Postmedia merges Edmonton Journal & Edmonton Sun newsrooms, lays off 35 including senior editors

Postmedia today announced it is merging newsrooms and cutting about 90 staff across the country. Here in Edmonton, the Journal and the Sun newsrooms have merged and 35 people have been laid off as a result, including Journal editor-in-chief Margo Goodhand.

The Journal
The Journal, photo by Channing McRae

When today started, there were about 90 people in the two newsrooms. That was already down signficantly from peak newsroom sizes – Terry McConnell suggested the Journal newsroom alone had 165 people ten years ago. Losing 35 people in a single day is devastating.

Here are the impacted folks we know about (alphabetically by surname, with links to sources):

You can read the memo that went along with these cuts from Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey here. Here’s an excerpt:

“What this means is that today we say goodbye to approximately 90 of our talented journalists, colleagues and friends. We will be working closely with those affected to ensure as smooth a transition as possible.”

Postmedia has decided to form “a national sports writing team under the leadership of Bev Wake, Senior Executive Producer, Sports.” While there will be “writers in each of our markets” according to Godfrey, it’s no surprise that the local sports reporters were significantly affected by today’s cuts.

This was obviously a difficult and painful day for many talented journalists here in Edmonton. Jana Pruden, who fortunately remains at the Journal for now, live-tweeted the agony of waiting for the news today.

Why is this happening?

When Postmedia purchased the Sun and other properties from Quebecor last year, it promised to keep the competing papers separate. That strategy has obviously changed. Here’s what Godfrey wrote in his memo today:

“Since the acquisition of the Sun Media brands, we have been working to move our teams together in order to leverage strengths and also to find synergies and savings. We have made progress across our Sales, Marketing, HR, Finance, IT and other administrative functions. The next step is our newsrooms.”

The reason is money. Or as Todd Babiak put it, “Postmedia isn’t a media company in any traditional way, it’s a debt-servicing entity.” From Postmedia’s latest quarterly shareholders’ report:

“Print advertising revenue increased $49.0 million to $142.1 million for the three months ended November 30, 2015 as compared to the same period in prior year. Excluding the impact of the Sun Acquisition, print advertising revenue decreased $16.4 million, or 17.6%, and declines were experienced across all of our major categories including decreases from local advertising of 17.1%, national advertising of 23.4%, and insert advertising of 7.2%. The decreases were due to declines in both volume and rate with the total print advertising linage and average line rate decreasing 11.4% and 9.8%, respectively, during the three months ended November 30, 2015, as compared to the same period in the prior year.”

Print circulation isn’t doing much better:

“Print circulation revenue increased $20.5 million to $67.9 million for the three months ended November 30, 2015 as compared to the same period in the prior year. Excluding the impact of the Sun Acquisition, print circulation revenue decreased $3.2 million, or 6.7%, as a result of paid circulation volume decreasing 7.2%, partially offset by price increases.”

And perhaps most concerning of all, digital revenue is also decreasing:

“Digital revenue increased $5.9 million to $30.2 million for the three months ended November 30, 2015, as compared to the same period in the prior year. Excluding the impact of the Sun Acquisition, digital revenue decreased $1.4 million, or 5.7%, as a result of decreases in local digital advertising revenue of $1.8 million and digital classified revenue of $0.6 million, partially offset by an increase in digital subscription revenue of $0.2 million and other digital revenue of $0.7 million.”

Postmedia is now targeting $80 million in cuts by mid-2017. Some are even suggesting that bankruptcy could be in the cards.

On losing our local editors

You might snicker at the thought that Edmonton had any independence from the mothership in Toronto, but now it’s official that we lack local editors:

“Jose Rodriguez, the Calgary Sun’s editor-in-chief, will oversee both Calgary papers, while current Herald editor Lorne Motley moves to Edmonton to steer the Journal and Sun there.”

It seems that Lorne will actually be moving to Edmonton, but it’s still highly suspect that a perfectly capable editor in Margo is being replaced with someone from our southern neighbour. I know that Margo spoke out about Postmedia’s endorsement of the Conservatives, but I can’t see that as the reason she was let go as some have suggested. If it was, I think we should be surprised to see Paula Simons remain at the Journal, as she heavily criticized the endorsements.

I think it’s an incredible shame to see Margo, Stephanie, and Donna go. Edmonton’s newspapers have lost some experienced editorial leadership and that will have an impact.

On keeping both papers

It’s no surprise to me that both papers will remain, even if they’ll be run entirely by the same folks on both the business and editorial sides of the fence. Here’s what I wrote back in November:

“While there’s a lot of wisdom in combining the sales and business teams from each paper (which has happened) and even sharing physical office space (which is happening) it makes much less sense to combine the editorial teams or otherwise merge the two papers. There’s little overlap between their audiences and a lot of lucrative ad inventory to lose by getting rid of one of the papers. Postmedia has made some surprising decisions in the past so I guess I wouldn’t be completely shocked if it happened, but I also wouldn’t put any money on it.”

So it’s a good thing I didn’t put money on it, because they did go ahead and merge the newsrooms. The papers are separate in name only now.

What does this mean for Edmonton?

