Coming up at City Council: May 2-6, 2016

The future of Edmonton’s LRT planning and funding will be one of the major topics for Council this week, alongside updates to the Capital Budget and a look at the funding impacts of the Federal budget. The downtown arena will also be before Council again, as there’s a bylaw to increase borrowing through the downtown CRL to make up for the Provincial funding that never materialized (but which was part of the original financial agreement).

City Hall

Here’s my look at what Council will be discussing in the week ahead.

Meetings this week

You can always see the latest City Council meetings on ShareEdmonton.

Spring 2016 Supplemental Capital Budget Update

Part of the City’s budget process is to adjust the Capital Budget in the spring “in response to changing project needs, new funding opportunities and to respond to emerging issues and changing priorities.”

“The funding available for reallocation in the Supplemental Capital Budget Adjustment is $34.9 million, and is comprised of $10.3 million in Pay-As-You-Go funding, $20.6 million in Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding and $4 million of Neighbourhood Renewal Program tax levy funding (released from Profile 12-66-1073 Pavement Management Relocation), which will be directed towards the Neighbourhood Renewal funding deficit.”

Of that, $19.5 million is recommended to go toward the 2016 Neighbourhood Renewal Program shortfall (the $4 million plus $15.5 of the MSI funding). That leaves $15.4 million available for reallocation. The City is recommending using the funding as follows:

  • Manning Drive ($5.7 million)
  • St. Andrews Surplus Park ($0.8 million)
  • Bus Fleet Replacement ($4.9 million)
  • Fire – Dispatch System Radio ($1.5 million)
  • EPS – Helicopter Replacement ($2.5 million)

The report also notes that Edmonton is projected to see a $15 million decrease in MSI funding as a result of the 2016-2017 Provincial Budget and that Administration will bring forward a strategy to deal with this. You’ll also find an overview of projected savings, 2015 carry forwards, new profiles recommended for funding, and other information on changes to the budget.

One of the new profiles recommended for funding is Pedestrian Wayfinding (CM-21-6000):

“Edmonton’s streets and parks are envisioned to be vibrant places where citizens and visitors can walk, access public transit, visit local businesses, and live healthy active lives. The provision of accurate, consistent, public information to help people find their way to local destinations is a key element of improving the livability of a City. Funding this $2.6 million profile is recommended to come from two funded Transit profiles: LRT Facilities & Right of Way Renewal (CM-66-3200) & Bus Facilities Renewal (CM-66-3500) and one Information Technology profile Enterprise Applications Growth (CM-18-1508).”

I really hope that funding goes ahead!

Federal Transit Stimulus Update

This report looks at the most recent federal budget, which “announced $60 billion in new infrastructure funding, delivering on the new government’s promise to nearly double infrastructure spending over the next 10 years.” The plan will be implemented in two phases – the first will provide $11.9 billion over five years. Here’s what that means for Edmonton:

  • Edmonton will receive $50,000 in base funding plus about $140 million from the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund.
  • Alberta will receive about $196.7 million from the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund.
  • “Under the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund and Clean Water and Wastewater Fund initiatives, the federal contribution will be up to 50 percent of total eligible costs for projects, with eligible costs expanded to include design, engineering, and other planning costs not currently eligible for federal funding.”
  • “Federal Budget 2016 also announced $250 million for municipal capacity building programs to be managed by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to provide funding directly to municipalities.”
  • “Removal of the mandatory P3 screen across the New Building Canada Fund, allowing municipalities to determine the best procurement model for their local circumstances.”

The report also identifies some potential projects that could be eligible for funding under these programs. For the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund, the only project identified is the Malcolm Tweddle/Edith Rogers Dry Pond at $20 million. For the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund, twelve projects have been identified:

  1. D.L. MacDonald Transit Yards Traction Power Substation ($5 million)
  2. Future LRT Planning, Phase 1 ($1.5 million)
  3. Future LRT Design Phase 1 ($32.7 million)
  4. Bus Replacement ($10.8 million)
  5. Growth LRVs ($116 million)
  6. Bus Camera Systems ($7 million)
  7. Growth Buses ($47 million)
  8. Bus Priority Signals ($2 million)
  9. Heritage Valley Transit Centre and Park and Ride ($29 million)
  10. Station Lands Pedway ($26 million)
  11. Electric Buses (No cost estimates)
  12. Design for the Refurbishment of Stadium and Coliseum Stations ($2 million)

The next step could be that Council chooses to submit some of these projects for federal funding.

Priorities for Future LRT Funding

Last week Transportation Committee discussed the priorities of future LRT funding. The City is recommending the following order:

  1. Valley Line, Downtown to Lewis Farms (LW-1, LW-2, LW-3)
  2. Metro Line, NAIT to Blatchford North (HNW-1)
  3. Capital Line, Century Park to Ellerslie (HSW-1)
  4. Downtown Circulator, University to Bonnie Doon (LE-1)
  5. Metro Line, Blatchford North to Castle Downs (HNW-2)

The item was referred to Council by the Committee without a recommendation.

Edmonton Light Rail Transit
Edmonton Light Rail Transit, photo by IQRemix

There’s also a report on future LRT concept planning that identifies the remaining projects in order of priority:

  1. Downtown Circulator, Energy Line and Festival Line to City Limits
  2. Valley Line, Mill Woods to Ellerslie Road
  3. Capital Line, Gorman to Edmonton Energy and Technology Park
  4. Capital Line, Heritage Valley Town Centre to the Edmonton International Airport

Administration had identified $1.5 million for LRT concept planning in the 2016-2018 Operating Budget, but Council did not approve it. The service package will be updated and presented at a future supplementary operating budget adjustment.

