Below is a letter to the editor of mine which was published by the Edmonton Journal in December of 2009, just prior to Council approving bylaw 15101, which established among other routes, a west lrt line utilizing Stony Plain Road.
Between presentations to Council, letters, press releases, community notices, FOIP requests, opinion pieces and blog posts, I don’t care to count how many thousands of words I’ve written about the West LRT. With the ability to connect West Edmonton to the existing line via the University area, the destinations it will be extended to, and the opportunity to build a unified back haul LRT system across our city, I’ll always consider the former 87th avenue option superior to a low-floor line traveling down Stony Plain Road, through a number of accessibility issues, and question marks standing between it and redevelopment potential, before connecting to the downtown circulator and heading off to Mill Woods.
With the Federal Government refusing to advance Edmonton’s 2017 Expo, the sense of urgency to present the West LRT for Provincial and Federal funding is gone, and it showed at a public hearing this past December when Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee choose to advance the proposed West LRT conceptual plan to Council without a recommendation and endorsement. The public criticism at the hearing, of a flawed, and disjointed public involvement process wasn’t a surprise, neither were some concerns and criticisms brought on by more detailed conceptual planning. The effect of the expo bid on Council was evident on the hearing’s second day, when Council spent time asking questions of administration. The process of WLRT selection began with 87th avenue, and seemingly ended with Stony Plain Road, without ever featuring a significant look at 107th avenue, a fact pointed out by Mayor Mandel on December 9th. The Mayor referenced the limited consideration of 107th avenue, and asked questions relating to the ability to serve the SPR commercial district from a single stop at 156st, and the additional ridership potential of a 107th avenue alignment. Given the time available to ensure the best possible corridor for West Edmonton, I think it would be beneficial for all involved for Council to take the opportunity, beginning on January 19th when detailed conceptual plans on are on their agenda, to begin the process of splitting the West LRT from Transportation Bylaw 15101, and referring the corridor back to administration with direction to begin a public consultation process, and detailed route analysis for a 107th avenue corridor.
Another strong point made during the public hearing in December, was by Councillor Leibovici in regards to the future of the Jasper Place Transit Terminal and Jasper Place Revitalization Strategy. The strategy, crafted in consultation with the community, and approved by Council in early 2009, included a plan to revitalize the northeast corner of the Glenwood Community, by reconfiguring the JP Terminal/Butler Park area as a multi-use townsquare for Glenwood and neighboring communities.
Like most strategies and work plans in the revitalization area, including the proposed Stony Plain Road workplan, the plan has remained in a holding pattern, pending further decisions regarding the West LRT. The funding and civic resources currently assigned to the Jasper Place Area, are a limited-time opportunity for the communities bordering Stony Plain Road, and indeed in demand in other locations in the city. Utilizing 107th avenue for the WLRT provides the ability to serve the Revitalization Area with a future LRT stop, without significantly impacting current workplans and revitalization efforts.
Another aspect that must be considered is the environment which is being created for current and future redevelopment. An LRT alone is not, and never has been, a single-solution to redevelopment and revitalization potential. In December 2009, I delivered a case study presentation to Council comparing Stony Plain Road and the proposed WLRT corridor to Washington Street in downtown Hillsboro, Oregon.
Both streets share a similar set of characteristics (accessibility, right-of-way, social/physical environment), with the proposed WLRT providing a similar level of service to SPR as the Max Blue Line does to Washington St. Comments from Hillsboro note that the vibrancy of area has declined.
It was a quote from George Crandall of the consulting firm, Crandall Arambula, in which referencing Hillsboro, he noted that subtle differences can greatly affect the vitality of the area. The same consulting firm is drafting the City of Edmonton’s Transit Oriented Development Guidelines , and a related Planning Academy Course. Through the consultation process for both, I’ve had the opportunity over the past few months to meet Mr. Crandall, and attend several sessions conducted by the firm regarding TOD planning and development. Throughout the sessions, a number of key themes were stressed as elements of successful TOD retail development (of note for a commercial corridor such as SPR), such as:
Connection to the Station
Located on a street with curbside parking
Located on a street with adequate drive-by traffic
One item of note in particular was the creation of Transit Oriented main streets, existing adjacent to, not as, transit corridors.
