The Route Ahead- Some Thoughts

This week, the RouteAhead team presented a draft version of their 30 year vision for Calgary Transit to City Council. The $8 billion plan includes new LRT lines, BRT routes (which we prefer to call express or limited stop services), Transitways (using dedicated transit lanes, which we would call Bus Rapid Transit), a new downtown subway, an LRT link to the airport and even a link between the UofC and Westbrook mall using a mysterious “new technology.” We encourage everyone to see the draft version of the plan and the associated documents, which can be found on the Route Ahead website here: http://www.routeahead.ca/

Here are some of our initial thoughts on the draft plan:

Pros

The plan focuses on increasing crosstown routes. While Calgary Transit has been tremendously successful in providing rapid and reliable transit to the downtown, with unprecedented ridership for downtown workers, that success has not been translated to other areas of the city to as great effect. Providing high quality crosstown routes serving other employment (and non-employment) destinations, such as Foothills Hospital, Mount Royal University, the Airport and industrial areas (especially Foothills Industrial) will greatly improve transit for many more Calgarians.

– Network connectivity from the beginning is key. Rather than focusing on one corridor at a time and providing a massive improvement to transit for just one route, while leaving other areas with lower quality transit, the plan focuses on creating a network of interconnected routes as early as possible. By providing this network of routes, passengers can get from almost any part of the network to any other part quickly using frequent transit services. Reducing the number of transfers that passengers need to make is key to ensuring high quality service.

The plan is technology neutral (kind of). While the map of future capital projects shows different LRT, BRT, Transitway and other technologies for different routes, the plan actually calls for each corridor to be “upgraded” as necessary, which the plan calls “Mode Progression.” This means that each corridor will undergo improvements to increase quality of service (i.e. from limited stop buses to dedicated lanes or from dedicated bus lanes to LRT) when needed. While not always linear (sometimes the route may go straight from limited stop bus to LRT), the concept is that criteria for improvement should drive the technology choice, not the other way around. This prevents the nonconstructive arguments of “we need LRT here”, when we should be saying “we need transit here” and let the criteria determine what form of transit that takes. Which takes us to the next point:

The plan uses multiple criteria for improvements. The plan uses three sets of criteria to evaluate when to upgrade a transit corridor. These criteria are Land Use (does the corridor serve areas of transit-supportive development), Customer Experience (will the improvement improve the speed, reliability and capacity of the service) and Project Characteristics (is the project cost effective both in terms of capital and operating costs). By using multiple criteria the plan pursues a balanced approach to improving the network, ultimately improving decision making for expenditure. If a single criteria was used (for instance the raw number of riders on a route) it may lead to improvements that are not cost-effective, or that do little to improve connectivity with other routes.

Cons

– Connecting the SW Crosstown BRT and 52nd ST E BRT. There seems to be a lack of a connection between these two routes. Passengers traveling from the west side of the city going to Foothills Industrial will have to make at least two separate transfers to get to where they are going. A possible solution to this would be to connect the 52nd ST E BRT to Quarry Park, so transfers can be made here. This does sacrifice a direct route from the NE to the South Hospital, but perhaps the cost of creating a single transfer for NE residents going to the hospital is less than the benefit of eliminating a second transfer for west residents going to Foothills industrial. The other option would be to extend the SW Crosstown BRT eastward to make a connection with the 52nd ST E BRT on 52nd Street.

– No connection between South Hospital and Somerset. The plan does not show a connection between the South LRT and the SE LRT, connecting passengers using the South LRT to the the South Hospital. Likely this is because Route Ahead determines this route not to be “rapid transit” but rather “frequent transit” (i.e. it won’t require dedicated lanes or other priority improvements), and it will be shown on a later version of the plan. Either way, this connection should be made, as without it any passengers using the South line would have to travel north to Heritage, transfer to the SW Crosstown BRT and then transfer again at Quarry Park on the SE LRT.

Could the Airport–LRT connection strategy be implemented more effectively? The plan shows a rail connection from the Northeast LRT to Calgary International Airport, and a limited-stop bus connection from the airport to Centre Street. It seems strange and most disconcerting that RouteAhead’s mode progression analysis would fall so short here, and to such disjointed ends. While the C-Train connection from the Northeast LRT to the airport would leverage the municipal investment in the light-rail-ready Airport Trail Underpass, a rail connection between the airport and the North Central LRT would offer Calgary Transit users the option of traveling a shorter distance with fewer passenger stops in between. Also, the mode progression analysis gives short shrift to Aurora Business Park, the potential railhead and passenger interchange through the Nose Creek Valley for future commuter rail and high-speed rail services, and future commercial and service developments in the vicinity of Airport Trail and 19 Street NE. It is contrary to the Calgary Transit vision and mission of providing effective public transportation service to introduce a needless, and needlessly permanent, transfer point along the Airport Trail corridor between the Northeast and North Central LRT lines, and the strategic problem of moving passengers from Northpointe to Saddletowne, as a case in point, is easily soluble. An airport mass transit connection that contemplates light rail as a means of joining Calgary International Airport to the Northeast and North Central LRT must finish what it starts.

