19 October 2011

Public transit blossoms in Calgary

When Calgary's GoPlan, the blueprint for the city's transportation development for the next 30 years, was created in the mid-1990s, it predicted that by 2024, 50 per cent of commuters would be using public transit to get downtown to work. Only 33 per cent used public transit at the time. Critics said the plan was optimistic, even unachievable.

It has turned out to be wildly pessimistic. Thirteen years sooner than expected, half of rush hour commuters are now taking transit into downtown while only a third are driving. The C-Train, Calgary's light rail transit (LRT) system, now handles 270,000 trips every weekday.

Various factors are thought to have contributed to the change. First is the improved transit system. The city has continually increased transit hours, extended LRT lines and added more bus service to keep up with growing demand. Secondly, while the city has spent millions on improving its road system, it has not built freeways into the downtown. And then there is parking. Limited parking downtown has resulted in some of the highest monthly rates outside of New York.

So it can be done. People can be shifted from their cars to public transit in major ways and surprisingly quickly. If it can be done in the car-loving oil capital of Canada, it can be done anywhere.

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