I’m grateful for the chance to provide some context and information about the impacts the Valley Line LRT will have on traffic in southeast Edmonton, and to share what City Council is thinking about LRT planning in light of the many challenges we’ve had with trains at intersections.
We hear loud and clear the concerns about traffic congestion around LRT, particularly in light of the problems around Kingsway Ave and the South LRT. In fact, there are important learnings from those problems that informed Council’s planning decisions for the Valley Line.
But first, I should clarify that statistics reported by some media last week emphasized the worst case wait times a generation from now in 2044. The main driver for these longer wait times will primarily be the growth of traffic volumes over that same, and not the LRT itself. This same growing traffic pressure will apply to most intersections across the city, with or without a train present. The whole reason we’re building the LRT is to give more people an alternative to driving, so that there’s less traffic overall for everyone else who must drive.
There will undoubtedly be impacts to traffic from running the train on the surface versus putting it under or above ground. Council always understood this. That’s why we made decisions to separate the tracks from roads at certain places like Jasper Avenue, Argyll Road, 75 street and the Whitemud.
We recently looked closely at whether to spend an additional $200 million around Bonnie Doon to lift the train over traffic and, after looking at detailed modelling, decided it wasn’t worth the enormous amount of money to reduce waits by just 30 seconds. $200 million can buy a lot of improvements to more problematic intersections elsewhere. At the same time, we’ve asked City engineers to analyze where we might separate the train from certain pinch points going West, and whether there are retrofits we could do near Kingsway. Council is guided in all things by the need to prioritize public dollars wisely – and putting the line underground, like a subway, would cost us 10 times as much. That’s a bill we simply cannot afford.
Instead, Council feels the best approach is to separate where the data is telling us we need to. For example, we’ll go over 170th for the West LRT and we are currently analyzing separating the train from traffic at 178th and 149th as well as looking for other pinch points.
The other approach we took was running a low-floor ‘tram-style’ or ‘urban-style’ train, one that won’t pre-empt traffic signals at all intersections the way current LRT does. The Kingsway and University Avenue traffic snarls many people reference won’t occur on the Valley Line because the train is designed to synchronize with traffic signals. Further, the City will retain control over the timing of train and traffic signals and can make adjustments to improve the flow of intersections like Whyte Avenue as needed.
In a city that continues to grow as quickly as Edmonton, congestion is a problem that isn’t going away – with or without the LRT. It’s inevitable. But we must ask what is the best strategic, data-driven response to this congestion? As quickly as we can build or widen our roads, they will only fill up with more cars. Building more LRT, together with and improving our bus network, are the most significant changes we can make to deal with rising congestion. One full Valley Line train can carry up to 700 people, which takes the equivalent of about 600 cars off the road. While not everyone will choose to commute via LRT, the more people we can enable to do so, the less overall congestion we’ll deal with.
This is an important balance that we must keep in mind as we continue to connect all four corners of our city with more effective, efficient transportation options.