The Impromptu Referendum on Edmonton’s LRT

Does Twin Brooks' outrage reflect a deeper mistrust we have with the City, when it comes to building rails?

There were 25 speakers. It took two hours to get through them. But, the message to the City Council’s Executive Committee was clear — Twin Brooks residents do not want to see the planned LRT station for their community built.

There were lots of different people who took to the mic, but it was like listening to the same song over and over. The LRT will bring crime to the neighbourhood. Because it has no parking, it will create a crush of vehicles in Twin Brooks’ residential streets. There’s no need for it, as the ridership from Twin Brooks itself will be small. Why spend money on an LRT station that the community doesn’t want, while corners have to be cut in other parts of the planned Capital Line expansion south to Ellerslie Road?

“I really don’t see the need for a station at Twin Brooks. I already have LRT service,” said Andrew Johnson, who said he takes the bus from Twin Brooks and is at the nearby Century Park station within 10 minutes.

The $1.085-billion Capital Line extension from Century Park to the planned Heritage Valley Station at Ellerslie Road, with a stop at Twin Brooks in between, has been approved. Some site work has begun. Provincial and federal money have been committed.

It was in front of the Executive Committee Wednesday because of the need to scale back the project. It was conceived before the current inflation squeeze, and $1.085 billion doesn’t go as far as it used to. So, the committee heard about plans to lower the Heritage Valley North station to street level and put 800 planned park and ride spots on hold. That would mean, in future expansion phases, the train would need to cross Ellerslie Road at grade rather than pass over it.

There are plans to lower the number of train cars being added and reduce the size of the maintenance and storage garage.

But, this meeting was more than that. It felt like a referendum on the LRT as a whole. A community clearly has had enough.

The speakers talked about how they were promised a concrete wall to protect them from the noise of the LRT, but then administration said it wasn’t feasible because of the utilities in the way. Administration said that the forecast is that Twin Brooks will have 1,500 passengers per day.

A recent survey of residents saw nearly 60 per cent of Twin Brooks residents write in that they didn’t want the LRT station built in the neighbourhood. It wasn’t a question on said survey, but more than 1,000 residents felt strongly enough to write it in the comments box.

Pretty well each of the petitioners started their speech off the same. They support LRT as a whole. They support the Heritage Valley North station. And that, by scrapping Twin Brooks, couldn’t the City use the saved money to keep the Heritage Valley station above ground, and expand the Park and Ride as planned?

Administration said funding is tied to a project that has both Twin Brooks and Heritage Valley North. The residents asked for the City to renegotiate.

The City said car, truck and SUV traffic delays will only be a matter of seconds because of the LRT. Resident after resident suggested that they don’t believe the City’s numbers on noise, traffic or LRT adoption.

“The prediction of traffic delays is not reliable because of everyone’s experience over the past couple of years along the Capital line,” said Twin Brooks resident Joy Yan. “We have the responsibility to ensure that this project creates a positive effect for future generations.

“As we were all aware, there were so many issues and challenges and delays on the current Valley Line. I hope the City of Edmonton will not have the same mistakes carry forward on the Capital Line.”

Jennifer Rice, councillor for Ward Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi, told me last week that there’s “been a decline in trust in the LRT” from the residents she represents. Both of the proposed stations are in her ward.

And, when this issue comes back to City Council as a whole on May 16, one thing is certain. There is a serious issue with trust when it comes to LRT-building in this city. From increased transit crime, to those signaling issues on the Metro Line, to ongoing delays and cracked piers on the Valley Line, the goodwill between the public and bureaucrats is at a low.

So, we will see if council decides to stall, accept administration’s plan or ask for other changes to be made to the Capital Line extension. But one thing is for certain; before the City builds more tracks, it needs to build trust.