Other interesting items

  • If Council approves, a Special City Council meeting will be scheduled for August 31 at 1:30pm to hold a non-statutory public hearing on Northlands’ Vision 2020.
  • Councillor Henderson intends to make a motion that would direct the City to investigate becoming a biophilic city, which are “cities that contain abundant nature; they are cities that care about, seek to protect, restore and grow this nature, and that strive to foster deep connections and daily contact with the natural world.” You can learn more here.
  • There’s a recommendation “that the Mayor, on behalf of City Council, write to the Minister of Environment and Parks, to advocate for the development of a regulatory compliance framework for commercial waste haulage and disposal that promotes sound environmental sustainability including incentivizing private haulers.”
  • Council had allocated $50,000 to the Downtown Proud program in 2013, but it was never spent as matching funds were not raised and circumstances changed. The City is now recommending that the money be used to help transition to a new fee-for-service delivery model and to ensure a “living wage” for program workers.
  • Bylaw 17639 would increase the borrowing authority for the downtown arena by about $32 million to replace provincial grant funding that was not secured. This bylaw is ready for first reading only.
  • Bylaw 17589 would designate Phyllis Grocery, located at 10631 96 Street NW, as a Municipal Historic Resource and would allocate funding of $91,822.50 from the Heritage Reserve Fund for the building. “The total estimated cost of the restoration portion of the project is over $183,000.”

Wrap-up

You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online. You can read my previous coverage of the 2013-2017 City Council here.

City for Life: Gil Penalosa in Edmonton

Gil Penalosa was in Edmonton tonight to share his thoughts on building successful cities, healthy communities, and happier people. Gil is the founder of Toronto-based 8 80 Cities, chair of the board of World Urban Parks, consultant with Danish firm Gehl Architects, and former Commissioner of Parks & Recreation in Bogota where he led a transformation of that city’s park system and implemented the “new Ciclovia” program that sees nearly 1.5 million people walk, run, skate, and cycle along Bogota’s roads every Sunday. He spent about 90 minutes with a theatre full of people all passionate about making Edmonton a better place for pedestrians and cyclists and ultimately, for everyone.

Gil Penalosa

He started out addressing winter. We’ve had an unusually mild one this year, but normally it’s all Edmontonians talk about. “It’s a mental problem more than anything,” he told us. “There’s no such thing as bad weather if you have the proper clothing!” Gil suggested we probably have 20 horrible days a year, 60 that are pretty cold and not great, but that leaves more than 200 good days. “When you focus on those 20 horrible days, you end up with a bad city 365 days of the year,” he said. I don’t think he’s talking about ignoring our Winter City Strategy – he showed some great examples of winter-friendly architecture – but he is saying that we shouldn’t let winter prevent us from cycling. He noted that we have an average of 123 cm of snow each year. “Over five months, that’s nothing.”

Gil talked about the 8 80 rule of thumb. Think of an 8 year old child you know, then think of an 80 year old person you know, and then ask yourself if it is safe for them to cycle to the park or to cross the intersection. Would they feel safe? If the answer is no, then there’s work to do. And by making our city great for 8 year olds and 80 year olds, it’ll become great for everyone. “We need to stop building cities as if everyone is 30 years old and athletic!”

Gil Penalosa

He talked about Ciclovia and all of the positive examples of change around the world that it has inspired. He talked about the importance of having quality sidewalks and bikeways, because they result in safety and dignity for pedestrians and cyclists. He talked about how many pedestrians are killed by motorists around the world (1 every 2 minutes) and they are incidents, not accidents, because they are preventable. He talked about the need for equity, not equality. He talked about the public health and noted that 1 out of 4 Edmontonians are obese and 1 out of 3 are overweight. And he spent quite a bit of time highlighting “the grey bloom” as he calls it. “Older adults are our biggest wasted resource,” he said. “We need to rethink how to engage them and how to take advantage of what they have to offer!”

We need more walking and cycling in our cities. So why do people spend so much time complaining about potholes? Why don’t they use the energy spent on organizing to fix the potholes on promoting walking and cycling instead? Gil’s theory is that it’s because 20-35% of our cities are the streets. And if you take away all of the private property, streets are 70-90% of the public space. “That belongs to all of us and we need to make use of it,” he said. “Do we want streets for cars or streets for people?”

Gil Penalosa

Gil did provide some solutions to all of these challenges. To tackle health, promote walking and cycling. It’s the only way that cities are able to encourage the 30 minutes of physical activity needed per day to keep us all healthy. To reduce the number of pedestrians killed by vehicles, install pedestrian islands in intersections because they result in 56% fewer fatal incidents. And to encourage more cycling, don’t waste time and money with sharrows, he told us. “Don’t just paint a line, that doesn’t work.” We need high quality, separated paths.

Gil said all of this with an infectious energy and humor. You can get a sense of that by checking out this TEDxCarlton talk he did back in 2011.

In fact, his talk tonight was pretty similar to that, although much longer. It was similar to the many other keynotes and presentations he has done. He’s been spreading this message for more than five years! What should we take from that? Clearly there are a lot of cities in the world to visit to share this message with. Gil told us he has worked in over 200 cities in the last nine years. But maybe also that Edmonton is late to the party. And perhaps, as Gil himself told us repeatedly, that change is hard everywhere.

I left Gil’s talk feeling excited, energized, and optimistic about what we can achieve in Edmonton. But it didn’t take long for the cynical, negative, pessimistic thoughts to return. Close a street to cars, he says. Except I know how much work that is (and continues to be). Don’t waste your time on sharrows, he says. But of course that’s what we have focused on. Take action in 90 days and definitely within five years, he says. Our Bicycle Transportation Plan, imperfect as it was, began in 1992 and was updated in 2009 and yet what have we got to show for it?

On the other hand, every city that Gil highlighted as examples of what can be done probably faced challenges that aren’t too dissimilar from the ones I cited above. “I know what you’re thinking,” Gil said at one point. “Edmonton is different. You’re unique.” He nodded knowingly at the crowd. “Always remember that you are absolutely unique, just like everyone else!” he said, quoting Margaret Mead.

Gil’s core message is that change is hard and you need five things to make it happen:

  • A sense of urgency
  • Political will
  • Doers (people that actually do things)
  • Leadership from throughout the community
  • Citizen engagement

Change is hard was a common message throughout his talk. “When you try to get something done,” Gil said, “CAVE people show up.” That’s “Citizens Against Virtually Everything”. The audience loved that. Later he said to beware of the “citizen cadavers”. What are those? “They’re the people who haven’t done anything for the community so you thought they were dead but then you try to change something and they come back to life!”