While today’s news doesn’t destory journalism in our city, it certainly isn’t good for it. As Paula Simons wrote:

“We’re going to lose many other great reporters, photographers, and editors too. And it will be a loss, not just for us, but for the city they covered so passionately.”

I’m hopeful that many of the individuals impacted today will find new jobs here in Edmonton, but given the state of our economy, I don’t know how realistic that is. And that means we’re potentially losing some key insight, perspectives, and talent to other locations.

On the other hand, innovation often arises out of difficulty. With a poor economy and a sudden increase in free agents with unique skills and experience in the media industry, perhaps we’ll see Edmonton make something new again.

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #186

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

Touring a government-supported affordable housing facility in Edmonton 271
The local media interview Amarjeet Sohi, Sarah Hoffman, and Ben Henderson, photo by Premier of Alberta

And here is some slightly less local media stuff:

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for 1/17/2016

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Grant Notley Park
Grant Notley Park, photo by lubna.780

Upcoming Events

Late Night Ride on Transit
Late Night Ride on Transit, photo by IQRemix

Rogers Place Sneak Peek (January 2016)

Today the City of Edmonton offered a sneak peek at Rogers Place, Edmonton’s new downtown arena slated to open in time for the 2016-2017 NHL season (there are 228 days until project completion according to the website). The $606 million project, which includes the arena, winter garden, community rink, LRT connection, and other amenities, has been under construction since March 2014. Today was the first time the public was allowed inside.

Rogers Place Sneak Peek
The Oilers flag at centre ice

I live just a few blocks away so have had an upfront view of all of the construction, but it was neat to get a look inside the building today.

Rogers Place Sneak Peek

I think they were very well prepared to handle a lot of people today, but the cold temperatures probably resulted in a smaller turnout than originally anticipated. I arrived just before 11am and there were a few hundred people in line. When I left about 45 minutes later, there was no line outside.

Rogers Place Sneak Peek

The project is being constructed on 9.5 acres of land right downtown and today we got to look at two elements of it. First, the community rink which will be home to the MacEwan University hockey teams. The rink will feature 1,000 seats for fans, and will be owned and operated by the City of Edmonton.

Rogers Place Sneak Peek

And of course, we got to step inside the main arena itself. Here’s a quick video of the view we had:

The building is 141 feet high, and I really felt that sense of scale today. The bowl feels rounder and more intimate than the current one at Rexall Place, even though the square footage inside the arena is 819,200 square feet compared to Rexall’s 497,700 square feet.

Rogers Place Sneak Peek

The capacity for hockey games is 18,641 but it can stretch to 20,734 in a centre stage concert setup or it can shrink down to about 4,500 for a small concert. Roughly 52% of the seats are in the lower bowl, compared to just 37% at Rexall Place, so more fans will be closer to the action.

Rogers Place Sneak Peek

There will be 56 suites and 24 mini suites in the new arena, plus 4,100 club seats and 1,116 loge seats. Oh, and those seats are all generally wider than the ones you’ll find at Rexall Place.

Rogers Place Sneak Peek
Bob Black explaining some of the features of the arena

Rogers Place is being constructed to the LEED Silver standard, as mandated by the City of Edmonton. There’s about 9,000 tonnes of structural steel and 24,000 cubic metres of structural concrete being used to bring it to life.

Rogers Place Sneak Peek

You can follow the construction at the Rogers Place website, and you can get all the facts on the project here. You can see more photos here.

Recap: Edmonton’s Economic Impact Luncheon 2016

EEDC hosted its annual Impact Luncheon at the Shaw Conference Centre on Tuesday. Last year’s event featured Premier Jim Prentice and took place during a more positive time for Alberta’s economy – looking back now it seems like so long ago. A lot has happened over the last year, and to say the landscape in Alberta today is different would be a major understatement.

I think EEDC CEO Brad Ferguson showed great leadership during Council’s budget deliberations a couple months ago, requesting a 2% cut to EEDC’s budget. “Going into 2016, it could be one of the hardest years in Edmonton’s history,” he said at the time. No City-owned organization or branch had ever requested a decrease.


Photo by Brad Ferguson

Board Chair Barry Travers welcomed everyone to the event, and said that EEDC is “committed to doing more with less.” He reiterated that EEDC is focused on achieving $175 million in economic impact. After lunch, emcee Carrie Doll read a story about Edmonton. “Amidst a year of economic headwinds, this resilient city pushed forward once again,” she read. The story was full of feel-good statements like “this is a city of beauty, a city that’s engaged, a city that is alive 52 weeks a year.” I think many in the room felt it was inspirational, but it was perplexing to me. “It’s time to say goodbye to the Edmonton that once was, and hello to the Edmonton that now is.” What does that even mean?

In delivering his keynote address, I thought Brad did a great job of balancing the necessary realism of the current economic situation with the upbeat cheerleading that goes along with being CEO of the City’s economic development organization. He acknowledged that the next 2-3 years are going to be difficult for everyone, then continued:

“But in three years, if we are united and do this properly, this city and province will emerge even stronger than it’s been in the past, an economic powerhouse for our country, an incredible place for the next generation of Albertans to be born into, and a place where everyone will again want to come in search of an abundance of opportunity.”

