CALGARY — Crews are feverishly constructing the west LRT, and aldermen are feverishly hoping for dollars to build the southeast LRT — so what better time to start public consultations on the next train line in Calgary’s transit future?
The city’s transit planning chief admits the north-central LRT won’t likely happen for another two decades, but open houses this week aim to start community debate on where the tracks should go, including along Centre Street or Edmonton Trail.
It’s a reversal from the long-standing plan to run the line around the zoo and north along Nose Creek toward the “Hills,” including Coventry, Harvest and Panorama.
Most council members who approved that idea in 2006 have since left, replaced by — most notably — a new mayor who campaigned on the argument that while a Nose Creek train “would be cheaper, no one actually lives there.”
Details like cost and timing will be scarce to non-existent during this first round of public discussions before a new alignment is confirmed next year. But at least the public gets the chance it didn’t have pre-2006 to weigh the merits of a train line rolling through inner-city communities or bypassing them completely.
“There was two concerns (about Nose Creek): one, nobody lives there and, two, there was the environmental concern, and there was no information about why that route was being considered,” said Ald. Gael MacLeod, a rookie who found the north LRT plan to be a major election issue last fall.
“We have to decide whether we’re building the north-central LRT to serve people north of Beddington Trail or whether it’s to service the inner-city people, or both.”
The Nose Creek route was preferred as a suburban service for growing northern communities and future ones north of Stoney Trail (and perhaps Airdrie, one day). There’s a secured route in the centre of Harvest Hills Boulevard.
But the 2006 plan concluded there was nowhere LRT could be fit to serve older neighbourhoods between there and the downtown, which now make Centre Street the busiest bus corridor outside the core.
Rethinking that does open a Pandora’s box of potential woes: taking out inner-city houses and epic construction woes, as a train intersects dozens of existing streets, including major ones such as the Trans-Canada Highway and McKnight Boulevard.
Traffic cutting through residential streets between Centre and Edmonton Trail is a top problem in Tuxedo Park, resident Darren Repel said.
“If you close down one of those roads, you put twice as much traffic on the other one,” said the vice-president of Tuxedo Park Community Association.
He said he believes Edmonton Trail makes the most sense because it’s more of a commuter route.
To imagine construction woes for a north LRT route, think of the west LRT project tearing up 17th Avenue, and “just consider magnifying that by about two or three,” transit planning manager Neil McKendrick said.
“Is that the kind of disruption you want in your community for two or three years, as well as have a rather large bill attached with that?” McKendrick said.
A subway would be less disruptive — once it’s complete, at least — but costs several times more.
Given the relative ease of laying west LRT track with that giant yellow launching truss, McKendrick does believe an elevated train line along Centre Street could work, for not much more than an at-grade train.
A second round of more detailed community forums will follow this fall, before council votes on the line sometime next year.
Redevelopment plans in Highland Park and along Edmonton Trail are being held up while the city considers how transit will serve those communities.
Option 1: Nose Creek valley
Pros: Already confirmed by council in 2006 as preferred route; city owns most of future right-of-way in valley; would link to proposed high-speed rail station near 96th Avenue, and proposed spur to airport; service to new science centre; fastest, most efficient way to serve northern suburban residents and future communities north of Stoney Trail; could serve future Aurora Business Park, planned as “sustainable” employment district.
Cons: Would ill-serve communities south of Beddington Trail; no residents in the valley; environmental disruption in Nose Creek valley; stations would be tough for feeder buses to reach; would share northeast LRT corridor and further clog downtown 7th Avenue
Option 2: Edmonton Trail
Pros: Serves many communities south of McKnight Boulevard; still links to high-speed station, Aurora Business Park; could turn Edmonton Trail into vibrant retail-condo corridor; could link to southeast LRT line, with 2nd Street S.W. tunnel.
Cons: Skirts Beddington Heights and Huntington Hills; still disrupts valley; if at street-level, would force closure of many Tuxedo and Winston Heights streets.
Option 3: Centre Street
Pros: Serves greatest number of inner-city communities; Centre Street is already city’s busiest bus corridor; could revitalize Centre Street and areas like Highland Park; would link to southeast LRT line, with 2nd Street S.W. tunnel; possibility of elevated line through older communities.
Cons: Major community disruption; many street closures or; subway often discussed, but would be hugely expensive; stations longer than most north-south blocks; unclear how to ascend bluffs north of Bow River; likely slowest connection for northern communities; slower “tram” possible.