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Edmonton City Hall Axes BRT for LRT

After more than three years of study, Edmonton's transportation department is abandoning bus rapid transit to focus on expanding light rail transit.

By Gordon Kent

(First published in the Edmonton Journal on December 13, 2007.)

After more than three years of study, Edmonton's transportation department is dropping plans to lure commuters out of their cars by introducing a bus rapid-transit system.

A 2004 report talked about running a new generation of jumbo buses along exclusive lanes or with the right of way over other traffic between heated, well-lit stations up to 1.6 kilometres apart.

Councillors gave preliminary approval last July to a BRT route from Lewis Estates in the west end to downtown, which could have involved demolishing up to 15 houses and seven businesses on Stony Plain Road between 142nd and 149th streets.

But transportation general manager Bob Boutilier said in a Nov. 29 letter to civic officials and politicians that he has decided to remove city material that mentions "bus rapid transit," including the website devoted to the topic.

The phrase is causing "significant confusion" among councillors and members of the public, affecting the department's work and reviews of development proposals, particularly in mature neighbourhoods, his letter said.

In an interview Wednesday, Boutilier called the term "jargon" that made many people think only of an expensive, dedicated high-tech system in its own lane.

Instead, he wants to focus on expanding the LRT system, which he said is more efficient and moves passengers faster. A report on a future growth plan is due early next year.

Service on individual bus routes can still be enhanced where appropriate by adding transit-priority traffic signals, express lanes, automated tickets or other options associated with BRT, Boutilier said.

"I don't see anything changing in terms of what we're trying to do, which is move people quicker. What we do is get away from this thought that BRT is always a precursor to LRT."

Staff will continue developing transit priority corridors to deal with congestion, but the program will only purchase isolated properties when needed, meaning the city is no longer looking to buy land along Stony Plain Road.

"To gain a couple of minutes on a route by expropriating property or tearing down someone's house doesn't make sense," Boutilier said.

Officials indicated at a meeting on high-speed transit this week that they'll consider introducing a "super express" bus with limited stops from the west end to downtown, said Bill Eadie, chairman of the Glenora Community League planning and development committee.

Local residents are happy Stony Plain Road isn't being widened for a bus-only lane, he said.

"If you can achieve the same result at less cost and less disruption to the landowner, it's a win-win situation."

Coun. Linda Sloan likes Boutilier's idea, saying the city had lost some focus on future LRT growth by putting time into BRT proposals instead.

"Expending time and resources on building a completely new mode of transportation in the city, I didn't feel was the most prudent approach."

Coun. Kim Krushell said it should be cheaper to build and operate a single LRT line to the west end than the downtown BRT and a second possible route over the Quesnell Bridge to the south side.

"The cash involved with the BRT is so prohibitively high ... that I think it makes far more sense to place that cash into LRT extension and don't have BRTs."