Why not southeast LRT and BRT?

by jeremybarretto

On Monday November 8 Calgary City Council will likely decide whether to allocate Green Trip funding to a new C-Train line to the southeast (SE LRT). I contend that at portion of the SE LRT should be built and an improved southeast Bus Rapid Transit (SE BRT) should take passengers the rest of the way. Here is a map of the SE LRT from the Calgary Transit LRT Network Plan:

City administration has proposed three options to City Council (which are described in greater detail by Jason Markusoff):

  1. Stub SE LRT and trains – from 10th Avenue S.E. to Riverbend and purchase some Light Rail Vehicles to service new inter-city passengers from regional municipalities and permit four-car LRT service;
  2. Longer-stub SE LRT – from 10 Avenue S.E. to Douglas Glen;
  3. BRT and trains – 50 new C-Train cars, southeast LRT planning work and a comprehensive network of BRT lines.

The Transportation department’s recommendation of Option 3 “BRT and trains” follows a troubling trend by City departments:  choose the most extreme option when funds are limited. The Police Chief threatened to cut 120 positions if his budget was reduced and the Library CEO initially mused about closing on Sundays. City departments should rely on comprehensive and prioritized long-term plans, rather than last-minute drastic options, to secure sustainable funding.

The City’s re-think on the SE LRT has predictably triggered passionate responses from proponents of both LRT and BRT. It has pitched southeast Calgarians against those living in other areas. Why is LRT vs. BRT framed as an either or? A close look at the trains proposed for the SE LRT reveals they could be more easily integrated with an enhanced SE BRT service.

The SE LRT will use used will be low-floor vehicles. These trains are now widely used world-wide since they are more accessible and do not require high platforms like Calgary’s high-floor LRT system. The images below of low-floor LRTs are from Edmonton’s (awesome and more recently updated) LRT Network Plan.  Low-floor LRTs require less platform infrastructure and could be more easily connected with a BRT system.

Calgary’s BRT routes are little more than limited stop express buses. Real BRT systems like those in Ottawa and Curitiba Brazil have dedicated roadways and LRT-like stations. Low-floor LRT infrastructure looks strikingly similar to that used for BRT systems.

BRT in Ottawa and Curitiba

I contend that at least the “Stub SE LRT” should be built to Riverbend. A real BRT system should be put in place from where the SE LRT ends all the way to the new southeast hospital. Unlike the current Route 302, the new “SE BRT” should have dedicated roads and enhanced stations. Wherever possible, the SE BRT should use the same route and stations as the future low-floor SE LRT. As funding becomes available, more rail can be built.

The York University busway in Toronto is a good example of how dedicated BRT can be effective while waiting for subway construction. Toronto is also example of how when rail infrastructure is indefinitely delayed it is often denied.

Indefinitely delaying the SE LRT construction is not an option for three reasons:

  1. All candidates supported the SE LRT during the recent election;
  2. The SE LRT was one of Mayor Nenshi’s top four priorities after the election;
  3. The SE LRT has long been part of the Calgary Transportation Plan and LRT Network Plan.

I urge City Council to get going on the SE LRT and improve SE BRT to finally bring mass transit to southeast Calgarians.