Edmonton Transit Camp #yegtransit

transitcampedmontonOn Saturday I attended Edmonton Transit Camp at the World Trade Centre.

It was a half-day event where attendees could find out all about what the plans are for the Edmonton transit system and contribute their views on what should happen with the Edmonton transit system.

There were about 50 to 60 people attending the event and I thought it was worthwhile attending. It was interesting to be able to share ideas on the future of Edmonton’s transit system. We even had a few visitors come up from Calgary to join the discussion.

What will Edmonton LRT look like in the future?

...forecasting for a 100 year transit plan that fuel prices will double to $1.66 per litre

There have been a few stories in the news about what Edmonton’s LRT system will look like so we have a basic idea of what’s being proposed. There are also a few online resources.

What worried me early on in Transit Camp was a presentation from an Edmonton Transit official. I’ve forgotten her name but I thought her presentation was interesting.

So, here are my thoughts in general on Edmonton Transit Camp as well as the Edmonton transit and LRT system in general and what I would like to see in it. So it’s a combination critique and wish list.

I was worried because of the underlying assumptions ETS has used to decide on how Edmonton LRT will expand. At the end of her presentation we had a chance to quiz her on a few things. She had talked about one of the assumptions being that world oil prices would double. Hmm. Ok. Double from what price?

A little more probing and we discover that the assumption is actually from 2006 and it’s based on a doubling of the then gas price of 83 cents per litre. So, they’re forecasting for a 100 year transit plan that fuel prices will double to $1.66 per litre! Granted, I have not seen the plan, so I don’t know how that works into the plan or if they’ve assumed that we’ll be floating around Edmonton like the Jetsons at some point.

$1.66 per litre. Really? We nearly reached that last summer and I’m not sure when this 100 year plan is supposed to start. $1.66 a litre doesn’t seem too pessimistic to me! In fact, if gas is going to top out at $1.66 a litre for the next 100 years, why would anyone even use transit, aside from the population of the area being projected to grow to 3 million over that time (and the requisite parking problems).

I don’t know if the consultants on this project or the people at Edmonton city hall have taken peak oil into account on this. It is a reality. It’s going to make travelling by automobile a very difficult, if not impossible thing at some point in the future. Will Edmonton’s transit and LRT system be prepared for the huge influx of transit users? I’m worried it won’t be.

Star shaped LRT system, or grid?

edmonton-transit-platinum-bus
Checked out Edmonton Transit’s showcase platinum bus

Another issue I had with the Edmonton transit plan was the star shaped LRT network. The way they’re planning the LRT routes is to have all the LRT routes funnel through downtown. So, if you were wanting to take LRT from St. Albert to West Edmonton Mall, there wouldn’t be a route other than going all the way downtown, and then west to WEM.

Doesn’t seem to make much sense. Oh, and that’s assuming there will be LRT from St. Albert anyway. Outlying communities will have to get on the LRT at some sort of interchange between municipalities.

I believe that a loose grid network with branches out to communities outside Edmonton makes the most sense. I know the cost issue is a sensitive one, but a way should be found to connect the transit systems of all Edmonton area communities.

A loose grid system would allow travel throughout Edmonton without necessarily having to travel through downtown Edmonton. It’s one thing to project where transit demand will come from, but I know that when transit stations are built in an area, those areas grow. It’s an “if you build it, they will come” approach. Transit oriented design, I believe they call it.

Are there areas which would support growth away from downtown Edmonton? I think the current municipal airport is one. Not knowing the Edmonton region as intimately as some, I’m sure there are many others.

A loose grid works well in other locations and the value is where those lines cross, allowing transit users to access many areas quickly and easily via LRT. Toronto and Montreal have excellent systems with many cross-links. I know the bus and subway system in Montreal is very well integrated and it just makes sense to use it. I have, and I know from experience you can go virtually everywhere in the city quite easily.

Having lived in Vancouver, I have used Skytrain a fair bit. It was always a pain because it was one line. That’s it. It would have been far more valuable with good cross-linking transit lines. That’s the direction they’re finally going.

A star-shaped LRT system in Edmonton funnels everything through the bottleneck of downtown. And with the low step street level LRT they’re proposing (similar to Calgary), it’s going to be slow going, meaning inconvenient.

Time & budget considerations

free-scooter-parking-edmonton
Scooters & motorcycles should have free parking in Edmonton. More of these on the road would be good.

Edmonton is a big, thinly populated city, right now. They’re projecting a tripling of the population over the next 100 years though, so it’s going to fill in, increasing population density.

With transit now, it takes forever to travel across the city via transit, and I’m worried that won’t change with the proposed expansion of the LRT. I live in Northeast Edmonton, and am lucky enough to be within a single 10 minute bus ride of the LRT line. Still, if I want to travel south, perhaps to Ikea, I’m looking at anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours one way on transit. The end result? I’m not using transit.

The marginal cost of taking my family there with a vehicle is maybe a couple dollars of gas. Transit? If there are four of us, it’s $20 round trip. Transit is out and I’m clogging the roadway. There are many many areas of Edmonton where this calculation works more in favour of using cars over transit. I have used transit for many meetings in downtown Edmonton because the parking is so ridiculous, and if I don’t have other meetings elsewhere following it.