Brad started globally and worked his way to the local context. “The world around us has lost its compass,” Brad said, explaining that the current period of time is unique because of high debt levels, the fast pace of technological change, and geopolitical tensions. He noted that “using debt to stimulate growth is incredibly addictive for politicians” but that it is citizens who end up paying the price. Global growth has stalled, he said, and that means “demand for commodities grinds to a halt.” He touched on oil, saying that the supply at the moment seems endless. And he talked about “an incredible time of volatility and anxiety, all around the world.”

Next Brad turned his attention to Canada. Though he again scolded politicians for being addicted to debt, he talked about how personal debt has escalated in recent years, despite the fact that middle income wages “have been relatively stagnant since 1995.” This has led to the “Age of Anxiety” as Brad called it, in which “people and families are doing everything possible and are still unable to make ends meet.”

Although he criticized some of the Province’s recent decisions, including “a delayed royalty review and a substantial amount of new provincial debt and new interest payments”, Brad said he wasn’t blaming Rachel Notley or her government. “They inherited 10 years of drunken-sailor euphoria that came after the Klein years,” he said, “which was the last time we made hard decisions about size of government, debt repayment and government program spending.”

More importantly, Brad placed blame on himself and everyone in the room, “We…didn’t do our job over the past 10 years of euphoria and we didn’t hold our government to account.” Regardless of who’s in power, Albertans need to question their political leaders and get more involved. But he didn’t let the current government completely off the hook. “It doesn’t matter what political ideology was campaigned on, our government has a responsibility to steward this province forward for the best interest of Albertans and future Albertans.”


Photo by Carrie Doll

Last year, Brad highlighted ten themes “that would strengthen our economy over the long term.” This year, he highlighted five calls to action:

  1. Entrepreneurship
  2. Export & Trade
  3. Energy Innovation
  4. Tourism, Conferences, and Major Events
  5. Leadership in Public Service

On entrepreneurship, Brad said “the most important thing we can do is continue to invest in talent.” He said the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Edmonton is “working exceptionally well” but noted that health innovation, agrifood, and a shared maker space are all areas that we could improve upon.

“Export & Trade are essential parts of the wealth creation formula,” Brad said. He encouraged local business leaders to speak up about the TPP, saying “we generate about $50 billion per year from TPP countries.” He also talked about pipelines and logistics and said “everyone has a role in making these opportunities come to life.”

“Our energy future is all about innovation,” Brad said, highlighting five challenges that we should be focusing on: CO2-Free Emissions, Enhanced Oil Recovery, Carbon Capture & Storage, Clean Coal, Safest Pipelines in the World. He said it doesn’t make sense to shut down or phase out one of our competitive strengths in exchange for “making green infrastructure investments in which we have no competitive advantage.”

Though he noted that EEDC has been working with Northlands to “end the 30-year old discussion of how we can best market the city under one banner,” most of what Brad said about major events and tourism was a repeat of last year. “Major events create an energy, rhythm and pulse in a city” he said, repeating last year’s message nearly word-for-word. It seems to be that civic leaders love to talk about Edmonton’s major events strategy, yet I have never seen one articulated.

“In this country we have three levels of government with the risk of introducing a fourth at the regional level,” he said. I assume he’s talking about regional government, and he argued effectively against it. “We can barely afford the multi-tiered system that we have, and we certainly cannot afford it becoming more engorged.” He talked about government becoming more efficient and less bureaucratic.

My favorite part of his remarks came when Brad talked about the complicated system of economic development and innovation organizations, saying “the level of duplication and inefficiencies is astonishing, with no overall leadership, coordination in planning or true accountability for results.” He called for an overhaul of the system, and extended an invitation to work with the other organizations to “reshape the economic development and innovation system to what is needed for our future, and leave behind the ineffective systems and structures of our past.” I hope Brad’s colleagues take him up on the offer.

Brad finished with this: “I believe this province will regain its potential, and out of this extended period of darkness, better days will come.”

Overall I think he delivered a thoughtful speech. With clear calls to action, some thought-provoking statements, and a personal touch, I think Brad had a big impact on everyone who listened. Let’s hope that other civic leaders follow his lead and do their part to help Edmonton emerge stronger from the downturn that is ahead.

A look ahead at 2016 for City Council and the City of Edmonton

This year is going to be a difficult one. “While technically it won’t be a recession, for many people it’s going to feel like one,” said City of Edmonton chief economist John Rose. Our economy is expected to grow by just 1% with unemployment rising, perhaps as high as 7%. We’re less energy-dependent than the rest of the Province, but low oil prices are still going to hurt many.

Angles on Clouds
Angles on Clouds, photo by Dave Sutherland

While the economy seems certain to dominate the headlines this year, there are plenty of other topics that will come up throughout the year. Here are some key things that City Council and the City of Edmonton are going to have to deal with in 2016 that we should keep an eye on:

New City Manager

With the firing of City Manager Simon Farbrother back in September, City Council will need to select a replacement this year.

I think this will be the single most impactful decision that Council will make in 2016 – who is the right person to lead the City in the years ahead? Council has already indicated they are looking for someone who is more involved in the day-to-day, “someone who can meet the aspirations of this city head-on.” The job posting further specifies that the successful candidate will be “a community-minded relationship builder and a consummate communicator who can advance an effective culture through accountability and ingenuity.” I think interim City Manager Linda Cochrane is doing a fine job, and she certainly has the knowledge, experience, abilities, and relationships that are critical to succeed in the role. But I don’t think Council will go with an insider. I think they’re looking for a fresh perspective.

