Light rail that works

CALGARYai??i?? From Saturday’s Globe and Mail

by Marcus Gee

Mayor Rob Ford has left no confusion about how he feels about light-rail transit. One of his first acts as mayor was to declare the death of Transit City, a multibillion-dollar plan for a network of above-ground transit lines.

Listening to Mr. Ford, you might get the impression that LRT is a crazy scheme cooked up by his predecessor, David Miller, to frustrate motorists. In fact, light-rail systems operate in dozens of cities, from Portland and Phoenix to Salzburg and Toulouse. One of the more successful is right here in Canada.

Calgaryai??i??s C-Train, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, is the second busiest LRT in North America, outdone only by a system in Monterrey, Mexico. It carries 270,000 people on the average weekday, half of all Calgary transit riders.

Since the first line opened in May, 1981, it has grown to three lines with 38 stations. A fourth line heading west from downtown is under construction, and two more are planned for the future. The expansion would eventually add 45 stations, creating a network of six spokes from the downtown hub. The annual number of riders has more than doubled over the past decade to 75.8 million, far outpacing the growth in the cityai??i??s population. The C-Train is so heavily used that the city is rebuilding stations to accommodate longer trains.

To get the most track for the money in hand, Calgary built a no-frills system with simple station platforms, cheap cars, no air-conditioning and station-arrival announcements recorded on cassette tape. Without the cost of tunnelling and building underground stations, the city managed to reach far into the cityai??i??s south, northeast and northwest.

Even the relatively extravagant West Line, which will include elevated track and the cityai??i??s first subway station, is projected to cost $1-billion for eight kilometres of track. By comparison, Mr. Fordai??i??s plan to extend Torontoai??i??s Sheppard subway eight kilometres to Scarborough is projected at $3.6-billion, not including $500-million for a new train yard.

ai???Our experience out here in Calgary is that it actually works very, very well,ai??? says Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi when asked about Mr. Fordai??i??s plan to kill LRT. ai???I think sometimes people are a bit scared of it because they think itai??i??s like streetcars running in traffic. But if itai??i??s done well it can work brilliantly at a fraction of the cost of going

Critics such as Mr. Ford like to say that in a cold winter like Torontoai??i??s, underground rail makes much more sense than LRT lines exposed to the snow and cold. Calgary has snow and cold. The LRT still runs. So does the LRT in still-colder Edmonton.

Critics also say itai??i??s folly to build rail lines on low-density suburban routes like Sheppard, Finch and Eglinton, as envisioned in the Transit City plan. Calgaryai??i??s C-train goes through even less-dense terrain, passing sprawling subdivisions and malls. People take the bus or drive their cars to LRT stations, then ride it to jobs in downtown office towers. Nearly half of all downtown workers arrive by C-Train.Ai??

To be fair, Calgaryai??i??s LRT differs from what was planned under Transit City. Unlike Toronto, with its scandalously haphazard, stop-and-start approach to transit expansion, Calgary planned its LRT rollout years, even decades, in advance. It restricted the number of parking spots downtown, driving up parking rates and encouraging people to take transit. It reserved segregated corridors for LRT lines so they could be kept apart from traffic. C-train routes follow railway rights-of-way or broad highway medians, with trains given priority whenever road and track intersect. Toronto would have to carve out new medians on streets such as Sheppard, leaving less space for traffic.

Mr. Nenshi himself says that LRT is not the be all and end all. In some parts of Calgary, he argues, it might make more sense to put in segregated bus ways than to lay down expensive LRT track. In the same way, though, in some parts of Toronto it might be better to put in light rail than to spend a fortune on underground subway track.

It depends on the situation. What is wrong is to dismiss any mode of transit out of hand without considering how it actually works elsewhere. Before the mayor buries Torontoai??i??s light-rail plans and splurges on a subway, he might want to look at Calgaryai??i??s C-Train success story.


32 Responses to “Light rail that works”
  1. Evil Eye says:

    Mr. Ford’s objective is to increase auto use in Toronto. Like all Conservative/right wing/tea bag politicians, they are owned by the auto and oil lobbies and dance to their tune, lest their funding is cut. The financial morass, that mayor ford is creating will be his downfall at the next election, but what damage will he do in the meantime?

  2. fatman says:

    Mayor Ford was elected by Torontonians because one of his promise during his campaign is to build subway but not LRT. It is in fact the city councilors ignoring the Torontonians’ voice.

