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 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:
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.
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.
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 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?).
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 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).
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.
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.
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 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.