Interesting Points

 The plan is (purposely?) vague. Although some details about route alignment are provided in the draft plan (such as using 16th avenue for the North Crosstown Route, or 52nd Street), others are not. This is good in that it does not commit the plan to any particular alignment and allows for future study to determine the optimal alignment for each. That, however, does leave some questions open. For instance, the Rapid Transit route from Stoney Trail to the 305 will use Shaganappi Trail and shows a connection to the NW LRT. The question is, where will this connection be made.? Shaganappi Trail is just under a kilometre from Dalhousie Station and almost 2km from Brentwood Station. Would a connection here require a new LRT station to be built at Northland Mall, as some have previously advocated for (and we are sure the owners of the mall would welcome)? Also, the North Crosstown BRT isn’t shown to connect to the NE LRT. Does this imply that the route will continue on 16th avenue until 52nd Street, or will it divert course to connect to the NE LRT at say, Rundle Station. So far this is unclear, but definitely something that must be considered.

What is the New technology”?. The plan shows using a “new technology” between the UofC and Westbrook station. Considering a direct connection here would go over Edworthy Park, it is likely that this technology is in fact an urban gondola. The thought is definitely worth consideration.

There is a lot to consider with this plan, and we encourage everyone to share their thoughts here, with their representative on City Council and with the Route Ahead.

Next week, we will present the TransitCamp long range transit plan (an update to our earlier post) and show how it compares to the Route Ahead plan.

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3 thoughts on “The Route Ahead- Some Thoughts

  1. I know that this plan just focuses on capital spending, but the quality of operations will also have an effect on ridership of these proposed routes. There is a stigma to riding the bus (warranted or unwarranted, its debatable), but increasing the frequency of buses would make it more reliable, and people will see it as a useful alternative. If that means having less stops and spacing it out, so be it. More frequent buses will probably have a bigger positive impact.

    The point is to make people want to take transit, not because they don’t have any other choice.

  2. 1. I hope the 30 year timeline is compressed to something much shorter, considering this plan seems to be focussed mostly on what is in fact current needs. Considering Alberta’s boom/bust resource royalty revenue cycle, one would think it would only take a few good boom years of high revenues to provide the required funds for projects such as this in places like Calgary & abroad. I agree with Nenshi’s premise here: get a plan in place (complete with studies & environmental assessments) so that when money actually appears available, we’re ready to go & have credible, ready-to-roll plans to lobby the Legislature with.

    2. The last time the word “Gondola” got published as a transit mode in Calgary it was mocked extensively – I suspect they dodged this by calling it “new technology”. Getting the broader public behind this initiative is clearly the political goal at this stage.

    3. The airport lines as mixed 202 LRT spur / BRT is definately a bad idea. A continuous, independent line with a western terminus at the NC line through to the extended 202 at the east end (via 96 Ave / Airport Trail continuously, excepting the loop through YYC) not only provides a better mode of service east & west, but also makes crosstown traffic (people who are not going to the airport, but simply utilizing the service) much easier than what you describe as a “needless transfer”. Constructing a train Right-of-Way (ROW) should be relatively inexpensive west of the airport due to the freeway plan for Airport Trail. In fact, this may be the only corridor in Calgary that could be well-suited to automation, as a fully protected ROW is quite attainable in the middle of the freeway (likely circulating through the airport at the 3rd floor, above the existing 2nd-floor departures level). (automation would also enable better frequency by eliminating labour from the operating costs, providing shorter layovers at transfer points on either end).

    4. I completely agree that the “SW BRT” needs to continue through to 52 St SE – terminating at Quarry Park is a strikingly incomplete approach from a broader network perspective.

  3. I can’t remember where, but I did read that there’s was a provision made for an infill station (“Northland”?) between Dalhousie and Brentwood. Been a while since I’ve been up there, but I remember a wide distance between the tracks under Northland Drive, and a third track (not connected to the other two) south/east of there.

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