    I don’t abject that Calgary’s C-Train is very successful. It doesn’t mean it will be the same story in Toronto. The major difference is that the C-Train is running mostly on it’s corridors but Toronto’s LRT will take away space from the existing busy streets like Eglinton, Sheppard & Finch.

    In your passage, you indicated that :
    “It reserved segregated corridors for LRT lines so they could be kept apart from traffic. C-train routes follow railway rights-of-way or broad highway medians, with trains given priority whenever road and track intersect. Toronto would have to carve out new medians on streets such as Sheppard, leaving less space for traffic” This is totally correct!

    Toronto LRT doesn’t have the luxury of running on it’s own corridors. All LRT will be occupying 2 centre lanes on the existing busy streets. Toronto LRT won’t be able to have right-of-way on road and track intersection as there are too many major intersections. LRT will be sharing right-of-way to left turning cars and crossing traffic at intersections, causing delay and danger on the road. It will not be faster than the current running buses on Sheppard, Finch and Eglinton. As a result, it will be a waste of money to build LRT that will not attract more passengers than the buses currently running. It will never serve the purpose of “LRT”. It shouldn’t be classified as LRT comparing to other cities.

    It’s a terrible design of the Toronto LRT. It doesn’t mean LRT in general is not a good mean of transportation. it’s just how to design the LRT in a city. There may be other passages in Toronto can be used to build LRT, but it will definitely a bad idea to build on the existing busy streets like Sheppard, Finch & Eglinton. There are already other railway transportation like GO Train running through different part of Toronto and GTA. People don’t object to those railway network as they use their “own corridor”. This is very simple.

    Mayor Forb objects to Toronto LRT because he understand this truth. It doesn’t mean he objects to all LRT in the world. He has the better vision of the public transportation system than most of the city councilors. Toronto need a better subway network for the current need and future expansion of the city. It’s the most effective way to attract people to switch to public transportation than driving their own cars only if they find the public transportation is convenient and fast. The Toronto LRT design will never attract more passenger.

  3. zweisystem says:

    Is this mayor Ford? Sure sounds like it. One question you keep forgetting to ask is; “How are you going to pay for subways?” I don’t think Toronto taxpayers will like the answer.

  4. fatman says:

    I don’t forget about the money. The first question is whether LRT is good for Toronto.

    If subway is needed for Toronto, we should discuss how to implement that. Currently, Toronto has money to build part of it. There should be first a plan of a complete public transportation system for the future. If there is not enough money, plan how to implement that in phases. There are a lot of ways to raise money such as get private sector to invest. This is what exactly happened to most other cities that built successful subway network. The Toronto city councillors who voted for LRT ignore this possibility. This is not the proper way to handle such big issue for the fate of the city.

    Why do we waste billions of dollar building LRT that is not doing any good to Toronto? LRT won’t be able to attract more passengers but at the same time, worsening the road traffic. We don’t mean to encourage people to drive than taking the public transportation. We cannot force people to change their habit. The only way is if the public transportation is convenient, fast, affordable. LRT on Sheppard will never be much faster than the buses currently running on the road. There will be frequent stop at major intersections due to the condition of the roads on Sheppard, Finch and Eglinton. It will never be “rapid”.

    If we are not going to build subway, we should not waste money on building LRT that is only going to worsen the traffic for our city. We should rather invest more on the road condition such as providing more space for the bus lanes so that the buses can run smoothly on the street.

  5. rico says:

    My understanding is that neither Eglington or Shepard will lose lanes of traffic. In addition Eglington will be significantly grade separated in the busiest section. Shepard has less than a dozen signalized lights for the entire length. My understanding is Eglington will be significantly faster than the current bus due to wider stops and grade seperation while Sheppard will be faster than the current bus but still very slow…due mainly to lots of stops and incomplete signal priority. Projected average speed for Sheppard is 22km/hr, imagine trying to achieve even that with as many lights against the North/South flow of traffic on Broadway. Both are projected to carry less riders than currently use the Broadway corridor.

  6. zweisystem says:

    Your comments are without merit. You make silly comments based on invention and sweeping assumptions that have no basis in fact. Your bias against light rail is astounding, only matched by your ignorance of the mode. Being a shill for mayor (The Edsel) Ford, must mean your life is extremely shallow – read a book on the subject.

  7. zweisystem says:

    Wait until the new trams are in use, they will be a game changer in Toronto. As for your fixation on speed, with wider spaced stops for a subway, means total commute times for LRT and subway will be about the same.