A new City Manager will no doubt want to make changes to the organization, so expect more dominoes to fall this year.

Ward 12 By-Election

With Amarjeet Sohi being elected as MP for Edmonton-Mill Woods in October’s federal election, residents in Ward 12 are currently without a representative on Council. The by-election to fill his seat will take place on Monday, February 22 and there are already 29 declared candidates. That’s an incredible number of candidates, and it means voters in Ward 12 are going to have quite a difficult job deciding who should succeed Sohi. During the 2013 municipal election, Amarjeet Sohi raised more than $130,000 and spent more than $85,000 to win his seat. On average, the winning councillors spent $73,000. I don’t think we’ll see sums that large this time, however.

This is City Council’s first by-election in more than two decades. The new Councillor will need to get up-to-speed quickly, and won’t have much time to have an impact before we find ourselves in another municipal election.

With Amarjeet Sohi being named Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, I think Edmonton is very well-represented in the current federal government. Furthermore, we have a minister responsible for infrastructure in this country who knows first-hand the challenges faced by big cities like Edmonton. That bodes well for our city’s relationship with the federal government and for our interests.

LRT (Metro Line, Valley Line, Future Expansion) & Transit Strategy

Last year was not a great year for LRT in Edmonton, so I’m sure the City and Council will be hoping for a much-more train-friendly 2016.

The Metro Line LRT still has issues, of course. The City still hasn’t accepted the safety certification of Thales, and the line continues to run more slowly than planned (and seems to break down awfully frequently). The City says it wants to reach “Plan A”, which would be full operation using the computer-based train control system, but is currently at “Plan B-” (seriously? this is Plan C guys), which is reduced speeds and “line of sight” operations. The middle step, “Plan B”, is full speeds but using the new system only between Churchill and NAIT. It seems there’s still a long way to go.

Brad Smid, who “managed the planning, design and construction of the $700 Million Metro Line Stage 1 (North LRT Extension) from Downtown to NAIT” was just this month named Director of the Valley Line LRT Design & Construction. That could be good or bad, depending on your point-of-view. Some argue that Smid is a very capable manager who spotted issues with the Metro Line LRT early on and was instrumental in getting the project constructed under budget. But he didn’t do himself any favors this summer when he downplayed the issues with the Metro Line LRT. Saying that the project was completed “on time and on budget” from a design & construction point-of-view doesn’t mean much to taxpayers who ultimately ended up with less than they were promised. Maybe Smid is the right guy to lead the Valley Line LRT project, but he’ll have to earn the trust of Council and the public.

On the Valley Line LRT, things are looking better though. The City selected TransEd Partners late last year to design, build, operate, maintain, and finance the first stage of the project. The first task in 2016 will be to finalize the contract, which is expected to be complete in February. Construction will begin shortly thereafter (preparations have already been underway, of course). We’re promised that this line will be different, because it’s a P3. We’ll see about that.

A couple of reports on future LRT expansion were postponed from 2015 to this year, so we should see Council consider a long term funding plan for the LRT, a communications plan on LRT funding, and an “interdepartmental approach” for investing in transit and LRT, among other things. There’s also the ongoing work to create a new Transit Strategy that kicked off over the summer. The strategy won’t be complete until early 2017, but the bulk of the work will take place this year, and is an opportunity for Edmontonians to provide input on “how transit can best support the city we want to live in ten years from now.”

City Charter, MGA Review, Edmonton Region

Discussions about the City Charter will continue this year. Mayor Iveson was careful to set expectations last month that he doesn’t anticipate a charter being in place until the end of the current Council term, but we may see elements of it move forward in the year ahead. Both Mayor Iveson and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi see the charter as a critical step forward for Alberta’s big cities, bringing fewer restrictions, a new relationship with the Province, and long-term sustainable funding.

Also ongoing this year is the effort to modernize the Municipal Government Act (MGA), the legislation that guides how municipalities in Alberta operate. The MGA review began in 2014 and made progress last year with Bill 20 being approved by the Legislature. Additional changes will now be considered, with a goal of competing everything in time for the next municipal election in 2017. The City of Edmonton has put forward some key principles and considerations that it would like to see reflected in the new MGA. I expect a new set of recommendations will come to Council for approval this year.

Council will also need to continue pushing ahead with its regional partners. The focus for the Capital Region Board this year is to finalize its Growth Plan 2.0. It is a 30-year strategy for managing growth in the region that was originally developed in 2010 and is now getting its first major update. The current plan is for the CRB to approve the final plan in September so that it can be submitted to the Province in October (roughly a year behind schedule). Also, while a decision likely won’t be made this year, the City’s annexation plans will continue to be a focal point for regional discussion.

Last year saw the launch of the Metro Mayors Alliance and “a blue ribbon panel on improving the competitiveness of the Edmonton Metro region.” I expect we’ll hear much more from that group in 2016.

