Why Edmonton needs to stop wasting its LRT / by Tim Querengesser

The most expensive thing cities build deserves to be remembered. But since Edmonton cannot seem to remember the millions it spends on LRT, we immediately need a new policy that applies to all developments near existing or future LRT lines.

Why? Well, consider this week's shrugged-shoulders at city council about the future of the Coliseum and Northlands. While there has been near endless circular discussion over what to do with the former home of the Oilers—as if a concrete bowl surrounded by chainlink fencing is the most valuable thing here—there has been next to zero chatter about the LRT line that runs beside it. 

From my perspective, we are fighting over what to do with the cardboard box after throwing the gold it holds on the ground. 

Flickr/Bill Burris

Flickr/Bill Burris

While Edmonton hustles for provincial and federal cash to help us build more LRT, and while city planners head to community halls to answer hard questions about where the money will come from to build new LRT lines, our city's wasteful love for new and shiny things is making our existing LRT at the Coliseum site all but invisible.

Ignore the Coliseum for a second. Instead, consider what putting the LRT beside it in its rightful place does to our priority list here. From that perspective, we have LRT stations on city-owned land right on the doorstep of our downtown. And we have this at the very time we are pushing to increase urban density, to shift residents from car dependency and to decrease carbon emissions. We also have this asset while young families are complaining, rightly, that non-suburban housing stock is too expensive and infill skinny homes are for rich people.

Does this perspective on land rather than buildings sound familiar? It's the very same argument the city is using to build a green, transit-oriented community at Blatchford

Putting the LRT at the centre shifts the discussion away from saving or demolishing a building or an events organization and puts it squarely on housing, and utilizing an under-used and expensive transportation resource. To make this the norm, we need to create a big-picture policy that forces discussion about how best to use land, with LRT firmly at the core of that policy. That's what Calgary and many other larger cities have done (see page 12 in this link). We should do the same.

Edmonton also needs its new policy to demand every single development proposed within a set distance of an LRT station, existing or proposed, demonstrate how it will amplify or hurt the LRT. We require environmental impact studies for every last thing, following a long, important fight to value nature. Would requiring an LRT impact study be so wild, given that we spent more than half a billion to build a spur line to NAIT and are spending about $1.8-billion to build the Valley Line?

I think the LRT station beside the Coliseum is worth far more to us as a city than an ugly concrete bowl with some very great history. And I think it is time we built that into our thinking.