    The famous Hass-Klau study found that speed wasn’t the prime criteria for attracting customers to transit, rather ambiance, affordability, and ease of use are more important than speed in attracting customers to transit. Those tram stops you
    detest so much, actually attract customers.

  8. Rico says:

    Zei, don’t give yourself a heart attack. Here is the link to the Sheppard Environmental Assessment for most of my ‘inventions,’ , like yourself I am prone to sweeping assumptions but so what? I happen to believe travel time is very important for all but local commuters. And yes that means I factor in station access time in my decisions. If most of the traffic is within a corridor and not connecting to the corridor from outside then closer stops reduce access time, if a significant proportion of the ridership is transfering from a connecting bus or park and ride that advantage is lost (to be fair I do not know what the situation is on Sheppard or Eglington, looking at Google earth and maps I suspect a lot of the ridership is connecting. Why so huffy puffy from what I see Toronto is doing fine with the Eglington line and LRT is fine for Sheppard, it just could be better with complete signal priority (I don’t see how with so few signilized intersections they can’t have complete signal priority at that capacity) and wider stop spacing. At the very least they should call it a ‘rapid’ streetcar if they don’t wish to change the spacing. By the way I have always loved travelling on Trams in Europe but would not want to take a ‘Tram’ from Surrey to Vancouver. People have to ask themselves what is the market for the transit, is it local (ie within the Sheppard corridor) or are they using it for a longer commute. If the answer is local a streetcar style transit is fine, but if people are using it for a longer commute a quicker LRT style transit is more appropriate.

  9. zweisystem says:

    If has not read the Hass-Klau series of studies, starting with Bus or Light Rail, making the Right Choice, I really do not think one can truly understand modern public transit. The ignorance about modern LRT in North America is truly astounding and a study written by the metro/subway lobby, really is nothing more than an anti-light rail tirade.

    Let us be frank about this, building metro/subway is about bilking the taxpayer to pay for needless over engineering required for the mode. A lot of people make very handsome wages planning and building subways and are not about to let modern LRT to stop the “gravey train”.

  10. rico says:

    APTA stats are out for 2011, Toronto has 2nd highest daily trips in N. America (as long as I looked correctly). Montreal 3rd, Vancouver 8th. Not saying Sheppard or Eglington should be metros but the Toronto and Montreal numbers are clearly driven by their metros (stats are broken out by mode)…I doubt it is a coincidence Toronto has the best fare recovery in N.America (obviously building something with low ridership like the Sheppard stub is bad, but for the system as a whole…). Sometimes it is worth looking at the big picture and that big picture shows cities with metros have higher ridership even accounting for size. Cities with light rail including Portland…not so much (although Calgary makes an exception as does Ottawa with buses), also interesting how well Canadian cities as a whole do compared to American cities.

  11. zweisystem says:

    Sadly you don’t get it, but then the metro lobby has never got it, simply because they refuse to get it. A subway should only be built if ridership on a route exceeds 20,000 pphpd. Subways have proven poor in attracting new ridership, but when ridership demands a subway, a subway is generally built. That is why many light rail lines are in a subway in the city centre, because ridership demands a subway.

    This is the problem with Skytrain. First designed to bridge the gap of what old streetcars were thought to carry and that of a subway, but modern LRT with articulated cars, reserved R-o-W’s and priority signally, bridged its own gap, thus making SkyTrain obsolete.

    simple stuff eh? While BC Transit and now TransLink have never gotten it because building subways is a gravy-train of sorts and why the Ford Bros. wanted to build more subways, to keep the gravy-train money flowing.

  12. Rico says:

    And yet Vancouver has higher ridership than any N. American City with LRT but not subways (Boston has higher ridership barely but it is a subway in the city center). Care to explain or perhaps explain Toronto or Montreal….they may not have gotten the memo in Montreal that subways are poor in attracting new ridership…lol. Or for that matter we must have missed it here as well. Personally I am in favour of LRT on less dense corridors like King George, I doubt the plan to build Skytrain to Langley would be the best bang for the buck…..but it would not be a complete disaster either. Not going grade seperated (and because the Millenium line exists Skytrain) on Broadway would be a tragedy.

  13. zweisystem says:

    But you forget, over 80% of Skytrain’s passengers are cascaded to the metro from the bus. Fact is, there is very little evidence that SkyTrain actually has attracted the motorist from the car.

