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.

Clear your sidewalks!

tree-snowI understand why the city wants you to keep your sidewalks clean and sanded, and I don’t have a problem with it.

Threatening to fine you or have contractors clean city sidewalks at my expense is something I do have a problem with though. The City of Edmonton has a bylaw that means you have to keep your sidewalk clean or you’ll be fined $100. They’ll warn you and then fine you, and if that doesn’t work, they’ll clean it and put it on your tax bill.

Cleaning your own sidewalk will save the city money and God knows they have enough trouble with the roads, they don’t need to add sidewalks into the mix.

I think the City of Edmonton would have an easier time selling this idea if they did a better job cleaning the roads and keeping them safe. I find it amazing that in a city that has winters like we do that the roads here can be so appalling. It’s called moral high-ground.

And don’t tell me it’s because the city is so big and has so many roads. Whose fault is that?

I think that having the crews actually learn how to clean snow properly would be really helpful. I was looking out my window one day when I noticed four graders going up and down my street. I swear that they must have made three or four passes each and still didn’t clear the street properly.

I grew up in Prince George, B.C., and they knew how to clear streets. I’m sure they would love to do some consulting work with the City of Edmonton about how to clear streets quickly, efficiently and, most of all, effectively.

I don’t know what the city’s snow clearing budget actually is, but it doesn’t matter. I am positive they could do a better job with the resources they have if they worked more efficiently.

God help us if they call out the army like they did in Toronto.

Christmas, travelling & photos of Mt. Robson

mount-robson-bird-cloudThe last week has been a whirlwind of activity, both positive and negative. The two bad days I had earlier last week have given way to better days. There were no problems with school attendance after that. That was good.

I was able to pack a lot of work in at the end of the week, but I have much more! Saturday was spent preparing for “Christmas” on Sunday. I also did some last minute Christmas shopping and, with the help of the kids, got the house cleaned up and ready for company. My wife had to work Saturday, so we had to get it done. I’m sure she’s not complaining. : )

My Friday was interesting. I attended a Canadian Public Relations Society luncheon where Walter of fusedlogic was speaking about social media and avoiding public relations disasters. I was posting items and pictures on Twitter while Mack Male was live blogging the event. I know Walter was under the weather but it was one of the best speeches I’ve heard him give.

After that I attended the ProTraining open-house. It was a fun party and it was nice to chat with so many people I know and I met a few new ones too. It was almost like a Tweetup!

Early Christmas for the kids

We decided to have a Christmas celebration for the kids before they went back to B.C. to spend the holidays with their mom. The joys of divorce. Nobody in this house has had a “normal” Christmas in years.

Because we’re having relatives on Christmas day and will be having the usual turkey dinner, we decided to give the kids a choice: turkey or sushi. They, of course, took the sushi option. With the help of my parents we prepared several platters of sushi composed of crab, tuna and salmon in various forms.

The sushi was really good. It may not have been as fancy as you find in a sushi restaurant, but it was still good.

The kids were the only ones opening presents, except for my wife and I opening gifts from the kids. They were pretty happy with their gifts, and while I intended to spend a little less than average this year, I am pretty sure I spent more.

I have seen figures that the average spent per person on Christmas in Canada is in the $850-900 range. Per person! I think our whole family spends less than $1,000 together! It’s not like we’re just buying at Wal-Mart either. We get nice gifts but not too much and though I do feel like we’re extravagant at times, I guess we’re not.

Trip West: to B.C.

Yesterday we drove the kids “half way” from Edmonton to McBride. My ex-wife lives in Quesnel now. She was running late so I decided to tour McBride. I used to live there a while back with my ex-wife. My daughter was two at the time.

For me, the most interesting part of the tour was driving down the long country road to the old mill I used to work at. We couldn’t get in because the road was choked with snow. I could see there was no longer a gate, so there’s obviously nothing left back there. It was a neat old mill where they produced cedar post and rail fencing. There was also a sawmill with a planer.

We drove back down the road and I stopped at a small property halfway back to town. I stopped in to see if the people I knew were still there, and by chance, they were! The fellow I knew was now working out of town and unfortunately (for me) was going to be home today. I talked with his wife at the door for a while and got his email address. Everyone in the car had a laugh as the goat tried to butt its way inside the door I had cracked open slightly.

I hadn’t been through McBride much over the years and never really had time to stop. I’m glad I did this time. After 14 years in can be kind of awkward, but it always passes quickly. I would have regretted it if I’d driven right past and never stopped.

