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Monday, April 09, 2007

Starting light rail at 600K

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?

4 comments:

Josh J said...

I wish every day as I drive up and down Chinden Blvd all the way to and from East Boise that we had light rail. I would kill to be able to sit on a train and take a few minutes to wake up and not end up at work irate every day due to the mess that is driving in the valley during rush hour.

I was just talking to some people about how nice it would be if we were a more progressive city in terms of development. We're sort of at the breaking point in my opinion, we can either turn into LA and be a car-centric mess or we can take a step back, look at mass transit, and do this right.

Julie in Boise said...

Thanks, Josh. I sympathize with what you are saying, and I'd like to see more companies realize how much happier and productive their employees would be after a stress-free commute.

I think Boise is a pretty progressive city, but our metro leaders are hamstrung by a retrograde state legislature that couldn't be less interested in the Treasure Valley's problems. We either need new state leadership, or help from visionary businesses - or more likely both.

Bikeboy said...

Julie... I don't know if "retrograde" is quite fair.

I believe our heavily-GOP Legislature thinks of themselves as conservative - VERY careful with those scarce taxpayer dollars, and hesitant to impose rules and regulations.

And they are, in some respects. But then you see 'em pass a bowling-alley-smoking law, ostensibly for the benefit of the citizens. How conservative is THAT? (And is it so much better to be sitting in exhaust fumes for a couple hours a day?)

I think of the Legislature as "provincial." There's the northerners, and the easterners, and in may respects both groups are rivals to the Boise-and-vicinity legislators. They don't see our lopsided population growth as a reason for us to get a bigger slice of the pie, and they resist any such overtures. (And the vote against the transportation bond is "punishment.")

Of course, my theory doesn't account for several of our Local Yokels, who voted against a citizen initiative. (And those yokels have constituents who have the most to gain, should there be an improvement in public transportation! Go figure!)

I live in District 17. I've got a 100%-democrat delegation. I ride a bike - I can take or leave public transit. (Except all those people from Star and Nampa are crowding MY roads as they drive into their jobs and such.)

Okay... I've vented.

The Nickel-Plated JA said...

It's not the population itself, it's the density... Calgary's entire 3-spoke system sports 38 stations over only 42 kilometres of track; 42 kilometres is barely enough for a single-line from the Boise Depot into the heart of Canyon County, which would sport what, 6-10 stations?

Rail here is wrong -- it diminishes the flexibility of the system, and the ability of the system to serve a widely-distributed (read as "far-flung") population, while increasing the capital costs by an order of magnitude at least.