A scenario which would seem to create a far more viable future for Stony Plain Road, should it be provided an LRT transit stop on a 107th avenue alignment, while maintaining through traffic, available parking, and side street access, without having to sacrifice any of it’s access ways, right-of-way, or potential re-development sites, to accommodate an LRT transit corridor.
As I’ve previously posted, documents obtained via a freedom of information request show a negligible difference in ‘potential’ redevelopment sites between 107th avenue and Stony Plain Road. Combined with the ability to still provide rapid transit access to SPR and it’s neighboring revitalization areas, without significantly hindering local revitalization, the enhanced right-of-way along 107th, and the potential for increased ridership, with time available to consult the communities involved, and develop a conceptual plan, Council would do well to take the opportunity on the 19th to refer the WLRT back to administration.
As an active participant in the West LRT debate, I read with interest Paula Simon’s latest foray into advocacy for the Stony Plain Road LRT corridor. When the proposed amendments to bylaw 15101 started piling up last Friday, it seemed obvious that council was unprepared for two days of significant, well researched, and well-spoken opposition to the Stony Plain Road route.
Since the start of what’s been a long, drawn out, and frequently delayed process for selecting a corridor for much needed and long-overdue light-rail expansion, there’s been no shortage of ideological arguments for the SPR “everything to everybody” route. “It’s a people mover, a commuter route, a revitalization engine for downtown and the Jasper Place area, a streetcar like system to encourage shopping, dining, and walkability like Portland’s Pearl district, the route of the future, a round-the-city link from Millwoods to WEM. But there’s no consensus.”
Before we play fast and loose with a multi-billion dollar investment, there is still a strong case to made for the 87th Avenue route; as well, there are questions to be answered, and potential fatal flaws in the proposed SPR corridor that must be addressed.
The most heavily weighted of the latest criteria for west LRT expansion is Land Use/Compact Urban Form.
As Paula addressed in her article, communities along the SPR corridor are as a whole, far more compliant with the goals of higher density land-use than those along the 87th Avenue corridor.
Unlike their counterparts to the south, they are neither stagnant in terms of growth, nor severely lacking in higher-density housing developments. Citizens of these neighbourhoods enjoy strong ETS bus service to the downtown area, and are less likely to own a vehicle than their fellow Edmontonians in neighborhoods to the south.
The best option for building a compact urban form, and encouraging more residents to leave their cars behind, would be a link across the river which divides our growing city, providing an opportunity to encourage transit use in some of Edmonton’s least dense neighbourhoods.
At the same time it would link the west-end to a bounty of employment opportunities in the city’s second largest employment centre, providing quick, permanent access to the Uof A, U of A hospital, the Stollery and the Cross Cancer Institute, as well as one of the top transit hubs for Edmonton’s existing LRT infrastructure.
At the same time, it would provide such benefits as opening up access to one of our top tourist destinations, and provide an exciting opportunity for much-needed affordable housing for future university students.
That said, the ringer which seems to have won the tug of war between 87th Avenue and SPR is the potential for transit-oriented-development, and transit-oriented development-based revitalization, both of which are by far more mythological than factual in this city and climate.
Can tranist-oriented development succeed in a narrow right-of-way where transit stops will be few and far between, side-walks are narrow, access for persons with disabilities is questionable, pedestrians will constantly have to cross a busy street to reach the centre-lane transit stop, and bicyclists will be squeezed out of the narrow remaining traffic lanes by heavy traffic?
Can it occur on a mass scale at all in a city where it has failed to take hold despite decades of light-rail service in the city?
Yes 87th Avenue will require tunneling under “heritage neighborhoods”, an argument against 87th Avenue which swings dangerously to the NIMBY.
However, there is almost no risk posed to the “historic homes” in question, while never have a small group of river valley residents been promised an isolated, untouched, rural setting in the city’s core, nor have the same been promised that much needed river crossings to connect the city would be kept from the view of their backyards.
At a time when we are setting aside future road expansion for the growth of our transit system in order to reduce the number of vehicles from our congested roadways, we’ve been handed a shining opportunity to build a world-class LRT system along 87th Avenue to serve some of Edmonton’s top amenities. This can be done without compromising any of our arterial or collector roads, appropriating property to accommodate hair-pin turns, or compromising any much-needed revitalization efforts
And perhaps most importantly, it will give us a chance to encourage a new generation of transit riders, rather than simply shifting transit users in a dozen mature communities from one form of transit to another.