I’m alternately excited and worried by the recent push, led by Mayor Stephen Mandel, to expand the planned LRT lines to NAIT, west Edmonton, and Mill Woods by 2016.
The excitement is for obvious reasons — this is a huge extension that would double the network’s length and radically improve the city and its transit system.
The worry is due to the date being set, not because we’ve waited too long already, but to support the 2017 Expo bid.
I remain on the fence as far as Expo goes, mainly because I’m most interested in the infrastructural legacy.
Of the exhibition sites I’ve visited, two stick out: Vancouver, for its SkyTrain starter pack; and Spokane, for its creaking, Disneyfied, aerial gondola ride.
That’s why I was annoyed to see that the transportation links proposed in the national bid were limited to water taxis — on an often frozen and relatively inaccessible river — and an aerial gondola from South Campus to a random spot across the river from the zoo.
I’m not against an aerial tram, but it should have actual utility. With a proposed secondary venue in Rossdale, it would make more sense to hook into Old Strathcona on one end and Central Station on the other.
What makes even more sense is, of course, just building those LRT extensions. If the bid mercifully shifts its focus from a tram that goes nowhere to LRT that goes everywhere, I expect I won’t be the only one to jump on board.
Hitching the train to the Expo bid also makes sense as far as attracting provincial and federal dollars. After all, those government orders tend to be spent on flashy new toys to win big political points.
But while the Expo might be flashy, 30 kilometres of LRT is one heck of a choo-choo train to play with. Besides, if the the bid falls flat on its face, what happens to the train?
Edmonton is a perrenial dallier on LRT extension: It took 28 years for us to see an extension as long as the two kilometres to Clareview. If or when the Expo bid fails, it would be all too easy to go back to stagnating.
If we really want to put Edmonton on the proverbial map, we should just go ahead and build the 30 kilometres of LRT in the same six years. An Expo is just gravy compared to that.