That was interesting. Sort of.
This evening I walked across the Mill Creek Bridge to Edmonton’s French Quarter for a “Public Engagement” about the proposed Centre Line LRT. (I mentioned this LRT plan the other day.) There were a whole lot of display cards on easels and personable young people with name takes and post it notes and pens and little red stickers and maps on tables and a video presentation on a big screen we could hardly see because the sunset light was coming brilliantly through the windows of the gymnasium of the University of Alberta’s Campus St. Jean. It didn’t matter: everything that got projected on the screen was a repeat of the pretty maps and flow-charts on the display cards around the room, which was all pretty much repeated by the nice young people with name tags. For what it’s worth, the young man whose time I most monopolized told me he had actually walked the entire proposed LRT alignment, which I thought was pretty darn fair of a consultant from Vancouver whose familiarity with the planning history of Edmonton was understandably slim. “Why not send it across at the Groat Bridge and run the LRT up the McKinnon Ravine?” I asked, sadly unsurprised at the blank look that was his response. He was far too young to remember the freeway fight. He was too young to remember the freeway fight on Whyte Avenue. And he’s from Vancouver. A consultant from Vancouver. Or maybe a salesman from Vancouver?
None of the citizens who listened to and questioned the assembled Edmonton city planners, infrastructure wonks, and hired consultants, seemed in any way excited about the plans and some were downright incredulous of the duplication/triplication of service in the Downtown to University corridor, the plan to build a third bridge, and the absolute lack of consideration of the parking nightmare that Bonnie Doon Mall would become if the plan-as-presented to end the Centre Line at Bonnie Doon were to go ahead. The consultants seemed to be there to ask where we would like the stops on the new line to be while most citizens seemed to want the new line to stop and give it’s head a shake.
And this is the interesting thing about this Public Engagement. We weren’t there to give our input on the wisdom of the line down Whyte Avenue or the new bridge or the triple line past the Legislature or the triple line through the University. Back in 2009 City Council approved the idea of some sort of LRT link from Downtown, through the University, through Strathcona, and on to points East. That somewhat vague vision is firm policy that will be near impossible to shift. What we were there this evening to rubber stamp is a more concrete plan to make that original vision, whatever its merits, a reality. This was a meeting for crew and passengers already fully onboard the Good Ship Central Line which is about to set sail on its ten year cruise into a future that somehow didn’t seem to impress the passengers who showed up this evening.
I can’t help think it would have been nice to have actual Edmontonians instead of hired professional consultants from Vancouver and other points unknown interacting with the ordinary Edmontonians who showed up in good faith to consider this plan which is, after all, pretty much a done deal. But, really, this was just a sales pitch for a prepackaged product with a few options. It reminded me uncomfortably of those fast talking holiday time-share quasi-scams that were so common back in the 90s.
By the end of the evening I had zoned out and was transported to an imagined planning meeting a decade or so ago. A group of planners sitting around a table brainstorming about the future of Edmonton’s one-line LRT “network”, sketching bubbles labelled “Downtown”, “University”, “South”, “West”, “Sherwood Park”, “SouthEast”, “St. Albert”, “North East”. And then lines started getting drawn in a sort of radiating pattern. And somebody said “Let’s make one ring to bind them all!”
And then it went to City Council as The LRT Network Plan and it got approved as a rough plan for several election cycles into the foggy future.
Well, now a bunch of consulting firms have been hired to find the best way to make that little ring in the middle and to sell it to the public and, more importantly, to the current City Council of that foggy future which has become the present. It doesn’t matter whether we want it or feel a need for it, the consulting firms and planners have done their jobs diligently and run their computer models and crunched their numbers to show that the Centre Line will indeed be vitally needed to handle the increased ridership it will produce and the preferred alignment they have arrived at is the preferred alignment to make manifest the final section of The LRT Network Plan’s connection of all those labelled bubbles on the planners’ brainstorming bit of paper.
But nobody in the room seemed at all excited about anything except maybe the coffee and the cookies.
And, to be honest, the cookies were pretty dry.