Amarjeet Sohi Ben Henderson Don Iveson Municipal Politics Smart Growth

building edmonton’s downtown arena.

With Edmonton’s mainstream media bubbling in praise of the report supporting the construction a new arena in downtown Edmonton, I can’t help but be put a back at the lack of objectivity in the reporting. Judging by the amount of support in today’s papers, you’d think that Colin Powell had just made an irrefutable case to the United Nations Security Council

Here’s a quick look at a couple of things that immediately caught my suspicion…

1) The committee that wrote the report was handpicked by someone who had already voiced support for the downtown arenaMayor Stephen Mandel. Self-fulfilling prophecy, anyone?

2) The comparisons are reaching. Of course I want Edmonton’s downtown to become vibrant, but building a giant hockey rink won’t automatically put Edmonton in a position to rival downtown Montreal or New York (like some of the article’s have alluded). I’m still not convinced that spending upwards of $450 million (plus land costs) on an arena that will draw the suburbs downtown for a couple hours 2-3 nights a week is what will revitalize downtown. As someone who has lived in the Whyte Avenue area for 4 years, I can tell you that bringing loads of hockey hooligans into an area doesn’t revitalize much for the people who are actually living in the neighbourhood.

3) No one seems to be talking about… “Northlands, the non-profit group that runs Rexall Place, released a study in February that said the arena could be rebuilt for $250 million. That report has been shelved while the mayor’s committee does its work.” (The Battle of Alberta had a good post on this back in October 2007).

4) I think that Journal City Hall columnist Scott McKeen might be getting a little too comfy in his City Hall Office as he spent the majority of his pro-arena article taking aim at those who would rather the public funds be spent on other things, like say, fighting homelessness or fixing infrastructure. McKeen also tried to solidify his case by arguing that the amount of reporters who showed up at yesterday’s media conference means Edmontonians should be convinced of the recommendations. Sorry, Scott, but still I remain skeptical.

Through all the frenzy and praise, I’m glad to see that there is still some sensibility on City Council as Councillors Don Iveson, Amarjeet Sohi, Ben Henderson, and Tony Caterina have all publicly stated their skepticism of the report.

Municipal Politics

that’s a big dome.

What does Edmonton need?

A $200,000 collapsible, geodesic dome for Churchill Square, apparently.

(h/t BoA)

Municipal Politics Public Transit

it’s time for late-night public transit in edmonton.

Yesterday morning, I co-presented a presentation to Edmonton City Council’s Transportation & Public Works Committee on the hot issue of 24-hour/late-night transit service in Edmonton. The debate over late-night expanded transit service has drawn attention in the media and in interesting places like’s “Expand Edmonton’s Transit Service to 24 hours!” group (which now has over 2 700 members).

In addition to myself and my fellow co-presenter, nine presenters including Bryan Saunders, the Transit Riders’ Union of Edmonton, the Old Strathcona Business Association, and NAITSA presented their support of expanded transit service (you can take a look at the Transit Riders’ Union of Edmonton presentation here).

With ten City Councillors in attendance at the committee meeting (including committee members Bryan Anderson, Ben Henderson, Ed Gibbons, Kim Krushell, and Councillors Don Iveson, Amarjeet Sohi, Tony Caterina, Karen Leibovici, Dave Thiele, and Jane Batty) it is clear that Edmonton City Councillors are taking this issue seriously.

Here’s part of the presentation that I co-presented…

Making Edmonton a more student- and youth-friendly city through late-night public transit

Presentation to Edmonton City Council Transportation & Public Works Committee (January 22, 2008)

With over 160 000 post-secondary students (including over 60 000 full time post secondary students) living in Edmonton attending NAIT, Grant MacEwan College, the University of Alberta and other institutions, the addition of late-night transit service would help make Edmonton a more student and youth-friendly city.

A large number of students already depend on ETS for their transportation to and from work, home, and school. With the introduction of the Universal Bus Pass in September 2007 for students at Grant MacEwan College and the University of Alberta, we can only expect that as the U-Pass program continues, more students will depend on public transit for their transportation needs.

Because of cost, many students don’t live in the University-area or within walking distance of the U of A. Students working late-night part-time jobs in the restaurant/hospitality industry as well as students working in industrial parks would benefit from late-night transit. Students in the Faculties of Nursing and Medicine who are completing late-night residencies and training in hospitals and medical centers across Edmonton would also benefit from late-night transit. As many students don’t own or have access to cars and because of the rising cost of post-secondary education, the option of taking a $15, $25, or $40 cab-ride is an expensive luxury for many students.

With the recent addition of 24-hour study space in the Students’ Union Building on the University of Alberta North Campus, the addition of late-night transit routes would help students access this space later at night throughout the school year and exam periods without having to worry how to get back to their side of the city.

As of 9:16 pm on Monday, January 21, 2008, the group “Expand Edmonton’s Transit Service to 24 hours!” on the popular online social networking site had 2,535 members. This highlights the wide-interest that the prospect of late-night or 24-hour transit has sparked among students and young Edmontonians.