In addition to the five things mentioned above, we need a shared vision and a lot of action, Gil told us. Turn challenges into opportunities, and don’t be spectators! “We have to be smarter about using our public assets.”

Paths for People

The event tonight was hosted by Councillor Michael Walters, who wrote earlier this week on his blog:

“Each time I engage Edmontonians in conversations about active transportation, one thing becomes clear – that we need to shift the conversation away from car vs. bike to one about healthy people and healthy communities.”

So, who is Paths for People? They’re activists, as Michael Phair explained tonight. From their about page:

“Paths for People is an enthusiastic and strategic group of community-builders working to improve conditions for bicycling and walking (and any other human-powered transportation) within the City of Edmonton.”

Today the group launched its minimum grid:

“Our vision for Edmonton’s Minimum Grid – a grid of walk/bike routes that would connect 140,000 Edmontonians into and around downtown and the university safely and pleasantly.”

It’s a start.

I’m thrilled to have been invited to participate in tomorrow’s City for Life summit, where “leaders in the Edmonton community will gather with City Councillors and Senior Administration to create a vision document for a healthier, happier, more mobile Edmonton.” I’m positive that we’ll have a constructive, future-looking discussion and I am hopeful that together we’ll find a way to transform that into meaningful, long-lasting change. We need action, not just more talk, because when all is said and done, a lot more is said than done.

Uber suspends service, TappCar prepares to launch, Alberta seeks transit strategy input

Here’s the latest entry in my Edmonton Etcetera series, in which I share some thoughts on a few topical items in one post. Less than I’d write in a full post on each, but more than I’d include in Edmonton Notes. Have feedback? Let me know!

Uber suspends service in Edmonton

Today the City’s new Vehicle for Hire Bylaw came into effect. It should have been a great day for Uber and its supporters, but unfortunately the company was forced to suspend operations due to being unable to obtain sufficient insurance to meet Provincial regulations. The Province announced its plan for what it calls “ride-for-hire services” yesterday. There are three key areas in which the Province is taking action:

  • “Insurance: by July 1, an interim insurance product that will provide adequate coverage to Uber drivers and their passengers will be in place. The interim insurance framework has been approved by the Superintendent of Insurance.”
  • “Licensing: all ride-for-hire drivers, including Uber, will continue to require Class 4 Driver Licences or better.”
  • “Police Checks: regulations will be amended to require all ride-for-hire drivers to have a police information check conducted by police.”

It’s the July 1 date for insurance that is the big problem. Brian Mason, Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation, tweeted that Uber “has known all along that insurance wouldn’t be ready til summer.” But Uber said it only learned of the timeline yesterday and apparently neither did City Council.

Uber did say that it would continue operating in surrounding communities like St. Albert where there is no approved regulation, which apparently caught Brian Mason by surprise. “I had not been aware that Uber was going to try and deliberately operate against the law,” he told CBC Edmonton. “That concerns me a great deal and we’ll be having some conversations with our officials.” Umm…where exactly has he been for the last year?

TappCar and other PTPs prepare to launch

According to the City, five regional (Metro Airport, Anytime Taxi, Cowboy Taxi, Dollar Cab and a Private Individual) and one commercial (Tapp Car) Private Transportation Providers (PTP) have been granted licenses under the new bylaw. Not much is known yet about the regional PTPs, but TappCar does look rather interesting and has been featured in the media in recent days.

TappCar
Image courtesy of TappCar

TappCar is a local company that promises “a new standard of service…that is convenient, reliable and safe.” They having been working to sign up drivers for their launch.

“TappCar offers an industry-leading mobile app, in addition to phone and web booking. Vehicles are guaranteed to be of comfortable size and quality. Drivers are properly insured and professionally licensed, and each vehicle has a two way camera installed, ensuring every ride is safe.”

You’ll be able to book a car using their app, website, or by calling the dispatch. TappCar is planning to launch mid-March if all goes well.

Provincial Transit Strategy

Today the Province announced it is looking for input on a new transit strategy for Alberta:

“There will be two streams of engagement – urban and rural – and an online public survey, all of which will inform the development of an overall provincial transit strategy and criteria for future funding for municipal transit initiatives and rural bus service.”

For the purposes of the strategy, urban communities are defined as having more than 10,000 residents with rural communities having fewer than 10,000. Clearly there’s a difference between the transit needs of Wetaskiwin with 13,000 people and Edmonton with more than 870,000, however.

Both Calgary and Edmonton have made it very clear that investing in public transit is a key priority. The big cities face unique transportation challenges, and require financial support from the Province to deal with them. Having said that, there are some common trends happening across Alberta, like the fact that young people are increasingly choosing other methods of transportation besides driving.

“In 2014, 67.2 per cent of Albertans age 18 to 24 held any class of Alberta drivers’ licence, down from 70.9 per cent in 2005.”

You can provide input on the strategy here until April 29, 2016.

Edmonton is in the middle of revamping its own Transit Strategy, a process that is expected to wrap up in the middle of 2017. Initial feedback was that Edmontonians want a fast, frequent, and reliable transit network that connects them to major destinations like work, school, and shopping, and that they place a high value on having a safe & secure, easy to use system.

Coming up at City Council: February 15-19, 2016

It has been a couple of months since my last “Coming up at City Council” update – time to get back into the routine. Thanks to everyone who has provided positive feedback on this series!

Untitled
Photo by City of Edmonton

Here’s my look at what Council will be discussing in the week ahead.

Meetings this week

You can always see the latest City Council meetings on ShareEdmonton.

