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Old Posted Dec 13, 2014, 6:32 PM
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Calgary’s transit use suggests high ridership is possible even in sprawling cities

Calgary’s soaring transit use suggests high ridership is possible even in sprawling cities


December 10th, 2014

By Yonah Freemark



Read More: http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2...awling-cities/

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Calgary is a boomtown — the center of Canada’s resource economy, whose explosion in recent years has led to big gains in Calgary’s population and commercial activity.

- It’s the sort of place that might seem completely hostile to public transit; 87 percent of locals live in suburban environments where single-family homes and strip malls predominate; surrounding land is mostly flat and easily developable farmland; the city is almost 10 times bigger than it was in 1950, meaning it was mostly built in a post-automobile age; and big highways with massive interchanges are found throughout the region.

- It’s an environment that looks a lot more like Dallas or Phoenix than Copenhagen. And yet Calgary is attracting big crowds to its transit system, and those crowds continue to increase in size. Like several of its Canadian counterparts, Calgary is demonstrating that even when residential land use is oriented strongly towards auto dependency, it is possible to encourage massive use of the transit system.

- As I’ll explain below, however, strong transit use in Calgary has not been a fluke; it is the consequence of a strong public policy to reduce car use downtown. It provides an important lesson for other largely suburban North American cities that are examining how to reduce their automobile use.

- Much of the trend of increasing transit use has come recently, in part because of the expansion of the city’s light rail network, C-Train. That system, which opened in 1981 and has been expanded several times (it now provides service on 36 miles of lines), has become the backbone of the municipal transit agency and now serves more rides than the bus network. C-Train is now the second-most-heavily used light rail system in North America.

- But, ... that growth has not come to the detriment of the bus network. Indeed, Calgary buses now are providing about 20 million more annual rides than they were in 1996. Overall, the transit system is carrying about 80 million more riders annually than it was 17 years ago.

- If Calgary’s transit use had started at nothing, these trends could be less impressive, suggesting the city was simply doing better than it used to. In fact, per capita, Calgary’s population is using transit at lower rates than peers in Montreal and Toronto. Yet those cities were developed earlier than Calgary and a significantly higher proportion of their residents live in pedestrian-friendly, walkable neighborhoods that are supposed to be amenable to transit use.

- But Calgary’s transit use is far more similar to that of those older Canadian cities than it is to American boomtowns. In 2013, Calgary’s transit services provided about 168 million annual trips, compared to about 70 million in each Dallas and Phoenix. Those metropolitan areas each have more than four times the population of Calgary. In other words, people in Calgary — an energy-driven, Western sprawl town — are using transit at about 10 times the rate of people in U.S. peers.

- While both Calgary and Dallas have spend hundreds of millions of dollars building out their light rail system, Calgary’s provides three times the daily rides on less than half the track miles. What gives? --- At the heart of the matter seems to be a radically different view about how to manage automobiles downtown. Decades of progressive thinking about how to run downtown have produced a Calgary where there are no freeways entering the central city.

- Citizens there have been vocally opposed to building highways there since the 1950s, with the consequence that it is simply not that quick to get into downtown by car. This has a number of related effects, including the incentivization of non-automobile modes and the reduction in outward suburban sprawl (since it takes a longer amount of time to get to the center of downtown). In Dallas, on the other hand, six grade-separated highways radiate from downtown, a loop tightly encircles it, and state highway planners have been pushing for a new tollway directly adjacent to it — in the middle of a park.

- Perhaps most impressive have been Calgary’s parking policies. For decades, the municipal government has managed parking supply downtown, in part by directly owning a huge proportion of the spaces. The city has also limited the number of spaces allowed to be built in the center.

- In 1981, the city had 25 million square feet of offices downtown and 33,000 parking spaces (1,320 parking spaces per million square feet), but today, it has more than 40 million square feet of offices (and more under construction) and 47,000 spaces (1,175 spaces per million square feet, an 11 percent reduction). The limitations on the number of parking spaces has resulted in an expensive parking market; the city has the second-highest parking rates in the Americas, after New York City.

- For car users wishing to get downtown, the city has compensated by investing in 17,433 park-and-ride spaces at almost every light rail station, of which 36 percent are reserved for people who have paid $80 a month, a considerable discount off the downtown rates. This emphasis on park-and-ride spaces departs from the typical urbanist emphasis on transit-oriented development as a strategy for station areas, but it seems to have worked in Calgary.

- Pro-transit policies have not produced a dramatic move of businesses away from Calgary’s center city — the fear many politicians and business promoters point to when complaining about limitations on automobile access to downtown. In fact, Calgary’s office market is doing quite well, with five office buildings over 500 feet completed downtown since 2010, compared to just one in Dallas, one in Houston, and none in Phoenix.

- Calgary’s downtown population has expanded rapidly to 16,000 people and now hosts 140,000 jobs and eight shopping centers. It should be noted that the Calgary municipal government has also played an important role in advocating for a compact city and directed local policies to support that goal.

- Calgary may be an exception to the rule when compared to many major U.S. regions, its experience has been similar to several other Canadian regions that have prioritized transit use even as they have grown spectacularly. Canadian cities from Calgary to Winnipeg, Ottawa, Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto each have significantly higher transit shares than you might imagine given their populations. Those cities each have also avoided the dominance of automobile use in their downtowns.

- To a significant degree, it is clear that it is possible to boost transit use simply by making it more expensive and complicated to drive to work, and relatively easier to take transit. These results fall in line with the survey responses documented by Transit Center in its Who’s On Board report from earlier this year; that study showed that people offered transit “benefits” (tax subsidies`) by their employers were five times as likely to use transit as those who weren’t. Another recent study found that higher parking costs were associated directly with higher transit use.