We propose keeping main routes running for Late-night service as well as late-night LRT service on a half-hourly schedule. The completion of the south track of the LRT to Southgate Mall and Century Park LRT stations will open up the option of late night transit to students living in the south end. Transit service changes such as these will help make Edmonton a more student and youth-friendly city.

The debate on 24-hour/late-night public transit in Edmonton will be continued at the June 10, 2008 meeting of the Transportation & Public Works Committee. If you support the idea of 24-hour/late-night public transit in Edmonton, contact Mayor Stephen Mandel and your City Councillors to let them know!

As Edmonton grows, these types of public transit questions are only going to become more critical to making Edmonton a smarter and more efficient city.

Municipal Politics Public Transit

more late night transit talk in edmonton.

Following up on my previous post on the 24-hour public transit debate in Edmonton, Brian Gould had a great article in last Tuesday’s Gateway.

Click here to read Edmonton Transit system tucking in far to early.

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?


Municipal Politics Public Transit

edmonton city council transit challenge.

A couple of weeks ago, I became involved with the Transit Riders’ Union of Edmonton. TRUE is a committee of Edmonton Transit Service riders who are currently researching and developing strategies to improve the quality of public transit in Edmonton.

Yesterday, TRUE issued a challenge to Edmonton’s City Council to rely exclusively on transit for the week of November 19-25. Ward 5 Councillor Don Iveson, Ward 4 Councillor Ben Henderson, and Ward 6 Councillors Amarjeet Sohi and Dave Thiele have all accepted the challenge and will join hundreds of thousands of Edmontonians on the bus this week.

By accepting the challenge, it says a lot about these four City Councillors and their commitment to improving public transit, something that is essential in creating an efficient and manageable city as Edmonton grows.

You can read coverage of the media challenge here, here, here, and in Russian here.

Here are some pictures that I took at the media conference on the steps of Edmonton City Hall.

City Councillors Ben Henderson, Dave Thiele, and Don Iveson.

Ward 5 City Councillor Don Iveson.

Ward 6 City Councillor Amarjeet Sohi
Municipal Politics

elect ben henderson!

Ben Henderson, Edmonton City Council candidate for Ward 4, is having a BBQ fundraiser next weekend.

Ben came very close to being elected in 2004 (coming within striking distance of defeating incumbent-Councillor Jane Batty. Making Ward 4 one of the closest races in the 2004 Edmonton City Council election).

The Elect Ben campaign will be launched with the Second Annual First BBQ of the Season to be held Sunday April 29th from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. at the Rossdale Community Hall, 10135 – 96 Avenue. Food and drinks will be provided. There will be door prizes, a silent auction, and a 50-50 draw.

Tickets are $20 and can be purchased by phoning 428-1913, sending an e-mail to, or at the door.

Municipal Politics Public Interest Alberta

spring sunday.

Let me preface this post by reflecting that even though Spring in Edmonton has had a few noteable false starts this year (snow last week and snow two weeks before that) it actually feels like a nice fresh Spring day this morning. As allergy season sets in for us unlucky ones, let’s hope that Summer comes soon.

This weekend’s Public Interest Alberta conference was interesting. I spoke at the Post-Secondary Educaiton discussion breakout sessions and found that there was some good conversations, but I most enjoyed attending the Cities discussion breakout session. The Cities sessions was hosted by Amarjeet Sohi – 2004 Edmonton City Council candidate in Ward 6, Jim Gurnett – Executive Director of the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, and Janice Melnychuk – Edmonton City Councillor from Ward 3.

I’ve found myself beoming more interested in Municipal issues over the past year (being involved in lobbying City Councillors and presenting to Council Committees). Much of the discussion surrounded the need for more affordable housing, better public transit, and more regional cooperation between the Capital Region’s 22 Municipalities. I think I may write another individual post on this issue.

I also had a very interesting conversation with Tyson Slocum, who is a Director with Public Citizen‘s Energy Program in Washington DC. Public Citizen was a consumer advocacy group set up by Ralph Nader in 1971. Our conversation ranged in topics, but it stemmed from his speech to the conference delegates when he mentioned that the energy industry in the United States spends over $500,000,000 lobbying politicians and decision makers in Washington DC. That number simply blew me away. If you can even survive when competing against a budget that size your group must be amazing, but if you can survive AND be a political player at the same time – that shows how strong your organization really is.

Municipal Politics

just go and build a new city…

I’ve been up all night re-writing a paper that I originally finished writing a week ago.

I didn’t like the original copy, so I decided to re-write it last night. All night.

In other news… don’t like the city you live in? Build another one!

New city rising
Highrise, pedestrian-friendly urban community planned for Strathcona County
Susan Ruttan, The Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON – A new city with highrise apartments and pedestrian-friendly streets is going to be built in Strathcona County.

The city will be built from scratch on farmland west of Highway 21 and north of the Yellowhead Highway. It could eventually grow to 200,000 people, said Cynthia Cvik, the county’s long-range planning co-ordinator.