I thought BR was smarter than that...

BR said...

I speak on the ECCA relative to northerners from personal experience on many counts.

I used to fly into the City Centre Airport quite often. Once the it was closed to the big airlines, small operators came in to fill the gap. We were fortunate in Fort McMurray to have Air Mikisew provide a daily service to the City Centre Airport. However, it was pretty cost-prohibitive at close to $200 each way. Once Air Canada and WestJet started flying to Calgary nonstop, a lot of people who just needed to go to "the city" to get things done chose to do it in Calgary... the extra 15 minutes on the plane was more than saved in a quicker commute to the downtown core.

On the medical evacuation front, I thank the Lord for the City Centre Airport. My father was medevac'd to the Royal Alex in 2006. If he had had to fly to Leduc, I don't know if he'd be around today. As far as the frequency of medevac flights to City Centre, i'd love to find the numbers because i'm quite confident they are much higher than you seem to think.

As far as lost revenues, you're probably right that you could certainly make up what is lost in out-of-town commerce with tax revenues from uses for the land. I wonder, though, if Edmontonians realize that painting their city as "the Gateway to the North" is pretty duplicitous given that there seems to be very little interest in actually serving northerners.

Finally, I wasn't calling everyone who disagree's with me an anti-business socialist utopian. I AM smarter than that, and I would hope the people who read this blog would also be smarter than to paint such broad generalisations.

The point, though, is that closing down the Muni has long been a dream for many in Edmonton's left-wing circles... I disagree with them and give them what I believe is a fitting label.

Anonymous said...

Regarding medevac services at the City Centre Airport, isn't a large proportion of those flights by helicopter? And couldn't helicopters fly directly to the hospitals involved, and if they can't due to lack of a landing pad at the hospital...isn't it about time that there WERE helicopter landing pads at Edmonton's major centres and hospitals? And even if medevac uses mostly fixed wing planes, why not have a helicopter shuttle from the international for urgent cases? And couldn't someone make a pile of money shuttling business people and politicians back and forth from the International to downtown, if the not really unreasonalble 45 minute drive (take a look at other big cities, folks!) was deemed too onerous?