Calgary is big enough for better transit

As I’ve said before, I’m no expert. I haven’t been everywhere or done everything. But one thing I have done is paid attention to public transit systems, especially the ones I’ve had to deal with on a daily basis.
Such as the one in Calgary. You already know [[Calgary Transit Sucks|how I feel about our beloved transit system]]. And we’re long overdue to consider how much bigger it should be.
In fact, some replies to posts I did on [[Calgary Transit Sucks]] and [[Improving Calgary Transit in the city core]], and a half-argument I got into with someone waiting for the 301 led me to think: How does Calgary compare to other cities in terms of transit, anyway?
Some cities I do have direct experience with:

  • Toronto, Canada
    Canada’s largest city. Hundreds of thousands of people need to enter and leave the city daily. It’s messy. GO Transit funnels people into the downtown core. TTC (subway, buses, streetcars) whisk people about town. The subway is nowhere near as extensive as it needs to be, having only started in the early 1950s (when the city was less than a million people) and never having received the attention it needs. If it weren’t for a well-planned surface system, the city would be screwed.
  • Montreal, Canada
    Once Canada’s largest city (now #2), Montreal has perhaps one of Canada’s best public transportation systems. This all stems from a signficant investment made in the mid-1960s in preparation for for Expo 67 — a large-scale subway system was installed. Combined with ages-old railway (Montreal was the headquarters of both Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railways, so was strewn with large train stations), and well-planned bus routes, Montreal is a public transit dream. Sadly, not one that seems to show up in a lot of case studies.
  • Ottawa, Canada
    Despite a reputation for the surliest bus drivers in Canada (my friend Chris took serious issue with a few of them during his habitation in our Nation’s Capital for not listening to passengers, yelling at passengers, driving like a maniacs, etc.), Ottawa has a pretty decent system. Notably because someone saw fit to have OC Transpo buy roads and make them dedicated transit ways. It’s helped keep the million-plus area flowing well. And the addition of the O-Train should help keep major corridors flowing even better. Problem: I’m sure this plan never accounted for the Ottawa area extending over the border into Hull.
  • Vancouver, Canada
    Vancouver has a lot of trouble due to its physical and geopolitical limitations (mountains to the north, ocean to the west, USA to the south), which add up to some interesting problems for the population. Namely, they tend to live in a 20-kilometre wide swath from the Georgia Strait out to Hope. To get people around is an excellent bus system (including rapid service buses on major routes), an ever-expanding light rail system (despite the NIMBYism in Point Grey), and the West Coast Express along the CP line (although the trains need to run all day, instead of just a few in the morning and a few in the evening … and run them until 23:00, would ya?).
  • Kitchener/Waterloo/Cambridge, Canada
    The tri-city area was once just Kitchener Transit. KW (as it was known when I went to university) were two cities that functioned as one. The Grand River Transit system (as it’s now known) grew from a single small city system to cover three cities. And a lot more effectively than Calgary Transit seems to cover its measly self.
  • New York City, USA
    New York City is a true prototype of how to build a city: vertically. People live in skyscrapers, and travel quickly underground. The Big Apple’s first subway rolled along in the mid 1860s — a full century before Montreal got its Metro. New York’s system covers five cities (now boroughs) and started when the population meter was barely at 830,000! And NYC is wholly dependent on the system — if the subways stop, the city goes into traffic gridlock. You can get anywhere in NYC by subway, and it’s simple for any visitor to pick up the system quickly. Trains and buses bring people in and out of the city, but inside, it’s the subway bringing the city to life.
  • San Francisco, USA
    Although San Francisco was late in getting its light rail (BART), San Francisco had already mastered ferries, trains, streetcars (the famous cable cars). Buses came later. And with San Francisco being on a peninsula, there was a lot of need to make it work well. Yes, SF was big when light rail finally came in (the SF area was huge) but this was to augment the transit system already in place.
  • London, England
    London was the first to get an Underground in the mid-1860s. The city was already 1.6 million, though, and the Underground was to alleviate the trouble of travelling on the surface. All the trains, all the horse-drawn vehicles (and automobiles were fast-coming), and all the people were making movement nearly impossible. (Calgary — does this at all sound familiar? Well, maybe on with the horses during Stampede.) London now is a paradise for public transit, with outstanding subway systems, excellent rail services (for those of you who would beg to differ, I offer Canada as an example of how bad it can get), and well-marked bus services (you don’t need a map to know where you’re going).
  • Paris, France
    Given, Paris was about two million when the Metro arrived. Paris had similar problems to London … just with more people in a smaller space. The Metro saved Paris’ population from having to survive travelling on roads and quickly get around. Today, Paris’ Metro is fast, cheap, and effective.
  • Moscow, Russia
    One of the largest in the world in terms of volume, the Moscow Metro has only been around since the 1930s. A bit more on the state-enforced development end, the Metro is something most Moscovites depend on, much in the way New Yorkers depend on the subway. No Metro, no Moscow.
  • Shanghai, China
    In addition to a great subway system (connected with China’s extensive rail system), Shanghai also has the world’s first commercial magnetic levitation train. It runs at high speed (over 400 km/h) to the airport. Sadly, it doesn’t do this from downtown Shanghai (which would make it truly exceptional), so it’s almost more kvitchy. I doubt Calgary would benefit from maglev, but such a train from Calgary to Edmonton would cover the distance in less than an hour.
  • Hong Kong SAR, China
    Buses: super-comfortable and air-conditioned. Subway: not very extensive, but at least runs out to the airport. Trains: not many, but they do run into China. Tramways: Handy and cheap, when you’re in the Central/Admiralty areas of Hong Kong. Mind you, much of that area is small enough that you can walk on foot.
  • Tokyo, Japan
    Tokyo and trains go hand-in-hand. No trains, no Tokyo. Japan it heavily dependent on public transit because its made owning a car prohibitive. This is a lesson most of the rest of the world should learn: cars shouldn’t be considered necessities, except in some circumstances (e.g. ambulances). There is little that can’t be accomplished on your own two feet, with buses, trains, and subways covering the rest.

