Time for city to try a new road

Post Date: Sunday, January 23, 2011
Mayor Nenshi-7154 I write a monthly column in the Calgary Sun. Here's an excerpt from my January story:

Transit is one of the most important things in which any city must invest.

Not only is it an important part of the solution for congestion and pollution, it’s also a key tool to battle poverty and increase social inclusion.

If we can make it easier for people to get to work and school without needing a car, we all win.

Transit also helps those who don’t take it — if you give a person a choice to take transit when appropriate, it’s one fewer car on the road, making a clearer path for those who must drive.

This is why it’s so important to get transit decisions right. These decisions need to be free of politics as much as possible to ensure we are helping as many people as possible to get around the city as well as possible.

During the recent election, there was a lot of talk about the southeast and, in particular, about a potential LRT for this quadrant. Many candidates — me included ­— thought the province’s GreenTRIP funding, which is dedicated to transit, would be enough to build this LRT line.

Unfortunately, the province, facing dire financial straits, has slowed down the funding significantly, and the vague cost estimates for the S.E. LRT have gone up significantly — doubling or tripling in some instances what some observers thought the cost would be.

In short, we don’t have the money today to build the S.E. LRT we all want, and it’s not clear when we will.

With that in mind, I didn’t want to make a hasty decision at our very first council meeting last November.

A hasty decision is what the last Council did when it approved the West LRT, the N.E. extension, and the N.W. extension to Tuscany and Rocky Ridge.

Those three projects were not the highest priorities in the city’s transit plan, and the last one didn’t appear in any public planning documents I could find at that time.

I therefore asked the province for an extension on the deadline for applying for GreenTRIP funds so we could take a fresh look at all of our transit priorities, free of political interference, given how much money we actually have.

Calgary Transit came back with two basic options.

The first was to spend all of the money on a short S.E. LRT, from the Beltline to Douglasglen, with no concrete timing or budget on how or when to extend it downtown or further south to McKenzie Towne and Seton.

Or, we could use the money for other transit priorities by mostly buying new LRT cars for existing lines and spending very little on the S.E. quadrant.

I found both these options profoundly unsatisfying...

Read the full story at the Calgary Sun.

- Mayor Nenshi