Infrastructure Report Card

Every year the City compiles an annual inventory of its infrastructure. The report for 2014 is now available while the 2015 inventory is still under development. The 2014 Report indicates that the City’s replacement value for all of its infrastructure assets is $42.8 billion. Of that, $29.4 billion is drainage and road right-of-way, hence the phrase “roads and pipes”.

infrastructure value by asset 2014

The average state and condition of the City’s assets are as follows:

  • 57% of the City’s assets are in good or very good physical condition, 30% in fair condition and 13% in poor or very poor condition
  • 65% of the City’s assets have very good demand/capacity, 19% have fair demand/capacity and 16% have poor or very poor demand/capacity
  • 79% of the City’s assets have good functionality, 9% have fair functionality and 12% have poor or very poor functionality

How does that compare to other municipalities? “In comparison to national averages in the 2016 Canadian Infrastructure Report Card, the City of Edmonton generally has fewer assets in good and very good physical condition and more assets in fair condition.”

There are lots of charts and other information in the report, which you can read here (PDF).

ETS Bus & LRT Review

Well this report from the City Auditor is just depressing. I use transit and want to support ETS, but this just makes it extremely difficult to do so. The auditor found that “the reliability of service has been declining” and worse that “actions being taken to address reliability issues (i.e., on-time performance and overcrowding) are not improving the overall system performance.” Combine that unreliability with the cost of transit (which just went up yet again) and the value proposition isn’t very appealing. The single cash fare in 2011 was $2.85 and today it’s $3.25.

ets reliability

This chart shows that:

  • “Adherence to service schedules has declined from 2012 to 2015.”
  • “The best overall performance period was in the June to August period. In 2012, 74% of service was on-time. In 2014, performance declined to 69%.”
  • “The worst performance was experienced in the December to January period. In 2012, 60% of service was on-time. In 2014, performance declined to 58%.”
  • “The 90% performance target for arrival was not achieved in any time period measured.”

Why is the performance so bad? ETS says it is “a reflection of an increase in the number of persons with mobility devices and strollers, construction activity, and increased traffic congestion on city streets.” Sounds like a lot of excuses to me. On top of that, they suggest that operating budgets did not include funding to address these issues.

Capacity issues are also a problem. “In total there were 1,328 pass-by incidents reported in 2014,” the report notes. “Bus Operators estimated that more than 21,700 customers were affected.” While the current ETS fleet meets “the majority of ridership capacity needs” the report notes that “35% of customers rated overcrowding as unsatisfactory.”

Here are the auditor’s three conclusions:

  • ETS services are generally delivered in an efficient and economical manner when compared to other public transit organizations.
  • Service reliability expressed in terms of on-time performance was lower in 2014 than in prior years.
  • A lower percentage of ETS operating expenditures are funded by revenues than for comparable public transit organizations, single ride cash fares are comparable to that of other public transit organizations, and monthly pass prices are below average for comparable organizations.

You can find the auditor’s report here and Administration’s response here.

Designating the Molson Brewery as a Municipal Historic Resource

Bylaw 17507 “is to designate the Edmonton Brewing and Malting Company Ltd. Building as a Municipal Historic Resource and to allocate financial incentives for its restoration.” This bylaw is ready for three readings.

Molson Brewery Building, Edmonton
Photo by Connor Mah

Here are the details:

  • “The heritage value of the Edmonton Brewing and Malting Company Ltd. Building, built in 1913, consists in its association with the formation of the brewing industry in Edmonton and Alberta, its functional, yet artistic design, and its association with Chicago architect Bernard Barthel.”
  • “The Province has initiated the process to designate the building as a Provincial Historic Resource.”
  • “A payment of $417,550 annually over a ten-year period will be made to the owner to encourage the designation of the Edmonton Brewing and Malting Company Ltd. Building as a Municipal Historic Resource in accordance with City Policy C450B.”
  • “Annual rehabilitation grant payments of $417,550 will be made from the Heritage Reserve Fund to the owner starting in 2016, and will extend to 2025. However, the owner will be required to complete the identified rehabilitation work to the building by December 31, 2021.”
  • “The total estimated cost of the restoration portion of the project for the Edmonton Brewing and Malting Company Ltd. Building is over $8,350,999. Other non-heritage work is estimated at another $3,590,462.”

Great to see this moving forward!

Other interesting items

  • A review of the City’s Debt Management Policy finds that it “is consistent with debt management practices in other Canadian cities.” I wrote about Edmonton’s debt back in 2013 during the municipal election.
  • Executive Committee has recommended that the funding agreement between the City and EEDC for the Edmonton Film Fund be approved. They also voted on February 2 to have Administration, the Edmonton Arts Council, EEDC, and industry work together to develop “a preferred model to replace the Film Commission.”
  • Bylaw 17527 is an amendment to the Zoning Bylaw to “add Urban Gardens, Urban Outdoor Farms and Urban Indoor Farms to additional zones.” Council approved the three new classes back on October 19, 2015 as well as the zones they apply to. Additionally, they asked for special area residential zones like Terwillegar to allow Urban Gardens and for Commercial Shopping Centre zones to allow Urban Farms, which is what this bylaw will allow, among other minor changes.
  • As of February 4, there are 34 recommendations from the City Auditor outstanding, 10 of which are overdue. Administration has completed 13 recommendations since November 2015 and has provided an update on recommendations that are more than 6 months overdue.
  • The Coin Processing Audit report suggests that “the City’s coin processing operations are effective in mitigating the risk of mismanagement of City cash” and that “the services Coin Processing Operations provides are economical compared to other municipalities.”
  • Council’s furniture budget remains unchanged for 2016 at $11,278. Only $3,073 of last year’s budget was spent.

Wrap-up

You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online. You can read my previous coverage of the 2013-2017 City Council here.

#3SkillsYEG, Edmonton Tool Library, LRT operators like pilots

Here’s the latest entry in my Edmonton Etcetera series, in which I share some thoughts on a few topical items in one post. Less than I’d write in a full post on each, but more than I’d include in Edmonton Notes. Have feedback? Let me know!

3SkillsYEG – what three things will you learn?

Today the Edmonton Public Library launched a new City of Learners campaign called #3SkillsYEG:

“#3SkillsYEG invites Edmontonians to create their own version of Robinson’s adventure by learning, teaching and sharing three new things with each other in 2016. By declaring to learn a skill related to “Personal Growth & Well-Being” in February; “Creativity & Expression” in March; and “Making Our City Better” in April, and sharing it on social media, participants will be entered to win an iPad, $200 towards Metro Continuing Education and tickets to the Telus World of Science.”