Northlands & Rexall Place

Back in April, the Northlands Arena Strategy Committee (which I was a member of) released its final report and recommendations, which were accepted by the Northlands Board in May. Since then, Northlands has been hard at work on completing its Strategic Plan. That work is now complete, and it will be presented to Council in the next month or two. A report on enhancing the Coliseum LRT Station and perhaps building a pedway to the Edmonton Expo Centre was put on hold in 2015 while Northlands worked to sort out its strategy, so that could all come up this year too.

Some aspects of the plan have already begun to leak out, including repurposing the entire 160 acres of land, the oft-discussed possibility of joining Northlands and EEDC, and perhaps even the end of horse racing at Northlands Park. I understand we’ll also learn more about a potential agreement between Northlands and the Oilers Entertainment Group (outright competition would be detrimental to both).

This could prove to be one of the most difficult issues for Council in 2016. The fallout of previous decisions – to build Rogers Place, to keep Northlands out of the discussion about the new arena, to build the expensive Edmonton Expo Centre – all of that will need to be dealt with this year. In a worst case scenario, Northlands goes away and the City is left with debt and expensive, problematic assets on its hands. In a best case scenario, a new vision for that area of the city is agreed upon and led by Northlands. Either way, the City is going to have to contibute taxpayer dollars, so Council will need to determine how it wants to spend its limited money.

Blatchford

Blatchford is a long-term project, but this will be a critical year for the development of the future community. Late last year Council decided to cut the large lake from the vision, the latest in a number of features that have been cancelled. On the plus side for Blatchford, the cost of environmental remediation has been far lower than anticipated.

A report is expected in the first quarter addressing the District Energy Sharing System that has been proposed for Blatchford. Administration will be preparing “a comprehensive business case” for the implementation of such a system, plus a “detailed rate setting analysis”. Council will need to determine if the district energy system is critical or if it too will be cut. There are some other big decisions coming up as well, so it should be an interesting year.

The City is still planning to sell fully serviced lots at Blatchford to builders this year, if all goes well.

Walterdale Bridge, 102 Avenue Bridge over Groat Road

Both the Walterdale Bridge and the 102 Avenue Bridge experienced major setbacks in 2015.

The $155 million Walterdale Bridge remains on budget according to the City, even with the year-long delay. The completed bridge will span 206 metres and will be 54 metres tall. All of the arch steel is now on site, the heaviest piece of which weighs 125 tonnes. The current plan is for the new bridge to open by the end of the year, with the old bridge slated to be removed in 2017.

The best date we have for the completion of the new 102 Avenue Bridge over Groat Road is “fall 2016” but for a project that has already faced a number of delays, that’s not very reassuring. The installation of steel girders in March was a disaster, with three of them buckling (#girdergate). It was determined that “the spacing braces failed upon crane release of the second last girder, resulting in the buckling of three girders.” They were repaired off-site and have since been reinstalled.

The City can’t afford anymore delays with these two important projects. Apparently a new integrated infrastructure services department has been created to try to avoid issues like the ones faced by the bridge projects. Let’s hope it helps and that they’re completed successfully this year.

Affordable Housing

This is an issue that Mayor Iveson has made clear on numerous occasions he’d like to make progress on. But as he wrote back in December, while “City Council remains strongly committed to supporting affordable housing projects in Edmonton” they believe funding needs to come from other orders of government. “There has to be a better way, one that is fairer to city taxpayers,” the mayor said.

Affordable housing was most recently discussed by Council at the October 27 Executive Committee Meeting. In addition to having Mayor Iveson approach the other orders of government to help advance the Londonderry Regeneration Project, Council asked for a report to come back in April outlining “how a Community Development Corporation could be established” and to address “the role of current housing provides in the Edmonton Metro and the possibility for better integrating and coordinating their work.” Council is also expecting a report to come back in March addressing affordable housing at Blatchford.

Municipal Development Corporation

Over the last year or so Council has been investigating the creation of an arms-length development company. The idea is that a Municipal Development Corporation (MDC) could be used for city building and could even pay a dividend to the City. UDI Edmonton sent a letter to Council back in June offering support for Council’s desire to develop City-owned land assets more efficiently, but expressing “serious concerns” with doing so through an MDC. They don’t want to compete against the City, understandably.

Despite that opposition, Council seems keen to move forward. They approved a motion at the November 26 Executive Committee meeting to have Administration return with a report on April 12 that outlines how to get a Municipal Development Corporation up and running with the preferred “super light” model, and that includes identifying which lands “would be more suitable for primarily profit-motivated development” that the MDC could activate.

An alternative to creating an MDC could be to establish an advisory board made up of existing developers, but I think they’re likely going to go ahead with the corporation this year.

Infill

Last year wasn’t a great year for infill. We’re nowhere close to meeting the 25% target for infill development, and there was a lot of frustration shared by communities as some projects started to move ahead. Still, Council and the City have committed to infill as a critical component of building a sustainable city, so they need to find a way to keep it moving forward.

Infill was most recently discussed at the October 5/6/7 Executive Committee meeting. Council is expecting a report by March that addresses how to deal with infill sites in mature neighbourhoods. Among other things, Council is looking for “options to create an integrated inspection and enforcement team” and “options to implement a performance bond/letter of credit and/or liability insurance, and/or warranty programs to provide security for the adjacent City and private property.” Hopefully some of those options will provide a way past the negative headlines that seemed to dominate the last year.

