South Edmonton needs both LRT and BRT- not sequentially, but simultaneously and soon

Edmonton needs to stay committed to building LRT. Building permanent, efficient transportation is what great cities do. It creates the dense, vibrant and livable city which I campaigned to help build. In addition to LRT expansion, we can create some complimentary BRT to help improve transit service and reduce congestion. The question is where and why one type of service serves different areas of our city differently.

The needs in the South are acute

As the design phase continues the Capital Line extension south to Heritage Valley, we will eventually see a dramatic increase in ridership on the Capital Line. This influx of ridership will come from the 11,835 people anticipated to live in Heritage Valley, many of whom will likely choose to take public transit, and from the Heritage Valley park and ride users, many of which will come from communities like Beaumont and Leduc. To heighten the urgency of this issue, Century Park is currently being developed into 3,995 residential units home to up to 9000. Increased ridership will cause problems down the Capital Line, especially during peak hours, where demand will outstrip the available seats. The Capital Line LRT already begins to fill by the time it gets to South Campus, and once Heritage Valley is complete we are likely to see the LRT completely packed by the time it reaches Century Park, where many 1000's of citizens will also be waiting to board. It will certainly leave users down the line stranded. The opening of the Valley Line will reduce stress temporarily but this short-lived relief will be offset by the rapid growth in the south.

I see the solution to this developing problem is a complimentary Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT) or a Premium University Express Bus that directly connects the south side to the University of Alberta. For more information on potential BRT models, please see pages 24 and 25 of Edmonton's BRT report. Currently, the south portion of the Capital Line (from Century Park to University) has 45.7% of all boarding and exiting on the LRT system. In order to reduce the stress on the LRT and improve service options in a cost-effective manner, BRT or a premium bus service could prove to be the best way to provide an efficient route to the University area.

Edmonton_Future_LRT.jpg

Edmonton's future LRT plans, as seen above, are ambitious and while having LRT go to all corners of the city would be fantastic, provincial and federal funding isn’t bottomless, nor entirely predictable, and will determine the timelines of when an LRT line can be built. We must use the money we will have effectively to provide access and mobility to as many citizens as possible. Look it- I think it would be great for every corner to Edmonton to have an LRT. But it can't all happen at once. So BRT could bring a faster and more convenient service out toward St. Albert or on the way to Sherwood Park for example as inter-municipal commuter routes that serve neigbourhoods all along the way. Riders would access more effective mass transit much sooner and at a lower cost until the LRT is built.

Below 6,000 passengers a day BRT has lower operational costs than traditional bus services and lower capital and operational costs than LRT. The City of Calgary's strategic plan for transit compares the different initial capital costs for different types of BRT and LRT costs. The capital costs on LRT projects are clearly much higher than BRT however, BRT tends to have higher operational costs.

Let's delve a little further and look into the pros and cons of LRT and BRT:

  LRT BRT
Pros
  • Higher capacity
  • Lower operating cost
  • Zero emissions at point of use
  • Segregation and priority provide reliable journey times
  • Fixed infrastructure means high-quality public transport forever - which is a catalyst for wider urban development and TOD investment.
  • Greater demand - attracts more discretionary riders
  • Fast and reliable journey times [given a priority lane]
  • Lower capital costs
  • Can be constructed relatively quickly
  • Flexibility - Total capacity can be varied
  • Flexibility - can use BRT lanes and build LRT if ridership increases past BRT levels
Cons
  • High capital costs
  • Significant disruption during construction
  • Total capacity limited by vehicle and frequency
  • Longer development times
  • Total capacity is limited by number of vehicles
  • Higher operational/lifecycle costs - more drivers and buses to maintain
  • Non-permanent - other cities have seen their BRT lanes changed into HOV or regular lanes - does not help with bringing in investment
  • Segregated lanes can be intrusive to the urban landscape

 

Ultimately, LRT is the best option in the long term for Edmonton. We must build LRT right by ensuring we follow our evaluation criteria. We must separate LRT routes from busy intersections. We need to ensure our LRT system leads us toward a denser and more livable city. But since we can’t build it all at once we need to prioritize for today’s most urgent needs. This March, Urban Planning Committee will receive a report with the current data on the transportation and growth pressures in South Edmonton. The stress of growth in South Edmonton is urgent and I am sure that report will confirm it. We need to prioritize the Capital Line South Extension and begin detailed design as soon as possible. Whether North Edmonton sees a precursor or permanent BRT- this service in conjunction with a new bridge over the Yellowhead Freeway will begin to improve transit service for citizens there more quickly. The north will need an LRT one day, but the south needs it today.