There were some good suggestions about group rates for events. I live close to Northlands and if my family wanted to go to a home show, it would make more sense to drive and park for $10 than to pay $20 round trip for transit. The cost of gas for the trip is virtually nothing. We have walked too, weather permitting.

My wife works out in Sherwood Park and transit isn’t even an option for her. Add another car to the congestion.

I bought a scooter last year, which is far more fuel efficient, but Edmonton’s parking system just views me as another car. There are few good options and certainly no financial benefits from a parking perspective for having it. You can park half a dozen motorcycles in the space of one car. There should be cheaper or free parking for motorcycles and scooters.

An efficient LRT and transit network might tip us into being regular users of transit. I’m not confident the proposed system will do that either.

Connecting with Edmonton airports?

And what about Edmonton International Airport? Apparently that is not in this plan. And what’s happening with the municipal airport? Well, nobody knows that yet, but you can bet it will be gone, given the ideas flowing from city council.

Here are some of the criteria used to decide on the LRT routes. Apparently the plan is being presented to city council as I write this. Not like I’ve got time to spend the morning there listening, but I wouldn’t have minded!

I’m not sure how a 100 year transit plan can be discussed, let alone implemented, without making solid decisions on what is happening with the airports. The presenter I’d mentioned earlier said people on the LRT would be looking out the window at people on the freeway doing 100 km/h towards the airport. Sure, whatever, but those people also have to park, and it’s not cheap there! LRT would be fine to go to the airport.

Conclusion

I have serious concerns about this plan according to what I heard Saturday. I’m concerned that the assumptions this report is based on won’t lead to the kind of transit system Edmonton needs in the future. Once I’ve seen the plan I’ll be able to comment more on it.

There are so many issues that I could go into and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. Even with the issues I’ve raised, I feel like I could write a book on them.

This isn’t the kind of issue that we can just hand over to consultants and run with it. We need to have a serious discussion about the future of Edmonton and the very important role that transit will play here in the next 100 years. It may seem costly, but I think it’s going to be more costly to build a system that doesn’t work well for Edmonton and surrounding communities.

Published by

Alain Saffel

If I were to picture my ideal life, I’d be sitting in some far off land, sipping a coffee in a café, my backpack at my side, camera around my neck, motorcycle at the curb, pondering my next stop or maybe madly typing away on my laptop about my latest adventure.

14 thoughts on “Edmonton Transit Camp #yegtransit”

  1. Regarding scooter/motorcycle parking: much of the time you can get away with parking on the sidewalk or in a nook where a car couldn’t fit. While this is technically illegal, it’s quite common and I’ve never heard of anyone receiving a ticket for doing so. There are ways to avoid paying for parking if you’re riding a motorbike of some kind. I’ve done it myself and only once did I have a cop see me pulling into a spot and say, “You can’t park there.”

    1. That’s always the issue though. I’d rather not have to pay for the inevitable parking tickets. I seem to be a parking ticket magnet!

      I agree, though, that scooters and motorcycles can nicely in those “unparkable” areas.

  2. Some good comments. I’m not sure I agree with all of them but that’s what democracy’s all about. I have a different perspective, which is here: http://www.doniveson.ca/2009/05/24/an-urban-vision-for-lrt/

    I do agree that a grid is needed, but of buses which stop frequently enough to be flexible for varying travel needs. LRT does not lend itself to door to door service unless your respective doors are near a lot of other doors (i.e. at higher density, as nodes). There was a bit of discussion today about a crosstown connection LRT on 111 or 118 avenue to connect the ‘spokes’, but this would be a ways out.

    Connecting transit to international airport is a high priority for me, and I think there is will on council, but LRT is not the right technology for this. Dedicated fast rail (from Old Strathcona, say, if LRT were on Whyte) or express bus (from Southgate or Century Park or the eventual Ellerslie Rd and 127 St Station south of the Henday) would be faster and more cost effective, provided this other technology was connected to LRT somewhere. Solving this requires cooperation of the Province and the Capital Region Board, but it’s a priority for many of us.

    I’ve been pushing a scenario-based approach to analysis of peak oil/energy price volatility and it’s got some traction in parts of the city but not with Transportation Planning. The good news is that high energy prices will drive demand for transit, the bad news is the construction costs of major transit infrastructure like LRT (lots of digging and lots of concrete) goes way up.

    1. Don, thanks for the comments. I know you’re one person who thinks peak oil should be brought into the equation. I didn’t make that clear in my post. You had covered that in your presentation too. I had to step out just before all the questions on the board were answered and I’d posed that question. Duty called. My family wanted to go to the grand opening of the Edmonton Humane Society! :)

      I think one of the main advantages to a segregated LRT system of any sort is that it is immune to traffic difficulties, which is where I think the low-floor in-street LRT might run into problems. I think the time issue is a big one for people and it’s not just the financial issues that come into play when deciding to use cars versus transit. In my opinion, the greatest value in a transit system is connecting all the dots, and not just with buses. I’m not saying the LRT has to be a door to door system. Far from it.