Following that meeting, Mayor Iveson wrote that infill “is about creating more housing options for Edmontonians and their families, which is important for the social sustainability of our community over the short and long term.” He promised to “assist the communities where this important development will occur.”

Edmonton’s Infill Roadmap identified 23 actions, and roughly half of those have been completed so far. The remaining actions will be completed this year, but it’s not quite clear what will come next. The Mature Neighbourhood Reinvestment Report is to be released in the spring with numbers on the infill taking place around the city.

The Quarters, Rossdale

The Quarters project suffered a setback in 2015 when the deal between the City and BCM Homes to develop a 28-storey residential tower at Five Corners fell through. I went by the giant hole in the ground the other day and discovered it has become home to dozens of pigeons. Apparently just one interested party came forward to look at taking over the site, but no announcements have been made yet. With $56 million in infrastructure upgrades and new construction going into The Quarters, the City desperately needs private partners to come on board to help build out the area. Not to mention the City’s first CRL project at Fort Road has not been very successful, and it would be a shame to see The Quarters follow in its footsteps.

In December, Council voted to sell some land in West Rossdale to the Province for $13 million. Mayor Iveson said there will be plenty of discussion about the impact of this decision on the West Rossdale project in the year ahead. “I think we have signalled an intent we want to work with them and just want to work out some of the details,” he said. The West Rossdale Urban Design Plan was first approved in 2011, so it would be great to see some progress in the year head.

Uber, Taxis, Bike Lanes

After a year of illegal operation and some very heated debates, we should finally get a resolution on the Uber issue in 2016. Proposed changes to the Vehicle for Hire Bylaw were discussed by Council in November, but they deferred a decision until later this month. I remain a fan and happy Uber customer, and I have no doubt that Council will provide a way for Uber to operate legally in Edmonton and I’m confident they will remain here.

The other aspect of the Uber debate is what to do with taxis, if anything. Back in March Council asked for an independent study on Edmonton’s taxi service levels, and that is expected to be delivered in the first quarter of 2016. The taxi companies won’t be happy about Uber, but additional changes could be on the way for their operations too.

The other contentious transportation issue that Council will need to deal with this year is bike lanes. They voted over the summer to remove bike lanes on both 95 Avenue and 40 Avenue, with an argument that doing so would pave the way for better bike infrastructure going forward. Well, now they need to prove that. As Mayor Iveson wrote in July, “Council’s statements about implementing the next generation of spaces must be quickly followed with action.”

New Civic Tower

Rogers Place isn’t the only major downtown project expected to open this year. The City of Edmonton’s new office tower is also slated wrap up construction later this year. Featuring 29 storeys the tower will stand 129.8 m tall, putting it in the top five (until the other towers in the arena district are built). The City has signed a 20 year lease for roughly 60% of the tower and has an option on naming rights too. The currently approved name is simply “Edmonton Tower”.

Council will remain at City Hall of course, but the new tower will no doubt have a large positive impact on the culture of the City, putting thousands of colleagues under one roof for the first time. With two-thirds of the City’s downtown employees moving to the tower, it will also have a potentially negative impact on other downtown buildings, creating a lot of vacant space very quickly. The City of Edmonton’s leases at the CN Tower, HSBC Building, and Scotia Place all expire in March.

And that’s just scratching the surface

There’s no shortage of issues for Council to consider throughout the year, as the list above demonstrates. But those are just the big items. Some of the other issues that will come up this year include:

  • Proposed changes to the Public Hearing process
  • An update on efforts to protect & preserve the McDougall United Church
  • An update on the City’s Image, Brand and Reputation Strategy
  • Managing the availability of Park & Ride facilities and a Gorman Park & Ride Strategy
  • Options for Alley Rehabilitation and Renewal
  • An update on the Traffic Management Pilot in Prince Charles and Pleasantview
  • An Electrical Bus Pilot
  • EFCL’s 100th Anniversary Project
  • The proposed Lewis Farms Recreation Centre
  • Funding for the Milner Library Renewal & Upgrades
  • An update on the Urban Beekeeping Program
  • An update on the Urban Hens Pilot Project
  • Plenty of Zoning Bylaw Changes (including reduced parking requirements in three pilot areas and around eating & drinking establishments)
  • An update on the proposed Galleria project
  • The 2016 Municipal Census

This is going to be a busy, difficult year. Get ready!

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #185

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

Deep Freeze Festival 2016
Global Edmonton setup an ice living room at Deep Freeze on the weekend

And here is some slightly less local media stuff:

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for 1/10/2016

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Walterdale Bridge
Walterdale Bridge

Upcoming Events

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Ice Castle, photo by TimTaylorSmith

LRT is about more than speed

If you’re angry about the Metro Line LRT, then you’ll love Tristin Hopper’s article in today’s National Post. He’s a self-described “fervent – almost fanatical – supporter of public transit” and he doesn’t hold back on eviscerating Edmonton’s latest addition to the LRT network:

“In short, it fails on every single possible justification for why cities should build light rail.”

