5 great reasons to support a dedicated north-central line
As Calgarians, we have the opportunity to get it right this time when it comes to designing a light-rail transit system. The city has suffered with the current design in order to save a few dollars, and it’s not a system that one would call “world-class”. I quickly skimmed through the Stantec report on the downtown alignment of the so-called Green line, and one thing that really stuck out was their references to cities with a more well thought out transit system than our own. This includes Chicago, Vancouver, Bangkok, and Seattle. I’ve used both skytrains in Vancouver and Bangkok and have watched the monorail rumble over top in Seattle. I’m headed to Chicago later this year, so that will be another excellent time for me to see how they set it all up. Knowing how other cities run their transit systems and experiencing them first-hand, here are five top reasons why a dedicated north-central line (either elevated or underground, but not at-grade) should out-rank anything else.
A dedicated line that doesn’t compete with cars and pedestrian traffic will save commuters time and give a sense of schedule predictability.. In my travels around the world, I knew exactly how long it would take for me to get from Hurka to the city centre when in Prague, or from Hutteldorfer Staße to Stephansplatz when in Vienna. There was no need to wait for traffic once I got into the city centre, and I could switch to different lines without ever having to leave the station. Such convenience will be built into having an elevated or underground line as opposed to being stuck with an at-grade system. The city estimates that you’ll save 1-5 minutes on your trip with an elevated track or 3-7 minutes more with an underground one. An entire at-grade line using the Centre Street bridge would take 33-35 minutes as opposed to 30-32 minutes on an elevated line or 28-30 minutes in an underground line. These travel times are much more competitive compared to driving times, especially when you have to compete with traffic jams and lovely winter driving conditions.
2. Cost and economics
While the estimated capital cost of an elevated line ($1.3 billion) and an underground line ($1.8 billion) is higher than the at-grade option ($1.1 billion), the additional expenditure is worth it from many angles:
- Reduced service disruptions due to accidents, vehicle traffic, and pedestrian traffic. Fewer service disruptions means fewer lost work hours.
- An elevated track would also serve as a new pedestrian and cycling link without having to actually build a new one dedicated for this purpose.
- Underground stations have served as a great commercial and food centre in my travels in Hong Kong. I can see Calgary Transit renting out this space for economic use here.
- Looking at a communter’s personal savings, they’ll save on gas, maintenance, parking fees (or fines), and even insurance.
- Underground stations can serve as another station for a future line. A well thought out line can save a bunch on future lines.
- The south-east LRT line and its users will obviously benefit from this elevated or underground line.
3. Increased usage
If you build it, they will come, and they sure did when the West LRT came online. You have articles about full park and ride lots and 28% increase in ridership compared to pre-West LRT days (as of March 2013). These are positive problems to have in a city where just 17% of the population in Calgary uses transit. The proposed north-central and south-east legs of the C-train will no doubt increase usage, but a dedicated line will also bring predictability and faster service. This instills Calgarians with just a little bit more confidence in our lackluster transit system. Building this line sooner will also mean that the current buses that run along this corridor are freed up for other communities that need transit services or to replace aging buses. Of course I am being naive in this point because you still need staff to service this buses, but it means we don’t have to ask the provincial or federal governments for more money to buy additional buses.
4. A beginning for more transit
As a proponent of transit, the higher demand from this Green Line will show the provincial government in particular that transit is a smart investment. The Green Line if done right will be a great example of what a world-class transit system looks like. The more we invest in transit, particularly dedicated train lines, inter-city bus services, and even a (distant) future high speed rail network between Calgary and Edmonton, the better we can move Calgarians and tourists to all corners of the city. Without thoughtful planning now and without the political will to invest now, it might be too late to build a world-class transit system in the future if there’s no one to transport because of how this city’s economy is tied to non-renewal resources.
Giving Calgarians the option to take transit over driving a car means we’re taking more cars off the road and reducing our carbon footprint. We’re also reducing our exposure and our contribution of nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide from vehicle exhaust. Reducing urban sprawl by building transit hubs around these new C-train lines is another fantastic reason why forward thinking transit planning is critical. More transit-oriented development around those areas means we’re able to give Calgarians the option to live in communities where commercial, residential, and the C-train are within walking distances of each other. A world-class transit system means that people would prefer taking transit over driving whenever possible, and that’s how both the local and provincial government should think when they are planning the next transit leg.