Tag Archives: rapid transit

Thoughts on Alberta

I haven’t lived in Alberta for a long time so that now when I go back I notice the difference. I am just a tourist in the place of my birth. Calgary is an immensely spread out city. In the middle of the prairies there is room to grow like a slowly encroaching disease. Alberta itself is known as Big Sky Country. When you compare it to BC, which is mountainous all the way to the coast (we are part of the Rockies), there is a huge difference.

Edmonton to Calgary (canola fields)

Edmonton to Calgary (canola fields)

Calgary is in the foothills, on the other side of the Rocky Mountains. You come out of Banff, if you’re driving from BC and the sky just opens up. It is rolling hills and flat patches. There is nothing but sky and fields. I can see how someone growing up in the mountains or heavily wooded areas could find that great blue expanse disconcerting. I find it noticeably different in comparison to Vancouver.

Calgary, years ago, built their downtown core fairly compacted with buildings set close together. It made the downtown darker and colder than the outlying areas. The city center is also in a dip or a bowl and the city rises up out of the bowl on all sides. Keeping the downtown in that dip served to concentrate the center but the rest went its own way. There are major thoroughfares that crisscross the city north to south and east to west. They have such names as Sarcee Trail, Crowchild Trail, Deerfoot Trail, John Laurie Boulevard, Shaganapi Trail, Edmonton Trail, McKnight Boulevard, etc. Many, as you can see are reminiscent of the First Nations bands that originally occupied that area.

These roads are two to three lanes (there are others I haven’t named) and though they have lights at intersections, those lights are spaced very widely apart. Many of these freeway style roads are bordered by giant boulevards. It would be better to call them small inclines rather than boulevards because they often slope up (or down) and are 20 to 30 feet wide. Many of these roads are also bordered by large walls, used to keep sound out of the residential areas.

I grew up in the northwest (Calgary works on a quadrant system of street names and numbers split into NW, SW, SE, and NE) and at one time it was bordered by Spy Hill, or Nose Hill. I believe there are still houses on the other side of the area but it is protected land. Once I believe it was ranchland and may still have be partially privately owned but it is the only true hilly region (small part of the foothills) in Calgary. We used to go up there and do bow and arrow shooting at targets or just explore.

Just these major “trails” alone in Calgary take up a lot of space. Without them it would take far longer to go from one side of the city to the other. The last time I was there it took two hours one day to go from NW to SE, and I’m not sure we even hit the farthest reaches of the city. I cannot fathom how I managed to live on one side of the city and used to take the bus to work on the other side, before they had rapid transit.

One place to go for hikes is Bragg Creek. I went with my friend for a hike. Some uphill and some flat Picture 141spaces and a very nice view from other parts. Bragg Creek has a meandering creek that has never been particularly high from what I remember. Farther away is Elbow Falls. We didn’t go that route but did a three-hour hike (or a bit less) which gave us good cardio but was not hard. Runners are all you need but watch out for the bugs. Something bit my arm while we were walking though it neither itched nor swelled up.

Back in Calgary, one thing I did notice was the very high price of food, comparable to what I’ve seen in Seattle. Onions here are between .69 and .79/lb. In Calgary, $1.49/lb. Other fruits and vegetables were similarly expensive. Ouch.

The weather was hot, pulling in a short and fierce windstorm that killed two people and injured about 100 others and yet we missed it going from building to house. It lasted no more than a half hour. It poured one night, growing toward thunderstorm, but that never happened. Thunderstorms are common in Alberta and tornadoes are not uncommon in the southern parts of the province.

After so many years, I saw the differences in weather and land and city structure. I still prefer my home in Vancouver where usually the summers aren’t as hot, nor the winters as cold.

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On the High Horse: Greater Vancouver’s Attitude Toward Transportation

Transportation has always been an issue, but as gas prices bloat and government brings in carbon taxes, toll bridges (the Port Mann bridge is scheduled to have a toll booth, which will slow down the traffic even more) and other measures, all under the guise of being green, it means that people will want to seek alternative means.

Over the years, yes, people have relied more and more on their cars. When I was a child I would walk the ten-twenty blocks to school. These days everyone drives their kids. That’s partly because of the greater fear of predators, not to mention traffic has become exceedingly congested and inconsiderate, making it unsafe for younger children.

Housing prices have become exorbitant so people have to buy farther and farther out and then commute to work. If you live east of Vancouver you have the choice of taking buses; not a time efficient mode. There is the West Coast Express or a combination of SkyTrain and buses. The first is prohibitively expensive for many. But let’s look at using buses and SkyTrain. The farther out you live, the more you pay for a bus ride as the GVRD (now changing their name to Metro Vancouver)/Coast Mountain Bus  have conjointly allowed for the area to be split into zones. Which means you are punished for living farther from the downtown core.

Many people, including me, have opted to continue driving as it was cheaper for gas than a bus pass and more time efficient. Mexico City, with a population of plus 25 million keeps their trains cheap or the city would freeze from gridlock and completely decay from the pollution, which is already extremely bad. Cities like New York have an efficient subway system that runs frequently to all the boroughs and is comparably priced.

Efficiency means reliable. The bus/train system here has suffered from numerous breakdowns, especially in the winter. The stations are filthy and have a high criminal element lurking about. There has been a recent change to the stations with brighter lighting being put in and more security around the platforms. However, the level of filth (dirt, spit, gum, spills) on some of the platforms is still fairly high.

As well, people have been stranded when an overfull bus passes them by and there is no later one running. “Reliable transportation” would include buses running frequently and on time. Somehow the city decided it was a good idea to let downtown clubs and bars be open till 4:00 am if they wanted, but Coast Mountain closes down the SkyTrain just after midnight and the buses become infrequent or stop running to some areas far before most bars close. Incidences of weekend car thefts go up because somebody has come to town to party and find they can’t get home. I’d love to know who was the brainiac that thought that part out.

Taxis are likewise impossible to find on a weekend and would be too expensive to most other cities. Sure you can ride a bike, if you trust the drivers. I don’t, and that’s a story for another day. The public is held by the short and curlies. The GVRD, Coast Mountain and the BC government continue to tax everyone, raise prices of local transportation and add more tolls. They want to encourage us to use less fuel, mostly to garner votes in the “green” category. But where are the viable alternatives? Not enough public transportation that is affordable, reliable, safe and timely leaves people with spending more for not better.

Stress levels will increase, pollution won’t lessen because the green alternatives are missing. In the long run, this is the GVRD’s and the government’s ways of having more money coming in without putting effort in to true alternatives.

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