You can learn more about #3SkillsYEG here. Participating is simple – just pick three skills you want to learn and commit to learning one each month. You don’t have to follow the monthly themes, but that’s potentially a good way to stay on track. There’s going to be events related to each one too. You can enter the contest by declaring the skills you’re going to learn here.

Making a Better Burger
Me learning to make a better burger at Farmfair back in November

I really like this initiative, so I agreed to be a Learning Champion. What that means is that I’ll be participating and sharing my progress and encouraging others to do so as well. My list of “things to learn” is far longer than I’m able to tackle, but I will pick three for #3SkillsYEG and will be writing about each one in the coming months.

Edmonton Tool Library

Here’s a great idea that’s long overdue that two Edmontonians are finally doing something about. Leslie Bush and Robyn Webb are starting the Edmonton Tool Library, which will let you borrow tools just like you can currently borrow books and other items from the public library. There are tool lending libraries all around the world, including in many Canadian cities. Here’s the news from CBC Edmonton:

“The plan is to open the new tool library downtown, where many residents don’t have the room to store many tools. The group doesn’t yet have a firm opening date in mind, but is hoping to be up and running later this year. Edmontonians who sign up for an annual membership will be able to borrow tools for limited periods of time.”

For now they have a Facebook page and an idea. Sometimes that’s good enough to get something going. If you want more information or to find out how to get involved, sign up for their mailing list here.

Vancouver Tool Library Est. 2011
Vancouver’s Tool Library launched in 2011, photo by Richard Eriksson

This idea has come up dozens of times in recent years, especially after Make Something Edmonton launched, but to my knowledge no one has actually tried to make it happen. There are some related initiatives that have been very successful in Edmonton, like ENTS which does provide access to a variety of tools including drills, saws, and more for use in their space. But to be able to borrow a power tool for use in your home, that’s pretty interesting.

The other obvious initiative that comes to mind is EPL’s Makerspace. Like ENTS, there are some tools there you can use on-site, including a couple of 3D printers. There’s no tool library though, at least not yet. With the revitalization of the Stanley Milner library downtown gearing up there’s a related effort called “Makerspace 2020” to determine how the Makerspace should evolve. I know for a fact that tools have come up in consultations on that project, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see EPL itself offer something in the near future.

The LRT driver who sounds like a pilot

If you’ve been a passenger on the LRT recently, you might have heard Jon Morgan. He’s an LRT operator who entertains passengers by giving them updates on connections, the weather, nearby attractions, and more. I heard him recently and was amused, and judging by the smiles, it seems my fellow passengers were too. Here’s what he told Global Edmonton:

“I love our city and I like to learn as much as I can about our city, relay it across to the people. I just like to brighten people’s days as much as possible.”

I’d say he’s doing a good job of that!

If this all seems oddly familiar, that’s because it is. Back in 2010, essentially the same story was written about Tim Mireault. And then again in 2012. Good stories are worth repeating, I guess!

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. 

TransEd selected for the Valley Line LRT, interVivos turns 9, changes at Startup Edmonton

I’m trying something new, where I share some thoughts on a few topical items in one post. Less than I’d write in a full post on each, but more than I’d include in Edmonton Notes. I’ll organize them here. Have feedback? Let me know!

TransEd Partners selected as Valley Line LRT partner

Today the City of Edmonton announced that TransEd Partners has been selected “to design, build, operate, maintain and finance stage one of the Valley Line LRT.” TransEd is a consortium comprised of: Fengate Capital Management, Bechtel, Ellis-Don, and Bombardier. Additionally, TransDev, ARUP, and IBI Group are described as “other key team members.” TransEd was selected after an 18 month procurement process “that saw comprehensive proposals from three international teams.”

Acting City Manager Linda Cochrane said the City, the LRT Governance Board, and the fairness monitor were all “quite comfortable” with the bids that were received, but felt the TransEd bid offered the best value for taxpayers. She repeated what Mayor Iveson and other City officials have highlighted in recent months, which is that the P3 model “by its nature transfers risk” to the partner. It’s pretty clear everyone is nervous because of what happened with the Metro Line and Thales. I have no doubt the issues that were encountered with the Metro Line will not be repeated with the Valley Line. But the reality of a $1.8 billion project, the single largest infrastructure project in Edmonton, is that something else will go wrong. What’s important is how the City will handle it.

And that’s the other key thing that Linda talked about today – communication. She noted that the City is still responsible for the project and is the entity to complain to if and when things go wrong. And she acknowledged that the City has room to improve when it comes to communication. But they are committed to being “as transparent as possible” throughout the entire project.

The next step is to finalize the contract with TransEd, which will involve a deeper dive into all of the financials. That is slated to be complete by February 2016 and if all goes well, construction will begin in the spring. The new 13-km line from Mill Woods to Downtown would be complete in 2020, with service starting by the end of that year.

interVivos turns 9

Last night I had the pleasure of serving as emcee for interVivos’ latest mentorship networking event. It’s the second time I have hosted the event, so I was thrilled to be asked back!

“The mentorship program helps achieve the mandate of interVivos by “bringing together young professionals and students with Edmonton’s business, political and community leaders to develop the relationships and the skills required by young people to assume positions of positive leadership within our community”.”

The mentorship program began in 2012 and has been running twice a year ever since. I’ve had the opportunity to be a mentor in the past as well, and I had a very positive experience. The way it works is interVivos brings together sixteen proteges and sixteen mentors, and they meet in a speed networking format. Proteges get four minutes to meet each mentor, and then at the end of the evening they all rank their top five preferred matches. interVivos makes the matches within a few weeks, and then each protege and mentor pairing is responsible for communicating at least three times over six months. You get out of it what you put into it, but the relationships that are formed can be quite meaningful.

interVivos Fall Mentorship Networking
Rene Ziorio & Zohreh Saher

interVivos launched back in November 2006 making it nine years old this month, which is quite an achievement! Zohreh and the team should be very proud of what they’ve built. In case you were wondering, interVivos is a Latin word that means “from one person to another”. You can follow interVivos on Facebook and on Twitter.

