Municipal Politics Public Transit

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?


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