      As the city grows, an in-street LRT is going to get slower and slower as traffic in the downtown core grows as well. Drivers don’t necessarily have to work downtown to cause congestion. I’m sure merchants downtown would like people to come and shop there too. As it sits, my family rarely shops downtown mainly because of the cost of parking. There are plenty of other options in Edmonton that involve no parking cost.

      I’m not opposed to some sort of high speed rail to the airport, but some sort of link should be in the works soon. As long as the LRT ties into a station to do that, great.

      Good to see you’re trying to get City Hall to understand the peak oil issue. I would think that Transportation Planning would be the one place where they’d understand it the most. Of course increased energy costs are going to increase the costs to build, but the longer we wait, the worse it gets!

      Thanks again for your comments and I will definitely keep following this issue. I think it’s critical to the success of Edmonton in the long term.

  3. Thanks, Allan. Any lrt, including low floor would run with priority in a dedicated right of way, so on street but definitely not in traffic. Mixed with traffic is ‘tram’ or ‘streetcar’. That’s not recommended at all. That could have been clearer, though.

    1. I think it was DJ Kelly that mentioned Calgary’s LRT system is on a priority right of way but runs into traffic issues.

      I guess my worry is that by creating a dedicated right of way for transit in downtown will make an already bad traffic situation worse.

      One thing that would help traffic downtown in less well travelled areas is to have smarter traffic lights. Away from Jasper you’ll wait forever for some of these lights. Why can’t they have a timer and demand system?

      Also, the timing of lights is ridiculous on some major thoroughfares and actually hinders traffic. At certain times of day, the timing of the lights should facilitate traffic flow rather than hinder it. Maybe a few million invested in these systems would make traffic better and alleviate some of the congestion issues.

      The priority system for transit is a hindrance for traffic in several areas around Edmonton. More street level transit will only make it worse, especially with more frequent trains. I’m not convinced that street level LRT will make things better.

      1. Learn from Calgary’s mistake. Keep your LRT downtown underground if you can. I’d guess 75% of our LRT collisions happen at downtown crossings. (No arms or warning lights, just stop lights that people think they can run.)

        Other than this our LRT works very very well. TransitCamp opened my eyes a little to low floor however. Because Calgary has high floor LRT it does not integrate well with existing neighbourhoods and has to have a dedicated right of way – often putting lines in areas that are not the most convenient. This impacts ridership and the effectiveness of the system as a whole.

        From what I heard it seems like the Edmonton system is pretty well thought out.

      1. Scooter and motorcycle free parking – absolutely a great idea. Halifax and Toronto have it, as do many other cities in North America. I have a 50 cc Vespa scooter that I could communite to work with. I can run it for an entire month for $4. But… it costs $12 a day to park it downtown so I drive instead. If this City is truly committed to sustainability, it will need to work with its business/parking lot owners to commit to change. There are so many ways to get cars off the road. Free (or reduced) scooter and motorcycle parking is definitely one of them.

        1. In talking with some people I understand there are some free places to park, but I haven’t found them. I don’t feel like taking chances with tickets either. This city has a long way to go before that sort of enlightenment!

          If other motorcycle/scooter riders park properly, it’s easy to fit two bikes in one spot. I’ve done that quite a few times.

  4. Alain, I agree with your points on the improved traffic light system. While there are areas that could probably be improved right now, that will have to something to consider with this futuristic streetcar idea and more buses.

    I think dedicated lanes can work, if the traffic lights help move the mass transit vehicles a little out of the way of the rest of traffic. Not only would the dedicated lanes improve flow of like-directed cars, an advanced light system can get them out of the way for turning vehicles. That improved speed and efficiency will start to make transit a better option and get more people out of their personal vehicles, which clears up the roads even more.

    I think something like this can be tested right away on a street like Whyte Avenue. Test out a day (or more) turning the on-street parking into a transit lane. Some of the biggest slowdowns come from transit and cars trying to do the same thing.

    On the airports…I can accept the argument that “LRT” doesn’t move fast enough to compete with the 110 km/h highway speed into the City. It doesn’t mean that International hub can’t be even a pie-in-the-sky idea in the 100-year plan.

    If the train, however, gets to do 80 km/h from the city limits to Century Park or Southgate it’s got an advantage over drivers that have to slow down north of the Henday. Plus, if you make that airport train dedicated to air travelers it would be a cheap ride with comfortable space. Ideally I would have a train or some kind of mass transit vehicle come right up to Whyte/University, Downtown or what will (hopefully) no longer be a tiny airport but a thriving residential community and business centre north of Kingsway.

    1. I’ll go with DJ in suggesting Edmonton keep the LRT underground downtown as much as possible. It’ll cause far fewer problems.

      I don’t see the point in developing a whole new line to come to downtown just to link to the airport. I think they can do it with the same line, by using LRT. It wouldn’t be that bad.

      Or, bring it to a point in the southern part of the city where you can transfer.

      While now it may make more sense just to go by car to the airport, it’s not going to continue that way as the city grows. What’s the big deal if you have to stop a few times on the LRT? You’re saving money by not having to park and you can relax.

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