Why the city has everyone scratching their heads in Victoria ParkThe bus barn brain teaser
Back in December, both the Transportation & Transit Committee and City Council as a whole agreed that the Green Line LRT should travel along 12 Avenue S as it made its way through the community of the Beltline – the only thing left to decide was surface or underground.
This was after months of careful detailed analysis by the Green Line team, including input from community organizations, businesses, and other stakeholders. It was, by all appearances, exactly how transit planning should work: After careful thought and discussion, the best options were put forward.
Now the City has caught everyone by surprise and things are not so clear.
A New Alignment Proposed for Ramsay?
Last week I attended a public meeting held by the city to hear from community members about the recent, somewhat surprising suggestion that the LRT could continue directly through the community of Ramsay. The meeting was understandably heated, but it stayed respectful.
So what’s going on? To understand all the factors at work, we are going to need a map; free free to click around the points of interest.
The Bus Barns
Much of the impetus behind the proposal of the “Ramsay Option” as I have come to call it appears to be “operational challenges” at the Victoria Park Transit Centre (more descriptively and colloquially called the bus barns). I was fortunate enough to visit the bus barns during peak hours early in the morning and see some of the operational challenges first-hand.
The bus barns could be a poster child for a typically underfunded transit agency. It is overflowing with vehicles, and the building itself is nearing the end of its life. It needs to be moved.
The upshot is this: As for the Green Line’s impact to bus barn operations, it’s not great, but it is manageable according to the City of Calgary Green Line Project Manager, Fabiola MacIntyre. While the City has expressed that there may be difficulty in dispatching buses across the LRT tracks, and that there may have to be a curve in the tracks that could slow the trains, the City hasn’t actually provided any measurable specifics about the impacts in terms of cost or service.
On top of that, there’s even a possibility that the bus barns will be moved before the Green Line is actually built.
As far as I can tell, even with trains and buses moving at peak period there is time for vehicles to leave the building in relatively large numbers. It might take some clever timing and careful planning, but remember this is Calgary Transit coordinating with itself – the LRT operations centre is right upstairs.
Quite simply, it’s not worth sacrificing the best alignment through Ramsay or the Beltline for a transit facility that is at the end of its life.
The last concern of from the City is the sharp turn that the LRT makes from 12 Avenue SE onto 6 Street SE, right at the start of city land. Slowing the train to 15 km/h for a corner is not ideal, but again, is the time saved by commuters worth the problems that the line could create for the community of Ramsay?
I’m not convinced.
More Money On the Table?
According to the City, the proposed new Ramsay Option is $40 to $50 million more expensive, as per the numbers presented at the ramsay open house (Class 5 estimates mean up to -50% and +100% of the numbers). Could some of that extra money be used instead to help mitigate impacts to the bus barns, assuming they are even required? Better yet, why not use that extra money to move the portal slightly farther north and avoid this problem altogether?
At the Ramsay meeting, Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra did a good job of summarizing the whole planning issue: through detailed evaluation and stakeholder engagement, the 12 Avenue alignment was determined to be the best one through the Beltline, and the alignment following the CP right of way was determined to be the best one for Ramsay and Inglewood. The connection between the two may be awkward, but we have to make it work without sacrificing good planning through the rest of the area.
Maybe that means spending a little more money to tunnel further. Maybe that means that the trains move a little slower and the buses have to get clever about dispatching for the next 10-15 years. Maybe it means moving the bus barns now.
This Green Line is the start of the next 100 years in our city. In the best interest of these communities and all of Calgary, it needs to be done with that in mind.