    If we took one London Tube Line and cascaded every bus route one could, that metro line would have record ridership, with the vast majority of riders taking the bus first.

    The question of density is a non-issue concerned with land development, not a transit question. SkyTrain is all about land development and land speculation and not providing an affordable transit alternative. Evidence shows that LRT has a greater capacity than SkyTrain, thus is well suited to high density corridors.

  14. Rico says:

    Note I said Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal had high ridership numbers (of which metros are a significant component….especially Montreal). It does not matter to me if it is bus, sea bus, skytrain or LRT as long as it is efficient public transportation. People transfer from the bus to Skytrain… what….people transfer from the bus/park and ride to Ctrain(actually isn’t bus much better than park and ride?). As to evidence that Skytrain has attracted motorists from the car Stats Can (oh those horrible members of the Skytrain lobby Stats Can) shows increasing mode share in public transit in areas served by rapid transit in Vancouver…consistently and for a while now…surprised you did not get the memo (take a look at changes in the work commute mode within census tracts near the Canada Line pre and post Construction).The City of Vancouver has some ‘propoganda’ that also shows mode share in different parts of the city and changes from the base year (even though the reports are ‘propoganda’ the actual info is from Stats Can so can be trusted…even by paranoids).

  15. zweisystem says:

    As Stats Canada relies on numbers supplied by TransLink and do not do their own statistical analysis, all TransLink has to do is feed Stats Can with bogus numbers and instantly they look good. This is why large transportation concerns have real audits done every year or two, to prevent this sort of nonsense happening. As for the Canada Line, TransLink counts YVR workers taking the Canada line for free from employee parking lots to the terminal. The number of YVR employees carried for free could account for one fifth of the Canada Line’s ridership.

    Much of StatsCan statistics about transit in the city is questionable because the source they are relying for the information is undependable.

  16. Rico says:

    Sorry to ruin a perfectly good paranoid delusion but Stats Can got its numbers from the long form census….just like all across Canada. In theory they still get it from the long form census, not sure if it will be as unbiased with voluntary reporting in the next version.
    Wow, 1/5 of the Canada Line ridership as free users from the employee parking lots (~20,000 trips, so lets say 10,000 employees)…..give me some of the stuff you are smoking and have a look at the size of those lots, Google earth will do. Enjoy and let me know where to get it what you are using.

  17. zweisystem says:

    Yawn………a TransLink Official told me that employees using the parking lots at Templeton station may use the Canada Line 4 times a day (breaks, split shifts, lunch etc.), added to this many YVR employees carpool to YVR. It costs $50 to park and for many the car is the only way to get to the airport. Thus 5,000 out of YVR’s 26,000 employees may use the parking lots in a 24 hour period, but multiple trips, etc., may give a false impression of high ridership on the line.

  18. rico says:

    Or not, I recall abreak down of ridership by station at one point, can’t rember where but almost certain Templeton had the lowest ridership on the entire line….by a lot. You still haven’t told me where I can get the stuff you are smoking.

  19. rico says:

    You know if you stuck to saying believable things people might listen.

  20. zweisystem says:

    Rico, I know you work for TransLink or the BC Liberals. The Templeton station is strictly to cater to YVR employees parking at the adjacent parking lots. Templeton may have low ridership, but all of it is YVR employees going to and fro from their jobs to their car – FOR FREE! Maybe TransLink only counts revenue passengers at stations – Oops, the Canada Line is free on Sea Island, no revenue passengers there to be counted.

  21. zweisystem says:

    The reason you continue with your musings on this blog, is that people are listening, especially regional politic ans and they are asking some very important and embarrassing questions.

  22. rico says:

    Keep smoking what you got. I think your statement about ridership on Templton is as close to an admission you were stoned when you wrote ‘as much as 1/5 the ridership was YVR employees riding for free (that would be within Sea Island no less)’ as I am likely to get.
    Since YVR chipped in 300million it is kind of tough to begrudge them a Free Ride zone on Sea Island huh?

  23. zweisystem says:

    Rico, I think you are the guy smoking BC Bud.

    TransLink claims a 17% increase in ridership on the YVR Line, much of it due to YVR workers (not mentioned by TransLink) riding free to and fro from their cars to work. TransLink never releases hard numbers, instead using percentages. The trouble is, with free fares, workers use the system like an elevator, with TransLink claiming ever increasing ridership. You just can’t have it both ways.

    In the end, YVR did not ante up $300 million as first advertised, rather somewhat less.

