City councillors divided on Whyte Avenue LRT route ahead of Monday debate
Two city councillors have different opinions on the latest debate on Edmonton’s LRT network — the proposed Centre LRT route that would take riders down Whyte Avenue.
“Administration is confident the preferred east/west connection of the route will be located on Whyte Avenue and not on 76 Avenue,” said a report that will be brought to council’s executive committee on Monday.
Coun. Ben Henderson’s ward sits to the north of Whyte Avenue.
“(It’s) where the ridership is, we’ve already got a very heavy bus presence going along there,” he said Saturday, adding the alternative proposal to put the Centre LRT along 76 Avenue didn’t make sense. “It took us way further south than you needed to go.”
He doesn’t foresee street width or flow of traffic as barriers to developing the LRT along the road. But he’s concerned about the capacity of intersections for traffic, including where Whyte Avenue connects to Gateway Boulevard and Calgary Trail.
“Given the amount of bus traffic already … it may not make any significant difference,” he said. “There’s a long way to go in terms of design.”
Coun. Mike Nickel, whose ward sits south of Whyte Avenue and stretches east of Gateway Boulevard, said he’s against the project entirely and called the 76 Avenue proposal ludicrous.
“I think (Whyte Avenue) is equally ludicrous,” he said Saturday.
Nickel said bus rapid transit is a better option, touting the lower costs initially compared to building LRT infrastructure. He also said long-term technological changes such as the roll out of self-driving cars needs to be considered.
“The first question that I’m planning to ask is, ‘Should the Valley Line be the last LRT we build in Edmonton?’” he said.
He said hundreds of constituents in his ward have complained about LRT infrastructure — “we were the brunt of the Valley Line … it’s been a struggle” — and argued the proposed Centre LRT line will increase traffic congestion.
“I think it’s a waste of money.”
The first round of public engagement for the Centre LRT ended in August, but more public feedback will be solicited in the coming months, said project manager Satya Gadidasu on Friday.
“Most of the public mentioned Whyte Avenue as their preferred location,” he said.
He said the concept plan for the Centre LRT is slated to be completed in October and would go to council for approval in early 2019. The downtown circulator project would connect neighbourhoods including Bonnie Doon and the University of Alberta.
Travel data suggests LRT not needed in Edmonton's northwest: councillor
Decisions on any new LRT lines must be driven by data and northwest ridership is not high enough to justify a new LRT line, argued Coun. Michael Walters on his way to what could be another difficult mass transit debate Monday.
Pointing to the most recent Regional Household Travel Survey, Walters said the northwest needs a good solution that cuts travel times to downtown to 30 minutes.
But “politics and money aside,” that need can be met with permanent and good-quality bus rapid transit plus a bus-only bridge over Yellowhead Trail and the CN Rail lines, he said in an interview Monday morning.
The southwest needs an LRT extension to serve the Heritage Valley town centre as soon as possible, plus bus rapid transit to the university to take pressure off the existing line.
“The north and south, they’re equal in the sense that every resident deserves good transit service,” said Walters. But the two sides of the city are not equal in terms of population, growth and demand.
Morning traffic patterns in Edmonton, as determined by the most recent Regional Household Travel Survey. The data was released in June 2017. CITY OF EDMONTON
City officials are bringing the overall LRT strategy back to council’s executive committee for a debate Monday afternoon. They are finalizing plans to issue two lines for tender — the west leg of the Valley Line and an extension for the Metro line into the neighbourhood of Blatchford.
That’s why the questions about raising or tunnelling the LRT at key west-end intersections is coming up now.
Councillors ponder merits of LRT vs BRT for Whyte Avenue
KEVIN TUONG / EDMONTON FREELANCE
A report presented to council suggests preferred connection of the route will be located on Whyte Avenue.
To BRT or not to BRT? That is the question.
Members of city council's executive committee discussed the pros and cons of LRT and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as part of a larger discussion on the city's LRT expansion plan on Monday.
One current point of contention is what transit solution would work best for Whyte Avenue. Administration has recommeded the avenue as a link for the Centre Line LRT connecting downtown to east Edmonton.
Although in the past council had voted to go with LRT, Mayor Don Iveson says they are discussing putting in BRT as a temporary solution due to feedback from the public.
"There is no doubt that LRT creates more development and positive impact for neighbourhoods at stations and stops than Bus Rapid Transit," Iveson said.
Ward 8 Coun. Ben Henderson is very much in favour of the Centre Line crossing Whyte Avenue instead of BRT.
He says BRT as a short-term alternative to LRT would make sense if the ridership wasn’t there, but that's not the case on Whyte Avenue.
“If you have high ridership corridors, you know, it's maybe a bit more expensive, but it can move way more people with fewer vehicles,” he said.
Developers warn council they're counting on west LRT as rapid bus gets lifeline
Two Beaverbrook partners warned council Monday they’ve already invested $100 million to create a high-density, mixed-use village on the future west LRT line.
Change rails to fancy buses on this route and it will break faith with the development community, councillors heard.
