In 1981, Calgary, Alberta, launched a light rail service to complement its bus system. The local population was about 600,000 people, according to Glen Radway, a Calgary city planner who visited Boise last week.
Fast forward a quarter century. Calgary's population has passed a million and is on track to hit 1.28 million by 2025. The two-line light rail system has spurred transit-oriented development near some of its stops, and the appetite is strong for more. But improvements and expansion take time; this page at Calgary Transit's website explains how, although an added line was approved in 1990, its construction has not yet begun.
The lessons here for Boise? Although many here say that Boise doesn't have the population base to support light rail, the Treasure Valley's current population is closing in on the level at which Calgary launched its CTrain system. But even more critical is the fact that our rapid growth will make it more difficult in the future to secure the right of way and funding necessary to make light rail work here. That, of course, is what the proposed local option tax would have made possible - along with a much-improved bus system that has to come before light rail, anyway.
Transit planners need to think and budget decades ahead, which is why Boise's current lack of adequate transit is so alarming. If we're this far behind in 2007, how far behind will we be when our population hits a million?