As Edmonton struggles to build out its LRT system, the challenges for a driver-centred city won’t stop.
The Metro Line has put a blight on the idea of LRT for many, rightly or wrongly. Hopefully the City does sort out the signalling system’s problems this year, and gets as much back from the company responsible for the mess as it can.
There are already fears and complaints about the Valley Line LRT as it’s built from the downtown to Mill Woods. Eventually it could provide a 30-minute trip across that span, which sounds pretty awesome, not to mention more efficient for roads throughout Edmonton’s southeast.
The Valley Line is also planned to extend from the downtown to the west, beyond our favourite mall, finally connecting western neighbourhoods to our core communities with a quick trip. (When I say quick trip I mean for anyone who doesn’t have regular access to a car and doesn’t get stuck in traffic.) That line isn’t quite set yet, nor paid for, and it’s going to be one of this year’s big stories.
While we should be putting the final touches on the LRT’s path to west Edmonton this year, and then getting contracts signed and construction plans in place, there’s a growing call to reconsider.
There are two different reconsiderations being put out there right now. Some people want to explore switching the plans out for bus rapid transit (BRT), and others want to just ditch mass transit completely.
(Both of those links are from Postmedia’s newspapers, and at least one city councillor is questioning the fact-checking over there. But the general sentiments still apply to the larger debate.)
This is to say nothing of the other decisions over how much of the line should be raised (or tunnelled) to try and appease people driving, particularly through a handful of busy intersections. Those options will raise the cost of the line no matter if it’s LRT or BRT.
As I said during the election, I’m not convinced those calling for BRT totally understand what’s being requested. It’s not just buses running in express lanes, it’s got a lot of its own infrastructure, it will also require roadway (and even right of way) and it only saves money at the initial build stages since it requires more buses and drivers over its lifetime (LRT has bigger capital costs, BRT has more operational costs). So, while we might save money in the next few years, we will end up spending it by the time we get around to our next major capital investments in mass transit. Or we’ll have to spend even more if we want to upgrade any of the BRT lines to LRT. That’s what some cities do, buying time and gauging ridership with the BRT until a bigger plan and more money is put together.
We already know, however, that Stony Plain Road is a major commuter roadway. And we know West Edmonton Mall is a big employer with a lot of customers (not to mention visitors to our city, who will find it easy to hop on a train from downtown to visit “the mall”). The data already points us at making a big investment in mass transit to west Edmonton. Let’s not nickel and dime that decision right off the agenda.
We can have the discussion about BRT vs. LRT (which hopefully doesn’t delay our mass transit plans for west Edmonton) but let’s be clear why we’re having this conversation.
I don’t think it’s about saving a few bucks in the short-term. It’s also not really about perceived delays for drivers, since BRT will most definitely create almost the same issues at the same intersections in the same neighbourhoods (another good reason to take transit!). There is the potential this is an easy way for some to push spending cuts with the public becoming wary of LRT (thanks, Metro Line!). Politically, those in areas not yet served by mass transit, in the southwest and northwest, are likely also trying to find a way to open up some rapid transit cash for themselves as quickly as possible.
All that needs to be out in the open, however, and I think we’re kind of dancing around some of those issues, if not just completely unsure of why BRT has just become a hot topic. If we’re not clear about why we’re having the conversation, we risk making decisions from that car-first part of Edmonton’s brain, which doesn’t help a sprawling city get traffic congestion or costs under control. We also have to make decisions that benefit the most Edmontonians at any given time.
We did a whole big rundown on all the 2017 reviews and year-end interviews last week, so it only makes sense to start looking at what 2018 means this week. (You’ll also find some of these 2018 hints, predictions and plans in some of those 2017 year-in-review items and interviews).
As mentioned above, Edmonton’s expanding LRT system is going to be a big story this year. But there are others from City Hall to keep an eye on, including whether we make meaningful strides to end homelessness (that one is tied to money from the provincial and federal governments though).
The City also has to get ready for the legalization of marijuana, and the many bylaws and zoning regulations that come with the change. (Police aren’t feeling so confident about being ready.)
Edmonton’s got to find ways to fill its vacant downtown office towers, and the mayor wants to create a tech hub throughout the LRT corridor between the U of A and NAIT. That so-called “innovation corridor” could have some office space eaten up by another one of Edmonton’s initiatives, which is to become “Health City“.
There’s the potential for a reduction in tax rates for small businesses, but it remains to be seen how that may be used in Edmonton or the Metro Region.
A new year often means changes to a variety of fees and taxes. This one also brings in a bunch of new workplace rules, particularly around pay and benefit increases and protections for workplace safety.
Condo rules are getting updated for 2018 too. They’ll be coming in two parts, with the initial changes related condo boards and owners in effect now, and changes for buying a condo coming in the spring.
The provincial government is changing drunk driving penalties, to comply with a court ruling that said it was a violation of rights to tie loss of a driver’s license to the outcome of a criminal proceeding. It looks like you can still lose your license if you’re caught driving while impaired, but you may not be charged criminally (the first time, at least).
Organized crime will be a major focus of a province-wide policing team in 2018.
And the Edmonton Journal’s got a look at some business stories to keep an eye on this year.
There are a couple of contextual items to go along with this story, I think.
It can be seen as another sporting loss for Edmonton in the battle between the NHL+CFL and everything else. We appear to struggle as a city to support and maintain sports teams and regular events that aren’t connected to the hockey or football team (or one-off events like major athletics competitions). In the last few years we’ve lost our soccer team and lacrosse club, and we also won’t keep bull riding around to replace the rodeo since it failed to sell tickets in November. (Although bull riding might return at a different time of year.)
The rodeo and farm-related events are obviously a part of Edmonton’s history. There’s nothing wrong with moving on to new things, but I’m not sure we’re choosing to do so as much as we’re just letting the events go through a variety of inaction. Replacing the rodeo (and bull riding) with country music concerts and hockey games might appeal to some of the same folks who had been coming to the city, but it also feels like we’re just trying to jam more events into the arena. That keep money flowing to the arena (and Oilers group) but the economic spin-off to local businesses tied to farming and the rodeo could be lost. (This is especially true, I believe, if Red Deer lands the CFR and diverts Alberta visitors south.)
And there’s the Northlands angle. The organization has lost a lot in recent years, some of it self-inflicted, but the City doesn’t have a clear plan for how Northlands will operate without so much of its former programming, or what to do with with its largest asset – our former arena. This isn’t just a private business that’s failing, and how its decline, or evolution, is handled has a major impact for the neighbourhoods around Northlands and the City’s budget.
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