“That significantly changes our investment and that’s a concern to us,” said Salima Kherij, a developer who made a presentation to city council’s executive committee Monday. The west leg is potentially just six months away from procurement; phase one of their West Block development at 142 Street is already under construction.
The debate makes her anxious. “If you’re committing to transit-oriented development, you need certainty.”
Developers trust and will build projects around tracks on the ground, said business partner Ryan Smith. “You’ve got to complete this (LRT) network so people can see the true benefit.”
A rendering of the LRT station at Stony Plain Road and 142 Street with the West Block development. Credit: Inhouse by Beaverbrook
The bus-rapid transit (BRT) versus light rail debate during the election campaign became serious Monday with councillors finally getting the chance to question administration on the options.
During the campaign, some candidates said buses in a dedicated lane are a better option for the west line to improve transit quickly and avoid the traffic snarls of the Metro line.
City officials say that kind of bus infrastructure is 20 per cent less expensive to build but 20 per cent more expensive to operate than a train and has a lower ridership capacity. It also is less likely to inspire the kind of high-density development council says it wants around stations to reduce sprawl.
BRT vs LRT: The pros and cons of operating either rapid transit in Edmonton
A bus in a dedicated bus lane stops at Lees Station on Ottawa's Bus Rapid Transit Transitway. Edmonton is considering Bus Rapid Transit as a temporary fix for some LRT networks in the design phase.
City administration is working on a list of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) pros and cons of for city council.
But is one better than the other?
At the city council meeting on Tuesday, Coun. Tim Cartmell asked administration to look into the cost of using BRT temporarily to increase ridership and then switching to LRT on certain routes, specifically for the Valley Line West from downtown to Lewis Farms (which also stops at West Edmonton Mall).
“We are about to embark on spending a big amount of money, so I thought it was appropriate to refresh our memory on BRT,” Cartmell said.
Cartmell says the decision that favoured LRT over BRT was made ten years ago.
He said there are certain communities in Edmonton, like Heritage Valley, that are very car-dependent.
“Once you get people using cars, younger families, university students, when they develop that car-dependent lifestyle, it’s very hard to migrate them away to transit,” he said.
He said in these communities there is no ridership, and it is important to build that ridership using BRT before progressing to LRT.
“It’s important to get these mass-transit solutions out to the edge of the city and begin to develop that (transit) culture.”
Proposed route for Whyte Avenue LRT would need new river bridge
A leaked copy of a proposed new route for the central LRT would see a low-floor train run down Whyte Avenue and across a new bridge to downtown.
But it could be built in stages, with a first phase making a direct connection from Bonnie Doon Shopping Centre down Whyte Avenue to the hospital and university.
It would replace buses that are already crammed to capacity during peak hours, said the city’s project manager Satya Gadidasu. “The intent is to access events and business all along Whyte Avenue.”
The map was leaked on Reddit and Connect2Edmonton but city officials confirm it’s accurate. The proposed route is going to several open houses for public comment Feb. 15, 27 and 28.
Map of proposed central circulator LRT.
It’s currently in the route selection phase, which would preserve the right-of-way on streets and avenues for future construction. If city council supports this route, the project moves to the concept design phase with initial cost estimates.
That information will help council determine how to prioritize between the north extension, south extension and central LRT for construction after the west LRT and north extension into Blatchford are built.
The proposed route calls for a low-floor LRT to run from Bonnie Doon mall west to 112 Street, then north to connect with the existing high-floor capital line at the University of Alberta station. Passengers would have to disembark and take an escalator or elevator down.
Proposed Centre LRT plan shows low-floor route with new bridge beside existing bridge
The work has been underway since last June and now planners have mapped out their preferred route for Edmonton’s Centre LRT.
A picture of the proposed LRT route was posted online and the city confirmed to Global News on Wednesday the image was accurate. However, the LRT line’s project manager said where the tracks are situated has yet to be finalized.
“Everything is on the table because we have to evaluate on every location, ‘What are the pros and cons of each option,’ before we say, ‘This is how it will look and function,” Satya Gadidasu told Global News on Wednesday.
The preferred route will be shared with the public for feedback at three upcoming public engagement meetings on Feb. 15, 27 and 28.
A Global News graphic shows the proposed route for Edmonton’s Centre LRT Line.
Tonia Gloweski/ Global News
“The city will continue to explore options and possible approaches to mitigate any issues raised by the public and stakeholders prior to city council approval of the route,” city spokesperson Bethany Padfield said.
The goal of the route is to provide “seamless connections” between downtown, the Alberta legislature, University of Alberta, Strathcona, Bonnie Doon, east Edmonton and the wider LRT network.
The plan calls for a new LRT bridge to connect downtown with the south side of the city.
“As part of the technical analysis, we were evaluating the High Level Bridge as one of the options — in addition to looking for a new bridge — to understand what is the capacity of that bridge because it’s a 100-year-old bridge with historical designation attached to it, and based on the historical designation, in order to accommodate LRT, the structure would need to be rebuilt, which doesn’t fit with the historical designation,” Gadidasu said.
The Centre LRT project manager said a new bridge would need to be designed in such a way as to also protect Edmontonians’ view of the “High Level skyline.”