Getting on Track with the Green Line: Alternative Options

June 01, 2020

Getting on Track with the Green Line: Alternative Options

June 1, 2020

By: Councillors Davison, Demong, Gondek, Sutherland

One of the things that has been lost in the recent debate over the Green Line is that it is actually two projects, not one. We have conveniently called it a single project with two stages, a narrative that has tied us to delivering a single, connected north-south LRT line to Calgarians.

Right now, Green Line south is roughly 18 km of track running from Eau Claire to Shepard, with underground segments in sensitive parts of downtown and the Beltline. Green Line south was prioritized as Stage 1 because the physical challenges of building to the southeast are less severe than the north, given no river to cross and easier land acquisition that is already complete.

Also in Stage 1 is a 2 km segment from downtown to 16th Avenue North, involving a bridge over the Bow River and the eastern end of Prince’s Island Park, with a steep climb up McHugh Bluff to ultimately run along Centre Street North. This is essentially the plan to connect the two lines from the north and south.

This two-line project is the most complex and expensive in Calgary’s history with a capital budget of $4.9 billion that includes welcomed federal and provincial capital contributions over just over $1.5 billion each. However, neither line will be complete after the $4.9 billion is spent.

The current plan is to build Stage 1 and concurrently lobby for additional capital to extend the Green Line north and south to reach the communities where people actually live, like Coventry Hills, Beddington and McKenzie Towne.

In effect, the current plan is to build the foundations for two houses with neither being complete and crossing our fingers for more funding.

The problem with this approach has become obvious over time, with the current pandemic and economic crisis making our future increasingly uncertain. COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of often undervalued essential workers and it is driving changes in how people work, creating implications for the way we think about public transit into the future.

In addition, the transformation of global energy markets is putting incredible pressure on Calgarians who come to us with their heartbreaking stories of job loss, business closure, and family upheaval. With a project the size of the Green Line looming large in front of us during this compounding crisis, we must take stock of our options to move forward pragmatically.

With limited dollars, the current plan to build two unfinished lines is built on hope, which is not a strategy for success. For this reason, we will be putting forward a plan to Council to build one line, and get it right.

We respectfully disagree with those who say the project should be canceled entirely. We need to continue city-building in a measured and responsible way that addresses the needs of the present without sacrificing the future. The Green Line presents an opportunity to get Calgarians back to work, to help move them around the city and to build a project we can be proud of.

Our “one good line” plan involves building the planned and cost-effective Green Line south to Shepard. This would connect Calgarians in the southeast to downtown, the Beltline, and the entertainment district.

At the same time, we support a focused effort to address the needs of north-central Calgarians who have not seen meaningful transit improvements in decades. By investing in a dedicated BRT network along Centre Street north, we can resolve issues of overcapacity and access along the heaviest used portion of the proposed Green Line. From there, we can explore other options like transit-on-demand, artificial intelligence and other new developments in urban transportation to move people around in ways that are data-driven, progressive, and environmentally sustainable.

We have the opportunity to build the most innovative urban transportation network in North America while we thoughtfully address existing challenges, like what a connector for the north-south lines could look like or how a multimodal transit system could best serve the city.

The vision of the Green Line project is best served by two projects: building the Green Line south and initiating a dedicated north BRT. This will meet the transit needs of the greatest number of Calgarians while creating jobs in a very challenging economy. It is time to move forward with building Calgary’s future in a fiscally responsible manner.

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