Both the City of Calgary and the federal government have committed $1.5 billion to build the Green Line. Photo illustration by Jesse Yardley

Down the line

Many Calgarians are anxious to see the Green Line LRT in operation, while others say it’s an outdated approach

The City of Calgary continues to hammer out details for its ambitious Green Line LRT route plan, but with construction slated to begin in 2019, residents in the city’s deep south are weary of the wait. Many are wondering if the City should focus on improving other transit offerings in the area instead.

Talk of a CTrain arriving someday was a selling feature 22 years ago, when a future station site was built into the master-planned community of McKenzie Towne. More than two decades later, the promise of an LRT continues to feature heavily in the marketing of new communities farther south, including Auburn Bay, Mahogany and Seton, the farthest southern stop planned for the Green Line’s 46-kilometre route.

Both the City and the federal government have committed $1.5 billion to build the Green Line. The recently released 2017-2018 Alberta budget does not yet include any provincial funding for the project. Finance Minister Joe Ceci says the province will withhold its commitment until the City has finalized its Green Line plans.

A recent internal City report suggests the Green Line will be built in phases, and the municipal Green Line website floats 2024 as the year that legs of it will open.

But the amount of congestion on south Deerfoot Trail suggests transit solutions are needed in the deep southeast sooner rather than later, says Sami Amery, general manager of the McKenzie Towne Council.

“It’s been a long wait, and the feeling is everybody definitely wants it. The number of people driving on the Deerfoot attests to the need. But people are uncertain given that resources are scarce. I think BRT (bus rapid transit) is more plausible, less infrastructure and less cost,” said Amery.

Increasing BRT routes could also help people who don’t work downtown.

I believe our City of Calgary LRT is designed for an old-fashioned city, where lots of us work in the centre, and there are no other options except to show up physically to the office each day, and there are no other areas in that city in which you find white-collar offices.

Transit travel to and from even nearby employment and retail hubs such as Deerfoot Meadows from the deep south can involve several buses and a couple of hours –

something the City should address, says Prestwick resident Malissa Rush, who works downtown.

“I have had the pleasure of commuting downtown from McKenzie Towne, as well as Panorama Hills and Beddington over the last five years. If you’re traveling to downtown, there are always plenty of options. But if you’re traveling to anywhere else in the city, it can be quite challenging, if not impossible, depending on your departure location and destination.”

Many residents say a CTrain would most benefit people working in the city’s core, yet that number has dropped. The economic downturn has cut into ridership by nearly seven per cent, according to a recent City report.

“A lot of people lost their jobs downtown, and I was one of those unfortunate casualties,” said Amery.

“But I can attest that the trains were crammed and parking was hard to find. I would try parking at Somerset/Bridlewood at 6:30 a.m. and people were coming from Okotoks and High River, and you’re standing on the train on the very first stop. It was a luxury to even find something to hold onto.”

McKenzie Towne resident Glen Belbeck, a retired land surveyor who relied on express buses and BRT for nearly a decade to get to his downtown job, says he believes the LRT design is outdated.

As a municipal census taker for a number of years, Belbeck says that during the boom years of 2006 to 2009, only 17 per cent of Calgarians worked downtown, with 83 per cent employed outside the core.

“I believe our City of Calgary LRT is designed for an old-fashioned city, where lots of us work in the centre, and there are no other options except to show up physically to the office each day, and there are no other areas in that city in which you find white-collar offices,” he said.

Belbeck suggests the City rethink its spoke-and-hub design and work toward a “checkerboard” model for the LRT that would link more communities around the city.

“This is what the LRT system of 2050 needs to look like, if anyone was crazy enough to want to make it more appealing to use. This grid pattern would at least allow us to go places other than tripping downtown first,” he said, adding that he believes the Green Line will increase ridership only very slightly over what well-run BRTs could do.

The LRT, he said is “too little, for too much money, a bit too late.”

 

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