After a lengthy development process and an overwhelmingly positive public hearing, Edmonton finally has a new, progressive Transportation Master Plan.

While the overall tone is pro-transit, perhaps the most important change is the TMP envisions a “shift from single passenger vehicle use to more public transit for moving people.” This is a theme that has achieved significant support along the way from the public, the transportation department, and — most importantly — the majority of city councillors.

The new document sets out a policy path that’s a dramatic improvement from the one we’ve been on for the past decade and sets the stage for some significant capital improvements: The six-legged LRT plan is in there, along with the proposal to roll out “premium transit routes and implement transit priority strategies.”

Given that this is only a policy document, it’s far from certain when, or if, we’ll see any of this actually happen. It’s going to take continued political support and some tough decisions to realize any significant mode shift.

On the other hand, by setting out a coherent transportation policy for the next decade, the TMP is a critical document and can’t just be written off. Words may only be words, but the previous plan didn’t even bother to pretend transit was a priority.

Transit was tasked with “meeting the basic mobility needs of people who have no other travel alternative, basic service at reasonable cost” and “offering a viable and competitive alternative to private automobile transportation during peak periods of travel, in high demand corridors.”

With goals that low, it’s not hard to see that most have been met: Is ETS better than having nothing? Check. Does it manage to qualify as “basic service?” Check. Are its decisions driven almost entirely by cost? Check. Is transit competitive with the automobile?

Well, no, it’s not, but what can be expected when the vision is that “decentralized travel patterns, coupled with demographic changes, will tend to make public transit service a somewhat less attractive travel option?” With surrender as a policy cornerstone, it’s not surprising that transit has continued to languish.

Instead of taking sprawl as a given, the new TMP works with the city’s development plan to challenge automobile dominance, making the plan a good — if long overdue — first step toward a transit-friendly Edmonton.