Changes at Startup Edmonton

The secret is out now: Ken Bautista resigned last month from Startup Edmonton and EEDC. He wrote:

“After eighteen months since our acquisition, I came to realize that it was the right time to leave Startup Edmonton in a place where it could continue to be a platform to grow our community beyond my leadership.”

There’s still a great team at Startup Edmonton, including co-founder Cam Linke and COO Tiffany Linke-Boyko, but Ken’s resignation is a big loss for EEDC. The energy, creativity, and vision he brought to the organization will surely be missed.

Frankly this news leaves me wondering about EEDC’s ongoing culture change. Ken is not the kind of person you want to lose, and if he was frustrated by bureaucracy or other internal impediments then that’s concerning. I’m sure we’ll learn more about how things are going at EEDC during the budget process over the next couple weeks (and potentially at the IMPACT Luncheon in January).

As for Ken, I have no doubt he’ll be positively impacting Edmonton with his next project (whatever that might be) in no time.

The Metro Line is open: Edmonton’s LRT now extends north to NAIT

Today the oft-delayed Metro Line LRT extension from Churchill Station to NAIT opened. The 3.3 km extension adds a second operational line to Edmonton’s LRT Network Plan, and features the first new stations in four years. But today’s launch was very different than the two most previous extension openings, to South Campus in 2009 and Century Park in 2011. Those extensions opened with great fanfare featuring politicians making speeches and shaking hands. The Metro Line opened quietly this morning with no ceremony.

MacEwan LRT Station
Train to NAIT leaves MacEwan Station

The Metro Line features three new stations: MacEwan, Kingsway/Royal Alex, and NAIT. The extension is expected to add 13,200 weekday riders to the system, and ETS says it has “capacity for considerable growth” once the line eventually extends into St. Albert.

The service that launched today isn’t exactly what was planned, of course. The line has been repeatedly delayed, ostensibly due to issues with the signalling system. The Metro Line was planned to open in April 2014, but here we are in September 2015 with what the City is calling a “staged approach” to bringing it into service. Here’s what that means:

  • Metro Line trains will run every 15 minutes between Century Park and NAIT.
  • They will also occasionally run between Health Sciences/Jubilee and NAIT (weekdays after 10pm, Saturdays after 7pm, and all day Sundays).
  • Every third train running between Churchill and Century Park will be a three-car Metro Line train (most of the time).
  • Trains are operating with “line of sight” which restricts the speed of trains between MacEwan and NAIT to 25 km/h, half the planned speed.
  • This means travel time between Churchill Station and NAIT is approximately 14 minutes.

Sharon and I decided to check out the new extension this afternoon, starting our journey from our home station at Bay/Enterprise Square. It’s been chilly and raining all day (and still is as I write this) but that didn’t stop us!

Bay/Enterprise Square LRT Station

The Metro Line was designed to operate between NAIT and the existing Health Sciences Station, so both the Metro Line and Capital Line share the stations in between (and actually will share stations all the way to Century Park as part of this interim service). That means you need to pay attention to the destination of the train you’re boarding.

Edmonton LRT
On the train!

Though there are clear announcements, this is going to be an issue for new riders. As our train was leaving Churchill Station, another announcement was made and a couple in front of us realized they had gotten on the wrong line. I expect this’ll happen quite a bit over the next few weeks.

It’s just a few moments after the track returns above ground that you arrive at MacEwan Station. I would not be surprised at all if it is renamed MacEwan/Rogers Place at some point in the future. The new arena is such a major part of the station that it almost seems inappropriate that it’s not reflected in the name!

MacEwan LRT Station
MacEwan LRT Station

This station we had previously explored as it’s just a short walk from home. Thinking about it now, it would have been much faster to walk and catch the train there than waiting for a Metro Line train to take us from Bay/Enterprise Square.

MacEwan LRT Station
Future walkway to Rogers Place (and 104 Street) from MacEwan Station

MacEwan Station is just a short walk across 105 Street to MacEwan University. The landscaping and park around the station is quite attractive, though it can be a little confusing at first where to enter and exit the platform (at least from the west side).

MacEwan LRT Station
MacEwan Station

Upon leaving MacEwan Station you immediately notice the reduced speed of the train. It feels comically slow at times. Still, riding the train to NAIT or Kingsway is certainly convenient, even if it takes a few minutes longer than expected.

Kingsway/Royal Alex LRT Station

Aside from being close to the Royal Alexandra Hospital, the Kingsway/Royal Alex station is also adjacent to the relatively new bus terminal. If you’re a transit rider, the new station is going to be great. If you’re a driver though, be prepared to wait.

Kingsway/Royal Alex LRT Station

The longest wait seemed to be for cars turning east onto 111 Avenue from 106 Street. There wasn’t much traffic today, so the waits probably weren’t too bad, but during rush hour I could see a 10 minute or longer wait being very realistic. The rumor flying around this weekend is that waits will last 16 minutes or more, but the City says this won’t be the case. “To be clear — the City does not expect the Metro Line to cause 16 minute traffic delays at these intersections all the time,” they wrote.

Kingsway/Royal Alex LRT Station
Trains pass each other at Kingsway/Royal Alex Station

I really like the design of the station, with its enclosed, heated waiting areas and very attractive wood features. Oddly though, it’s probably faster to walk to Kingsway Mall from NAIT Station than it is from Kingsway/Royal Alex Station. That’s because you have to cross two roads to get to Kingsway Mall, not to mention waiting for trains to go by (which are slower than normal, remember). So this will probably be the station I use least, unless I need to make a bus transfer.

NAIT LRT Station

Once the train very slowly makes its way up 106 Street and across Princess Elizabeth Avenue, you arrive at NAIT Station. This is going to be a big win for students and means that all of our major education institutions are now more or less connected via LRT (with NorQuest getting even better connectivity when the Valley Line LRT opens).

