Improving Calgary Transit in the city core

I’ve gone back to taking the bus. While biking to work is (believe it or not) faster than taking the bus, I’m not too fond of the idea of biking down the side of the hill (switchback or not) in the dark, where I know coyotes tend to lurk. I’ve seen them in my neighbourhood — some distance from the river — so I know they hang out in the bushes.

Besides, I’m a lazy bastard and right now I’m having a hard enough time getting out of bed let alone biking 11.4 kilometres first thing in the morning.

One observation that I’ve made as I take the bus (which, I should point out, isn’t going too badly, compared to previous situations) is that the traffic downtown is a bit nightmarish at times. Especially because of all the buses that flow in and out during rush hours.

Add to that the complexity of having one avenue completely closed to anything but public transit, and another one that’s half-closed to nothing but pedestrian traffic. And a whack of one-way roads. And a rail line that runs along the bottom of the core, a river across the top, and only eight entry/exit points.

Yeah, it gets messy. And Calgary’s core isn’t that big. (Yet — it’s growing. Last I counted, I could see 13 cranes from my desk, and I’m not even next to a window.)

So how do we solve what will become a real mess in later years?

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest something really crazy: bury Calgary Transit. Literally.

For Calgary Transit to be really effective, it needs to run where there are no other vehicles to slow it down. The C-Train needs to run without having to cross all the roads (especially in the North East quadrant ... but that’s another topic). The idea of burying the C-Train isn’t new (there’s even a roughed-in C-Train station under City Hall), but I think it should go one step further, and bury the bus lines, too.

Buses would still enter the downtown area above ground, like everything else. But as it gets closer to the core, the bus shifts to dedicated lanes, and eventually goes right underground. Entering the underground, the bus enters a racetrack-like loop that runs across most of the width and part of the height for the downtown, hitting the major areas, and then exits at the appropriate location.

Calgary’s core is ideally suited to this for two reasons:

  1. It’s small. The core is only about 14 blocks wide and not even 10 blocks high at it’s tallest point. Most of the main buildings are in an 6×10 area.
  2. The downtown already concentrates much of the radiating transit services.

So here’s what I propose:

[Ed. note: the original diagram I had created has long since disappeared. I suggest looking at a Google Map of downtown Calgary to get an idea of what I'm talking about below.]

Allow me to describe the above diagram in more detail.

The “racetrack” is effectively a rectangular course that runs in one direction (counter-clockwise) under the existing streets, bordered by 9th St. SW in the west, 9th Ave. S in the south, 2nd St. SE in the east, and 6th Ave. S in the north. Buses would stop at designated areas along the 9th Ave. section (between 8th St. and Centre St.), 2nd St. SE, and along 6th Ave. SE (between 1st St. SW and 7th St. SW).

The stops would be shared across several routes (as there are probably over 50 that come into downtown during rush hours), taking advantage of schedules that don’t have buses all arriving at the same time. Buses would stop at 2-3 different points in the racetrack before exiting (possibly looping once before leaving).

In theory (I stress that I am neither a city planner or a transit expert), this would reduce surface traffic (less buses stopping and changing lanes, and freeing up 7th Ave. back to vehicular traffic), and improve bus performance (fewer lights, easier movement underground, less traffic).

Furthermore, having all the transit underground means people could avoid the nasty, cold weather during the winter months. The space could be easily ventilated for fumes, and the underground situation balances heat and cold seasonally.

Any thoughts? I’m curious to know if I’m just on crack, here…

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