Good news about transit in Edmonton this week. A recent report from the city indicates transit ridership into the downtown has increased to approximately 50 per cent in 2009 from about 33 per cent in 2004.

This is not a big surprise. When it comes to transit, the dictum is: “If you provide it, they will use it.” This is particularly true for the LRT. Like it or not, buses have a certain stigma for many people. For some, riding on a bus is some sort of admission of social or economic failure. For reasons that are difficult to fathom, riding an LRT does not.

Compared to other cities, we are latecomers to rapid transit. We’ve only had an LRT for 32 years. It’s to our credit that we were the first North American city with a population of less than one million to build a light rail system. We built a short one at less than seven kilometres. And we built it in the wrong direction.

But it was still an acknowledgement that cities grow and rapid transit must be part of that growth.

Since our first LRT line opened, the development of the system has been glacial at best. It took three years to extend the line to Clareview, five years to get it to the Corona Station, and 11 years to get to Grandin. Thirty-two years later, we now have a line that runs to Century Park.

Expanding the LRT is critical to our future as a city. Every major city in the world has realized that encouraging personal vehicle use for commuting comes at a huge social, environmental and economic cost. We should be moving to expand the LRT as fast and as far as we can, even if it takes borrowing money to do so. The debt we would incur would produce real benefits for future generations of Edmontonians.

The biggest challenge to creating a first-class transportation system is not money, it is us. We are not going to be able to make our transit omelet without breaking some eggs. New LRT lines will be costly and will definitely disrupt life in a number of areas of the city.

But we cannot let economic whining and the inconvenience of a few determine the quality of life for the many. Rapid transit is one of the few areas where thinking big and sustainability go hand and hand.

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