NAIT LRT Station
NAIT Station with Kingsway Mall to the left

As mentioned it’s just a short walk across Princess Elizabeth Avenue to the Sears side of Kingsway Mall. Unfortunately the sidewalk ends almost as soon as you get to the south side of the street, and you’re left dodging vehicles racing in and out of the parkade. That’s one improvement that could definitely be made.

NAIT LRT Station
The current end of the line at NAIT

NAIT Station is currently the end of the line, but if you look northwest you can see what will eventually become Blatchford (which will have its own LRT station).

At NAIT Station
Selfie at NAIT Station!

Even though this “staged approach” is not ideal, it’s very exciting to have the Metro Line open at long last. Our experience today was very positive, but the real test will come Tuesday morning as students are back to school and everyone else is back to work. You can learn more about the Metro Line opening at the Transforming Edmonton blog.

Lincoln Ho of Yegventures rode the very first train this morning – watch his YouTube feed for the video. You can see more photos from our trip today here.

Who or what is to blame for Edmonton’s Metro Line LRT delays?

Why was the Metro Line LRT delayed and when will it become fully operational as designed and intended? We still don’t know the answer to the latter question, but the reasons for the delay have become more clear thanks to the latest report from the City Auditor.

Metro Line LRT
A train! On the Metro Line!

The Auditor’s report found that project management roles and responsibilities were not clearly defined or understood, opening dates targeted were unrealistic, status reports were not written down or communicated effectively, contract management practices were inadequate, and Council was not sufficiently kept informed. Incredibly, “Council did not receive formal updates on project progress until December 2013 when construction was supposed to be complete.” The report makes three recommendations, all of which Administration has accepted.

The Metro Line is a hot topic in Edmonton right now, and Edmontonians are not happy about it. Lots of folks are looking for someone to blame, and for good reason – the project is more than year behind schedule and we still don’t know when it’ll be “done done” as opposed to “done but”. And while I think holding Administration accountable is going to be a critical part of restoring public confidence in the City’s ability to manage large projects, what’s less clear is who that blame should fall upon.

Dorian Wandzura
Dorian Wandzura

Dorian Wandzura started as the GM of Transportation Services on September 3, 2013. He took over from Bob Boutilier, who retired from the role on July 31, 2013. Formerly a deputy GM with the Toronto Transit Commission, Boutilier was credited with getting “80% of Edmonton’s long term Light Rail Transit network has been designed, planned or constructed” during his tenure. He may now also be credited with leaving the Metro Line project in a state of disarray. While Wandzura has made some mistakes along the way, it’s pretty clear now that he inherited a mess. And not just one actually, as he’s also having to deal with the Walterdale Bridge and 102 Avenue Bridge delays, among other projects.

Bob Boutilier
Bob Boutilier

What about Charles Stolte, the former GM of ETS who was fired in June? It’s not clear exactly why Wandzura let him go, but there’s some suggestion it was because of philosophical differences rather than as a result of delays to the Metro Line. He would no doubt have been involved in the signalling work, but it’s unlikely that he was primarily responsible for the debacle.

ETS Execs
Charles Stolte, right

Then there’s Wayne Mandryk, who has been in charge of LRT Design and Construction since 2008. Until the last major city reorganization in June 2011, his branch was part of a separate department known was Capital Construction. Since then it has been part of Transportation Services. The branch “manages contracts for design and construction, identifies and evaluates project delivery strategies, and coordinates construction with other city departments and utilities.” Until the spring, it was most often Mandryk that handled public communications about the Metro Line. Now Wandzura has been handling that himself. But it doesn’t appear that switch has anything to do with confidence in Mandryk as he’s currently filling Stolte’s role as well until a replacement is found.

Wayne Mandryk
Wayne Mandryk

The Auditor’s report seems to place quite a bit of blame on both Boutilier and Mandryk:

“Schedule risks emerged as planning and procurement activities progressed. However, we found no formal documentation from LRT Design and Construction to the Transportation Services General Manager advising him of emerging issues and potential delays. We were advised by LRT Design and Construction that the culture at the time was to provide verbal rather than written reports.”

Mandryk’s department didn’t provide written reports when they should have but Boutilier would have been most responsible for allowing a culture of verbal updates to flourish.

Simon Farbrother
City Manager Simon Farbrother with Councillor Amarjeet Sohi

So up we go, to the top. City Manager Simon Farbrother started at the City of Edmonton in January 2010. That’s after the Concept Plan for the Metro Line was approved, but before the contracts were awarded and long before work began. Certainly he’s going to have to answer some difficult questions from Council next week, and I expect he’ll be ready to make some changes, but it’s hard to find fault with Farbrother in this case. Throughout his first five years with the City, a key initiative of Farbrother’s has been changing the culture. He’s led a transformation that has made the City more open, creative, and aspirational. Additionally, Boutilier had already been in charge of Transportation for three years by the time Farbrother joined, and so far hiring Wandzura seems to have been a smart move.

Still, the comment Councillor Andrew Knack made this week suggests Farbrother could have done more:

“For such a major city project, there should be a desire for those in the highest (positions), especially if they haven’t heard anything, to get a status update. That’s the discouraging part.”

He’s right. It seems perfectly reasonable to expect the folks in charge to ask for updates. Except that Council doesn’t seem to have asked for updates either, at least not in an official, there’s-a-paper-trail capacity. There were about ten agenda items from mid-2011 through until mid 2013 related to the NAIT LRT, and none of them were about project status.

Mayor Iveson wrote on Monday:

“Not only were the city’s senior managers seemingly out of the loop when contractor performance started to slip in 2011, but City Council was left totally in the dark until late 2013 – which made it all the more difficult for us to hold staff accountable and explain to the public what was going on.”

All of this begs the question, what the heck happened between 2011 and 2013? Why were senior managers and Council so out of the loop on the Metro Line LRT?

Well, there was one thing that pretty much consumed Council and CLT’s attention during that same period of time: the downtown arena.

New Edmonton Arena Construction
Rogers Place rises next to MacEwan LRT Station on the Metro Line

Think about it. The arena debate dominated attention across the city throughout 2011 and 2012. It also included a lot of secret, private meetings between Administration, the Katz Group, and City Council, which plenty of people picked up on and criticized, myself included. That could have contributed to the culture of verbal reporting.