We found a local restaurant to relax at and eventually got the kids on their way to Christmas in Quesnel. We’ll miss them, as we always do. Hopefully they have a good Christmas there.

Mt. Robson

On the way to McBride we had stopped and taken some pictures of Mt. Robson, which was crystal clear that day. Anyone who gets to see that spectacular mountain on a regular basis is blessed. It’s definitely one of the most picturesque mountains in the world. My photos don’t do it justice.

We actually stopped there on the way back too. It was in early sunset, and looked nice still. I wish we had the time to wait because the sunset later offered the most amazing salmon pink cast. Now that would have made an even better photo. We have to go back that way again soon, so you never know.

After snapping off a few dozen photos, getting some video and some frostbite, we were on our way again. The rest of the trip was less eventful. We stopped in Jasper, one of our favourite towns, for supper. We often stop at the Earl’s there and did again this time. It’s perched up above the quaint streets and it offers a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains.

Snow tires are a good thing, studded tires are better

We arrived safely back home. I say safely because the way people were driving, it’s a good thing. I can’t believe the way people drive on icy roads and the roads lately have been icier than usual. They keep their all-season tires on and drive like it’s summer. We had studded tires on all four tires. It was so icy in places that even with our tires I could feel the car losing a bit of grip.

I think that investing in a second set of rims, and either snow tires or studded tires, is a sensible investment in a vehicle you plan to keep. Once they’re mounted, you can do the tire changes yourself, which saves around $50 twice per year. It also extends the life of your current tires because they are being driven on half the time. At the very least if you could have one vehicle in your family that was equipped like this, that would be good.

That’s the economic side of the argument. If you value your family’s and your own lives, it’s worth it no matter what the cost. If you’re “lucky” enough to have an accident with no injuries, I am curious how much that might cost you. How much do your premiums go up if you just go off the road and total your car? I am curious because I’ve never had it happen. I assume you’re found to be at fault. Interesting thought though.

If I don’t manage to make it back to my blog before Christmas, I hope that you and your family have a very merry, happy and safe Christmas!

Comments:

  1. Paul Says: I agree 100% about the tires. I’ll be shopping for a new vehicle soon, so it’s not worth the investment on this car, but wow…what a difference good tires make. Takes a lot of the stress out of driving.Great pics, also!
  2. Alain Saffel Says: Paul, thanks for the comment. It’s surprising how many people don’t drive on the right tires. It endangers everyone. Quebec had the right idea about making snow tires mandatory.I hate driving in vehicles without the right snow tires. My truck is like that, which is why it tends to sit in the winter. Right now I can’t afford to buy the rims and tires for it either.Thanks for the compliments on the pictures. You can check out my Flickr account too. I’ve got the widget on the page here for my Flickr account. :)

Marketing & communications: to cut or not to cut

recessionWhen a recession looms, every business faces the question of whether to cut back spending with marketing and communications often being the first target.

Should you cut marketing and communications spending with a possible recession on the way?

Tough question and it needs to be answered individually. I did get some food for thought this afternoon from the PR Web (news release company) webinar I heard today.

I have successfully used their service with one recent release gathering nearly 2,800 links.

It can be a very valuable way to build links and it doesn’t cost that much.

News releases: maximizing your marketing budget

One presenter suggested news releases are a great way to get more for less with your marketing dollars. Keeping your marketing and communications budget at the same level could be beneficial because your competitors are likely to cut their spending.

This would help to increase your visibility as your competitors are reducing theirs. The result? Hopefully that will mean increased business for you, even in a weak economy.

The weak economy can also be beneficial because traditional media outlets are often willing to strike deals to keep the ad dollars flowing. Keep that in mind when you’re talking to your ad reps.

Earned media: free advertising

I have used news releases and public relations to get what is known as “earned media.” It’s essentially getting a media organization to pick up your news release and run it as is, or write their own story with your release as the basis for the story.

If your release does get picked up, most reporters will not go with it as is, but you will likely be one of their sources.

Devoting more of your marketing budget towards communications tools such as news releases could help to substantially raise your company’s public profile. The second benefit is that it can really boost your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts by increasing the number of links pointing back to your site.

Cut the marketing budget?

Before you take any drastic action, make sure to assess how you and your competition are engaging your customers. A marketing plan is a good start. Make sure that if you do cut your budget it won’t have the unintended effect of driving business to your competitor. If you can afford it, keeping your marketing budget the same might effectively be increasing it, compared to your competition.

In my next article I’ll talk about ways to get maximum value from your news release: “How to get the media to pick up your news release.”