It’s a colorful piece, complete with a comparison to “a candy company releasing a new chocolate bar called Herpes Al-Qaeda.” But while it’s clear the City of Edmonton made some mistakes and that it would indeed be bad to see them repeated elsewhere, Hopper’s arguments are clearly coming from a place of frustration rather than fact, and he comes off sounding more like a supporter of car culture than the transit booster he claims to be.

Before I get into that, let me say that I’m just as frustrated and disappointed as many of you are with how the Metro Line LRT was handled and how it is still not fully operational as promised. I’ve written a lot about it over the last year, and I’m sure there will be much more to come in the year ahead. There’s no question that the City of Edmonton screwed up on the Metro Line LRT, but Council didn’t do itself any favors by ignoring the project until it was too late either. People have been fired, lessons have been learned, and there’s undoubtedly more fallout to come.

But, let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill, mmkay?

Kingsway/Royal Alex LRT Station

Hopper is right to point out how unacceptable it is that the line breaks down so regularly. And he’s right that due to the signalling system issues, the trains aren’t running as fast as planned. But his article also makes some pretty specious arguments about emissions1 and the impact on ambulances2. Hopper has some nerve adding up the amount of time wasted by drivers waiting for the Metro Line LRT trains to go by, as if those drivers had never before run into rush hour and gridlock. How much “human existence” has commuting by car, a much more dangerous, stressful, and expensive mode of transporation, extinguished? Easier to pick on LRT, I guess.

“The chief problem is that the train was built at grade and cleaves through several major intersections,” Hopper writes. This leads to delays for passengers and a “traffic apocalypse” for everyone else. “I’ve personally clocked a six-minute wait,” he complains. I get it, I hate being made to wait as much as anyone (thank goodness Sharon is a much more patient person than I am). But this is just as silly to highlight now as it was four months ago when the Metro Line LRT opened.

The only reason this extra-six-minutes argument has any appeal at all is that there’s something to blame. Probably every driver has spent far longer than six minutes stuck in traffic on many occasions, but without a train to complain about, those delays are just chalked up to the realities of driving. Over time drivers become oblivious to them. Sure people complain about traffic from time-to-time, but no one is crucifying the City over it like they are with the Metro Line LRT.

Also wrong is complaining about how slow the train ride itself is, especially given that the Metro Line LRT isn’t operating at full-speed yet. Even if it were, LRT isn’t supposed to be faster than other modes of transportation. It can be, in some cases, but it doesn’t have to be and that isn’t the reason to build it in the first place. LRT is primarily about capacity, not speed. And transit is about the network, not a single line.

It’s not the speed that matters

We need not look any further than the existing Capital Line LRT to see that speed isn’t why it has been successful. What if I wanted to get from my house on 104 Street downtown to Southgate Centre? Here’s a look at the trip by mode at three different times for today, according to the fastest option suggested by Google Maps:

7:00 AM 12:00 PM 5:00 PM
Cycling 30-34 minutes 30-34 minutes 30-34 minutes
Vehicle 16-20 minutes 16-22 minutes 16-40 minutes
Bus 38 minutes 38 minutes 41 minutes
LRT 24 minutes 24 minutes 24 minutes

And here’s the reverse trip, going back downtown from Southgate:

7:00 AM 12:00 PM 5:00 PM
Cycling 29-33 minutes 29-33 minutes 29-33 minutes
Vehicle 14-20 minutes 14-20 minutes 14-24 minutes
Bus 37 minutes 37 minutes 37 minutes
LRT 21 minutes 21 minutes 21 minutes

Depending on the time of day, direction of travel, your speed, and lots of other conditions that you have no control over (traffic, weather, etc.), driving is actually the fastest mode of transportation. LRT is pretty quick, but more importantly is consistent and predictable. My travel time in the real world is far more likely to match the prediction for LRT than it is for a vehicle. Not to mention taking the LRT means you can do something productive or enjoyable while you ride, and you don’t have to pay for parking.

That particular example, downtown to Southgate, makes the time to take the bus seem quite unappealing. Again, that’s to be expected given ETS’ approach of having buses feed into the LRT network, something that will also happen with the Metro Line LRT once it is fully operational. If we look instead at an example where there isn’t LRT, we see that the bus can actually be competitive and maybe even faster than travelling by vehicle. Here’s my place to West Edmonton Mall:

7:00 AM 12:00 PM 5:00 PM
Cycling 37 minutes 37 minutes 37 minutes
Vehicle 18-24 minutes 18-26 minutes 20-45 minutes
Bus 29 minutes 27 minutes 33 minutes

And here’s the reverse trip, going from WEM to downtown:

7:00 AM 12:00 PM 5:00 PM
Cycling 36 minutes 36 minutes 36 minutes
Vehicle 18-26 minutes 20-28 minutes 20-35 minutes
Bus 29 minutes 25 minutes 29 minutes

In this example there’s an express bus that travels between WEM and downtown. Again travelling by vehicle could be faster, but it depends greatly on time of day, direction, and unforeseen circumstances like accidents and weather conditions. The bus would also be subject to some of these considerations, so it’s not as reliable as LRT, but it is still a much more viable option in this example. And you can see how an express bus could potentially be a better way than LRT to achieve a fast trip, especially if it were afforded some of the right-of-way and separation advantages of the LRT (the express bus to WEM shares the road with vehicles and follows all existing signals).