  24. rico says:

    I have to admit even when caught spewing (edited) you stick to your guns. The entire YVR line accounts for about 25% of the ridership. So I guess that means 5% are travellers or employees not using the parking lots. Take a ride next time…..its free on Sea Island, that should be sufficient to see lots of people at the terminal station, almost no one at the other two. Yes some are YVR employees riding for free, some are YVR employees from outside the free zone too.
    I had not heard YVR did not kick in the full amount don’t suppose you have a source besides I was talking to this ‘expert’ while we were smoking this weed….

  25. rico says:

    Here is an interesting comparison between transit use in Vancouver and Seattle and Portland I ran across. Note it aplies to people who work in the city, not residents of the city. Looking at the numbers I think it may only apply to downtowns, but not sure of that.

  26. rico says:

    Just to be fair, from what I know the Portland system seems fine (could be better like any system), its horrible transit numbers are probably due in large part to the easy access from the many freeways. It would be a good post to go over why Portland has such poor transit use despite such a high transit investment.

  27. zweisystem says:

    Portland transit does not cascade the number of bus riders on their LRT system like TransLink does with SkyTrain. In fact Portland’s LRT has had a greater modal shift from car to light rail than SkyTrain. Forcing bus riders to transfer to SkyTrain is just not good transit practice.

  28. zweisystem says:

    The problem you have, is a completely closed mind about light rail and SkyTrain. Templeton station was built strictly to cater to YVR workers. For a few hours each day it is extremely busy, yet it is like a ghost town for the rest of the day. TransLink only counts boardings on the system, not the actual number of people actually using the metro, thus with the proliferation of the U-Pass, etc. and multiple trips a day by U-pass holders has greatly skewed the numbers.

  29. rico says:

    You can never just say oops I was wrong can you? Even when it is clear you were out to lunch noooooo it is all a conspiracy.
    Feel free to show me a source to Portlands modal shift to compare with Vancouvers. I don’t recall reading any discussions about mode shift in Portland so may not find it easily (actually I can recall comments complaining that Portlands mode share hasn’t changed significantly with all the investment but those were just blogger comments with no source). I have seen alot about current mode share, considering how low Portlands transit share is now it must have been extremely low before (say what you will about Transit in Vancouver, by the numbers we are transit gods compared to Portland), again I believe a lot of that is urban form and freeways but still….
    I don’t know the Portland system well enough but if they don’t cascade riders onto MAX why not? It should be cheaper than the bus (maybe its not?) and competing routes are a waste of resources. If you have high frequencies transfers are not a problem (actually maybe I answered my own question…..Maybe they could increase MAX frequencies if they cascaded riders from the buses and reduced parallel service (while increasing feeder service), that should save money and improve the system).

  30. zweisystem says:

    Yawn……….Rico, your nitpicking is typical SkyTrain Lobby stuff. As TransLink has never shown a modal shift from Cat to Transit (see Eric Chris’s post) and Portland had a large modal shift from car to transit, it has achieves something that TransLink hasn’t – a modal shift from car to transit.

    Who buys SkyTrain? Not very many and no sales in the future tells me that you are full of prunes. The vast majority of Skytrain’s ridership comes from recycled bus passengers, many of whom are forced to transfer. This is poor transit and the rest of the world treats it as poor transit as well.

  31. rico says:

    Perhaps you could give me a link to Eric Chris’s post? Don’t see him under bloggers so could not find the post you are referring to. The only thing I recall by him was a letter full of errors in the Georgia Straight (I hope I am remembering correctly and not unfairly calling out the wrong person), in general though I am thinking I will probably take Stats Cans data instead his, that said it is better to see the actual post and what it says and the assumptions used.

    Zweisystem replies: Eric Chris has taken published transit numbers and has come up with some very unhappy stats about Trans Link. RftV has published two of his letters.

  32. Rico says:

    Sigh, I have to do all the work, here is a link to Portlands mode share from 1996 onwards, despite the link stating transit mode share not increasing you can see it did increase marginally, just not nearly as much as mode share in Vancouver. ….so repeat after me Portlands LRT system (besides being neat) did not affect transit mode share (attracting the car driver from transit) as much as RRT in Vancouver. I also looked at the APTA data for a seperate comparison 1996-2011, total trips for TriMet(Portland) increased 59% compared to 65% for Translink so those numbers seem to jive as well.

    Zweisystem replies: Sorry once you linked with the Human transit chap, who is decidedly anti-LRT, you lost your cred.