In today’s Edmonton Journal, Paula Simons wrote a story about the City of Edmonton’s proposed west LRT line (map here) in which Councillor Karen Leibovici is on the record suggesting that the stretch of the Stony Plain LRT route from 149th street to 142 street either have a tunnel for the line to go under, or be widened to six lanes to accommodate more traffic. Leibovici’s argument is that an LRT route through that area will create an unreasonable level of traffic congestion.
Like Councillor Leibovici, I am opposed to the proposed Stony Plain route. The primary purpose of public transport is moving a large number of people from one point to another in the quickest, easiest manner possible. I therefore think that going along 87th (or even 107th) avenue was the better choice (Councillor Don Iveson explores this issue here and here, ultimately coming to a different conclusion). I was and still am very skeptical of the idea that an LRT route along Stony Plain Road will automatically “revitalize” the area. I think that is a misguided, if not in fact dangerous, idea for the city to adopt (Alex Abboud addresses this issue quite well in a post of his own). That being said, Councillor Leibovici’s suggestion to either tunnel or add more road lanes to the area is foolhardy, as it is completely counter to the goals of increased density, sustainability and use of public transportation. I could detail why in my own words, but I think the following explanation by David Owen, in his book Green Metropolis, is going to be better than anything I could possibly write.
“In urban areas that are dense enough to support efficient public transit systems, officials often negate their own efforts to increase usage, by simultaneously spending huge sums to make it easier for people to get around in cars. When a city’s streets or highways become crowded, for example, the standard response is to create additional capacity by building new roads or widening existing ones. Projects like these almost always end up making the original problem worse—while also taking years to complete and costing many millions of dollars—because they generate what transportation planners call “induced traffic”: every mile of new, open roadway encourages existing users to make more car trips, lures drivers away from other routes, and tempts transit riders to return to their automobiles, with the eventual result that the new roads become at least as clogged as the old roads, though at higher traffic volumes, and the efficiency of transit declines. These negative outcomes are compounded by the fact that, in the short term, temporarily improved traffic flow reduces commute times for drivers on the expanded roadways, making it easier for people to justify building houses, shopping malls, and office buildings in formerly inaccessible outlying areas—and that, in turn, eventually makes all the original problems worse, as the places where commuters sleep and shop and work drift further and further apart, and new feeder roads are built to serve them.”
Or, as Jane Jacobs put it in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, “Increased city accessibility by cars is always accompanied by declines in the service of public transportation.” It’s that simple. If this city really wants to make progress, if it wants to become a better place to live, work, play and visit, we need people on City Council who understand that we can’t continue to do things the way we’ve been doing them. We are building our city out, and out of existence; it’s time to put that to an end, before our bad planning does the same to us.
I’m glad to see the news tonight that the majority of city council is opposed to Councilor Leibovici’s suggestions. Let’s hope they stay that way.