This is all just to show that speed isn’t the driving factor behind LRT. If it were, we’d look at those times above and be complaining that it wasn’t always the fastest option. The negative impacts of LRT on traffic are easy to see, at some point vehicles have to wait for trains. But there are positive impacts of LRT on traffic too. More people riding the train means fewer people driving which means (in theory) less traffic than there would otherwise be. That speeds up commute times for everyone.

But the real reason you build LRT is for the capacity. Here’s what the City of Edmonton’s LRT for Everyone PDF highlights:

rails vs roads

One four-car train can move as many people as 600 typical cars. And let’s be honest, you could probably cram even more people onto those trains if you really wanted to. That potential capacity has a real, positive impact on the transportation network as a whole. It makes getting around the city better for everyone.

There are other reasons to build LRT of course. Accessibility, convenience, transit-oriented development, more efficient use of infrastructure, reduced energy use and environmental impact, and much more. But enabling more people to travel more efficiently throughout the city is the big benefit of LRT.

And when you consider it as part of the overall network, with a mix of bicycles, vehicles, buses, and trains, the capacity benefits of buses and trains make an even bigger difference. That’s why shifting Edmonton’s transportation mix to rely less on vehicles is such an important part of The Way We Move.

Set the right expectations

Hopper seems to suggest that fast LRT that doesn’t impact traffic is the only kind of LRT to pursue and that “don’t let idiots build your transit” is the only lesson to be learned from the Metro Line LRT project. But both of these things are off the mark. You don’t build LRT for speed and you can’t avoid idiots, they’re everywhere.

So yes policymakers of Canada, come to Edmonton and learn from the Metro Line LRT. There are clearly things you can do better and a real-world example to examine is better than a theoretical one. But don’t follow Hopper’s lead in setting the wrong expectations for the “decent, right-thinking people” in your cities. LRT is about much more than speed.


  1. For instance, he says the Metro Line LRT “is almost certainly increasing Edmonton’s net amount of carbon emissions.” I guess we’ll have to take his word for it, as he doesn’t provide any evidence to back the claim up. 

  2. Noting that the Metro Line is next to the Royal Alexandra Hospital, he suggests that “any Edmontonian unlucky enough to have a heart attack in one of the northwestern quadrants of the city must wait as paramedics wend a circuitous route through downtown.” This smacks of fearmongering to me, and we’ve already been-there-done-that-tyvm with medevac and the closing of the City Centre Airport. Although he expressed concern with the delays associated with the partial Metro Line operation, AHS’ chief paramedic said that dealing with traffic is not a new problem for paramedics. “We run into these situations all the time,” he told CBC. And as Transportation GM Dorian Wandzura noted in that same article, presumably AHS had already made some operational adjustments, given that the plan was approved and the route defined way back in 2008. 

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #184

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

  • Trent Wilkie wrote about the end of The Unknown Studio by interviewing Adam & Scott. Check it out to find out who their favorite guests were, most embarrassing moments, and more. And in case you missed it, here is the final episode of the podcast.
  • I don’t know how she did it, but Elizabeth Withey wore the same black dress (called “Laverne”) throughout 2015. And she blogged about the experience, of course. “Laverne is now on sabbatical in the closet, nestled among the other wintry frocks.” I love that it seems to have helped open her up to other challenges!
  • Danielle Paradis is the new Metro Edmonton columnist, replacing Omar Mouallem. Here is her first column.
  • After 35 years behind the microphone, Mark Lewis announced he will retire as the Edmonton Oilers PA announcer at the end of the season.
  • Andrea Ross is moving on from Metro Edmonton to join CBC Edmonton this month. Congrats!
  • The Journal announced changes to its subscription rates recently. Effective February 1, 2016, rates are going up by $2 per month for 5 and 6-day home delivery, and $1 per month for 2-day home delivery. “While we haven’t had a subscription price adjustment in over 18 months, we, like many newspapers worldwide, are forced to keep pace with the increasing costs of producing and delivering a newspaper in the current economic environment,” the notice in the paper read. No where in the notice is the word “increase” used, only “adjustment” and “change”.
  • Seen & Heard in Edmonton has announced a new schedule: podcast on Mondays, blog roundup on Tuesdays, podcast roundup on Wednesdays, and newsletter on Thursdays. You can now also like Seen & Heard on Facebook! And save the date for the next Podcasting Meetup, taking place on January 24.
  • Episode 23 of the Seen & Heard in Edmonton podcast features myself, Adam Rozenhart, and Scott Francis Winder talking about the technology of podcasting. Thanks for including me Karen!
  • The latest Life & Times features Tom Elsworthy, the former Edmonton Sun journalist who died on October 30, 2015.
  • Here’s another feature on the reality TV show being filmed at the Edmonton International Airport. Apparently it’s similar to a National Geographic Channel show called Ultimate Airport Dubai.
  • The Calgary Herald profiled Hugh Dempsey, who wrote for the Edmonton Bulletin early in his career and continues as editor for the Alberta Historical Review.

seen and heard
Thanks to Brittney for this photo of the last podcasting meetup

And here is some slightly less local media stuff:

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.