Why would you drive down Whyte, when you could float above it all? Why would you walk down Whyte, when you could pretend that you’re in Disneyland? Why would you bike down Whyte, when… well why would you bike anywhere in Edmonton? Did you hear about Tim Cartmell’s proposal to replace a future LRT line running along Whyte Avenue with a *m*A~g~i~C~ gondola? If you have then, yeah, what the fuck is up with that?
If you haven’t, here’s a brief intro. Cartmell, a City Councillor for the southwest, recommended last week that Edmonton invest in a gondola line along Whyte Avenue that could connect people between the University and Bonnie Doon. The idea was drawn out of the recent Edmonton Project, which picked a gondola between Strathcona and Downtown as Edmonton’s next big crowd-sourced project. A gondola running along Whyte would mean that transit is still a second rate and slower option that people won’t want to take. It would mean that people will only be able to hop on or off at two to three spots along the five kilometre corridor. It would mean we’re reinforcing the path dependency of an auto-oriented city like Edmonton.
Cartmell states that a gondola is “complementary to the (traffic) system, not compromising it.” What’s problematic here is that our traffic system is going to compromise itself if we don’t provide legitimate options for people to take. Mass transit options (like LRT) are needed in parts of the city to service the densities and demand around the University and along Whyte in the next 25-30 years. An LRT running along Whyte means frequent opportunities to catch a train. It means the ability to transfer masses of people in Edmonton’s denser core more efficiently. It means pub crawls, but instead of a bus it’s on low-floor LRT.
To set the record straight, Cartmell is not kooky. He’s been an integral part of developing community facilities in the southwest and has sought to gain a better understanding of Bus Rapid Transit in Edmonton. He is a great Edmontonian who is doing big things for our city. This gondola idea is just really kooky. A gondola connecting Downtown and Strathcona (with a stop on Rossdale flats) makes sense. The topography between these areas is difficult to navigate for those with mobility challenges and there are only a few points in the region that are consequential to connect. A gondola along a corridor like Whyte Avenue does not make sense. This vibrant core of the city deserves the efficient service that LRT can provide.
LRT is not perfect in Edmonton. But the low-floor LRT proposed for Whyte better suits the urban environment that is present and will continue to intensify in this area into the future. There will still be room for cars along Whyte Avenue. But they’ll also be room for options for people to take when we run out of room for cars. We’ll never build our way out of congestion. The only way to mitigate this issue is to legitimize options for people to take instead of having to drive all the time. So when we’re planning for Edmonton’s future, we should shoot for the moon. But let’s land in a place where Edmontonian’s can optimally travel throughout the city, and not in a gondola.