Here’s the timeline:

Most other attention-hogging projects were done by the time problems with Metro Line project started. The Quesnell Bridge expansion was completed in September 2011 and the 23 Avenue Interchange opened the following month. The winter of 2012/2013 was a particularly bad one for potholes and that did attract a lot of attention and criticism, but we have potholes every year.

I’m not saying the downtown arena project is to blame for the Metro Line delays. Correlation does not imply causation, of course. And that project is currently on time and budget because of solid project management, and I don’t want to take anything away from that. But the timeline above fits together just a little too well, doesn’t it?

As Paula Simons wrote in her column on the auditor’s report, “there’s no smoking gun in this audit – just smoke and murk.” There are also a lot of assumptions being made in trying to explain the delays – the splitting of the contracts, the inadequate project management practices, Thales missing deadlines. Maybe the simplest answer is the right one: the City and Council were distracted.

My slightly more complicated take? The arena distraction didn’t help but the biggest issue was that the culture of Transportation Services needed to change, which is happening now that Boutilier is gone and Wandzura is in.

We’ll find out more on Monday afternoon as Council discusses the auditor’s report.

Edmonton needs to keep pushing for LRT funding

With major funding announcements over the last few weeks for public transit in Toronto, Ottawa, and Calgary, many Edmontonians are wondering when our election handout will appear. Some are even suggesting that Edmonton is being shortchanged by the federal government when comparing previous funding commitments to the most recent ones. Mayor Iveson tweeted “no worries” and promised that City Council is “not done asking” for more LRT funding.

Einstein's Train
Photo by Mark Iocchelli

Let’s recap the funding announcements

The total cost of Stage 1 of the Valley Line LRT (Mill Woods to Downtown) is about $1.8 billion, with $800 million coming from the City, $600 million coming from the Province, and $400 million coming from the federal government.

The first federal contribution of $250 million from P3 Canada was made back in March 2013. Nearly a year later, the new Building Canada Fund was introduced which is expected to cover the additional $150 million needed from the federal government. Then in March 2014, the Province committed its $600 million contribution to the project. It consists of $250 million in GreenTRIP funding, $200 million in an interest-free loan, and $150 million to match the federal government’s Building Canada contribution.

In April 2015, the federal government unveiled its budget, called Economic Action Plan 2015. The budget included a new Public Transit Fund that would provide $750 million over two years starting in 2017-2018, and $1 billion annually thereafter.

“Large cities in Canada depend on public transit infrastructure to facilitate the mobility of people and goods and support economic development. Strong and efficient public transit networks help get people to their jobs, students to class and all citizens out in their community to see family and friends. Public transit also helps to reduce overall urban congestion, which helps to get goods to markets faster and supports productive and growing cities.”

Further details were released in June:

“In order to be eligible for support under the PTF, projects must have a minimum of $1 billion in total estimated eligible costs. Federal contributions under the fund will be up to one-third of the total eligible costs and will lever the expertise, ingenuity, and financing of the private sector and alternative funding mechanisms.”

They also announced that federal support provided through the P3 Canada Fund “will increase from 25 to 33.3 per cent of eligible project costs on a go forward basis.” This is why some feel that Edmonton is being shortchanged compared to other cities – the funding commitments we received were made before this change took place.

At the same time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that the federal government would contribute one third of the costs of Toronto’s SmartTrack proposal, which equates to about $2.6 billion.

On July 22, the federal government announced a pledge of $1 billion from the new Public Transit Fund for Ottawa’s “Stage 2” plan. Like Edmonton’s plans, the $3 billion project anticipates each level of government covering a third of the cost.

And then most recently, on July 24, a $1.53 billion contribution to Calgary’s $4.6 billion Green Line LRT was announced, also from the new Public Transit Fund, and again covering one third of the total cost.

Public Transit Fund: strings attached

Canadians should be disappointed that it takes an election to prioritize funding for public transit. City Councils across the country have made it clear that public transit infrastructure is critical for dealing with growth and congestion. According to the Canadian Urban Transit Association, $3 of economic activity is generated for every $1 spent on transit. And they say that from 2006 to 2013, public transit ridership increased by 21% in Canada.

Are the Conservatives just trying to buy votes? “The sudden spending announcements across the country merely highlight the total inadequacy of funding for public projects in non-election years,” said Joel French, Director of Communications and Campaigns for Public Interest Alberta, in a statement yesterday. “Rather than reducing our cities to the role of simply hoping for electioneering handouts, we absolutely must fund our urban centres in ways that will allow them to meet the growing needs of city residents in a fair, just and sustainable manner.” Some say it’s this sporadic approach to funding public transit that has caused Canada to fall behind on public transit.

Another concern is that the Public Transit Fund is being administered by P3 Canada. That means that any public transit project funded through the program will need to be a P3, whether it suits the project and context or not. Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi has previously stated that “the real problem is that the only dedicated federal funding at this moment is through P3 Canada” and felt that a P3 didn’t make sense for Calgary’s transit expansion plans. Evidently that’s no longer the case.

And you can’t blame him – he’s going to take what he can get. Whether we like it or not, the Valley Line LRT extension here in Edmonton will be a P3 project because that’s the only way we could secure the required federal funding.

There’s a lot more LRT left to build

While the Public Transit Fund is a step in the right direction, it’s not the solution to Canada’s transit infrastructure needs. Cities across the country have plans for LRT that will require billions of dollars of investment and they need to be able to plan for that.

South Campus LRT
Photo by Mark Iocchelli

Here in Edmonton, the Valley Line LRT is just one part of the long-term LRT Network Plan which will require significant investment over the next 35 years. A full build-out is going to be required if our population forecasts prove to be accurate, with 2.2 million people living in the Edmonton region by 2044 and daily ridership of nearly 500,000 passengers.

I hope the federal government does top up its contributions to the Valley Line LRT, bringing their portion to the same one-third that other major cities are now getting. But even if they do, we’re not done. We need to keep pushing for stable LRT funding.