Calgary should be learning from cities such as these — especially its cousins in Canada — and learning what could be done to make things better. It should also look at its own history. Calgary used to have an interurban system that covered a lot of the city. Gone, and pretty much forgotten. But more extensive (by a wide margin) than the current C-Train.
It’s not about planning for more roads. It’s not about ensuring there’s parking downtown. It’s about making better (that includes regularly-staffed, regularly-timed, and appropriately-equipped) bus routes, dedicated lanes during rush hours to funnel people in and out of downtown, [[Improving Calgary Transit in the city core|buried transit lines downtown]], more C-Train lines, and maybe (just maybe) trains to/from High River, Canmore, Strathmore, and Airdrie.
It’s not like it hasn’t been done before.

Join the Conversation


  1. you give Vancouver too much credit. The City of Vancouver proper may have pretty good transit, if you are travelling within Vancouver – but if you look at the region as a whole, getting around the suburbs and from suburbs to downtown can be hell. For instance, imagine a region of over 500,000 (Surrey) having only 2 SkyTrain stations. And travelling the 3 transit zones from Surrey to downtown would cost $4.50 each way. The Park and Ride lot is even starting to charge 1 or $2 to park!

  2. You’re kidding — charging for P&R? Great way to put up a barrier to access. Sure, they might be thinking more people would take the bus, but how good are the bus feeders?
    I don’t dig zoning, admittedly. Never liked that, regardless of the intent. $9 to take SkyTrain each day adds up quickly, and is yet another deterrent to public transit.
    S — my memory of decent transit seems to exist north of the Fraser. Given, I didn’t travel much in New West, but it seemed good in Burnaby, Coquitlam, and North Vancouver. West Van was a bit odd, only because most people there seem to drive. I only know the route from the airport to Vancouver, so can’t really comment much on Richmond. Delta et al are a mystery.
    My point was that there were at least considerations well beyond one city. Calgary has problems within its own city, let alone all the commuters from parts outside.

  3. `It’s about making better (that includes regularly-staffed, regularly-timed, and appropriately-equipped) bus routes, dedicated lanes during rush hours to funnel people in and out of downtown,`
    To staff buses they need to make the job attractive enough otherwise not enough quality people will apply and even more importantly stay with the job for the long term. That is what the City needs.
    Dedicated lanes can be done on 9th, 5th, 4th and 6th Ave’s and more signal priority can be given to Transit buses. Also, HOV lanes can be put in. The City has the power to do all this. It is a matter of willpower. A bylaw, similar to Vancouver, can also be implemented where its a $300.00 fine for not letting a bus pull out after it services a stop. Having said all that, that bylaw as well as signal priority and HOV lanes are no good if cars who don’t follow those laws are not ticketed and fined.
    Signal priority for C-trains to go through 9 st SW from 4th Ave to 6th Ave should be reinstated. That is killing c-train service frequency to the NW. The City unfortunately chose to give cars using 4th,5th and 6th Aves priority over C-trains.
    ` buried transit lines downtown, more C-Train lines, `
    Easier said then done. It involves a lot of money being spent. Money that the City does not have. Even with the money it will require a lot of time for construction. If nothing else, the schedule for 4 car train platforms could be upped in timeline. There should be a noticeable difference once the approved West LRT line is done and running. There are several major intersections that need to be redone or converted to overpasses, including the following:
    – Crowchild Tr and Bow Tr SW
    – 16 Ave NE and 68 St
    – Glenmore and Sarcee
    – The yield sign @ Peigan Tr onto S.B. Deerfoot
    ‘and maybe (just maybe) trains to/from High River, Canmore, Strathmore, and Airdrie.’
    Sure, if the taxpayers in those towns pay their fair share. A more effective way to cut down on road traffic is to make the entrances into Calgary all toll roads (eg. Deerfoot & Country Hills, Highway #2 city limit, Glenmore and 69 st, Highway #1 and 84 st, etc., Glenmore and 84 st.). Either way those who choose to live in places like Airdrie, Chestermere, etc. and work in Calgary should pay to use transit and roads of Calgary one way or the other.

  4. The problem with CT is that they don’t try to make things streamlined, and love to make everything towards downtown. I shouldn’t have to leave at 3:00 from my house in Citadel to meet my friends at North Pointe at 5:00. I also shouldn’t have to leave my house at 8:00 to be at Northland Mall which is across the street from my school at 9:00.

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