- Does Calgary’s example mean other issues frequently associated with transit, from a mix of uses to walkable blocks, are unimportant to building transit use? To some extent, probably; peoples’ travel decision making is heavily informed by the time and cost of their commutes, so it doesn’t necessarily matter so much how they experience the surrounding urban environment. But the goal of building dense, diverse cities has other important impacts, from higher walking and biking mode shares to higher non-automobile use for non-work trips.

.....



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  #2  
Old Posted Dec 13, 2014, 8:53 PM
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What is important is not just the density (note that the sprawl of Calgary is quite restrained compared to US cities) but the place where the people go. It is easier to have successful transit system when you have to carry a lot of people to a single place than when you have to carry people to hundreds of different business park all over the suburbs.
Calgary is a very centralized city, the large majority of the office is located downtown.
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Old Posted Dec 14, 2014, 2:10 AM
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The parking ratios sound fairly typical. Maybe what's unique is that most of the office market is Downtown. (Guess that copies the last post)
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Old Posted Dec 14, 2014, 4:01 AM
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I think it all points out that cities have planning choices. Don't allow sprawling business parks on the fringe of cities. Don't build expressways everywhere. Limit parking downtown. Put boundaries on suburban development. Beyond the boundary, the land is zoned as rural or agricultural. If this is done, high quality transit becomes increasingly feasible even when density is not particularly high.
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Old Posted Dec 14, 2014, 6:00 AM
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Calgary made a lot of wise and forward thinking decisions when it came to transit.

They brought in high parking rates in the late 60s and it still has the highest downtown parking rates in NA after NYC. It also bought the future LRT corridor ROW well before the lines were built saving a lot of money and time and have built new roads with transit in mind.

Calgary is a VERY wealthy city with a high rate of disposable income and car ownership but it gets high transit ridership. Despite Vancouverites often looking down on Calgary as a right -wing oil town, Calgary actually has higher transit ridership per-capita than Vancouver yet Vancouver is a significantly larger and older city.

Calgary is the poster child of how even wealthy, high car ownership, newer cities can still attract high ridership levels and provide and excellent service.
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Old Posted Dec 14, 2014, 7:05 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lrt's friend View Post
I think it all points out that cities have planning choices. Don't allow sprawling business parks on the fringe of cities. Don't build expressways everywhere. Limit parking downtown. Put boundaries on suburban development. Beyond the boundary, the land is zoned as rural or agricultural. If this is done, high quality transit becomes increasingly feasible even when density is not particularly high.
Calgary economic activity C$116 billion (2014)
Dallas-Ft.Worth metro economic activity $440 billion (2014)

Population (metro)
Calgary(1950) 132,000
Dallas(1950) 855,000

Calgary(1980) 568,000 (+430% from '50)
Dallas(1980) 2,713,000 (+317% from '50)

Calgary(2010) 1,004,000 (+176% from '80)
Dallas(2010) 5,685,000 (+209% from '80)

Looks like sprawl has major economic advantages. Whenever government gets in the way of growth, less economic growth happens.
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Old Posted Dec 14, 2014, 9:26 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by electricron View Post
Calgary economic activity C$116 billion (2014)
Dallas-Ft.Worth metro economic activity $440 billion (2014)

Population (metro)
Calgary(1950) 132,000
Dallas(1950) 855,000

Calgary(1980) 568,000 (+430% from '50)
Dallas(1980) 2,713,000 (+317% from '50)

Calgary(2010) 1,004,000 (+176% from '80)
Dallas(2010) 5,685,000 (+209% from '80)

Looks like sprawl has major economic advantages. Whenever government gets in the way of growth, less economic growth happens.

Your own numbers show that Calgary has way more "metro economic activity" per capita than Dallas, yet you say that sprawl has "major economic advantages". What advantages?
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Old Posted Dec 14, 2014, 9:30 AM
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As for the topic, Calgary had a metro area transit commute share of 15.9% as of 2011. The #2 metro area in the United States as of 2011 was Washington-Arlington-Alexandria with 14.8%, and the #3 area was San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont at 14.6%.
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Old Posted Dec 15, 2014, 12:18 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NorthernDancer View Post
Your own numbers show that Calgary has way more "metro economic activity" per capita than Dallas, yet you say that sprawl has "major economic advantages". What advantages?
Yes, I am totally puzzled by the original comment.

I really don't understand how reasonable municipal planning should interfere with economic growth. In fact, if done well, planning should result in more liveable cities, which should in turn attract both people and industry.

Perhaps Canadian cities are suffering from socialist repression with all the planning controls but it seems to me that they rank highly in most surveys despite the cold winters.
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Old Posted Dec 16, 2014, 1:45 AM
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i love the ctrain service and have used it many times. very nice and quite. the trains go all the right places as well.
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Old Posted Dec 16, 2014, 4:46 PM
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Originally Posted by whiteford View Post
i love the ctrain service and have used it many times. very nice and quite. the trains go all the right places as well.
Except the airport, which I gather is so expensive to connect to the C-Train that it is a low priority.
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Old Posted Dec 16, 2014, 5:18 PM
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This is a good article with good points, except that Calgary is not a sprawly city at all. It has a suburban form except downtown. "Suburban" and "sprawly" aren't synonyms. Calgary's sprawl barely extends 10 miles from downtown at its farthest point. It's shockingly compact for a 20th Century city.
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Old Posted Dec 16, 2014, 6:48 PM
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Calgary is possibly the most centralized city in North America. The downtown employment share is massive. And Dallas is a horrible comparison. Dallas probably has one of the smallest downtown employment shares of any metro on earth.
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Old Posted Dec 16, 2014, 7:01 PM
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Calgary also has one of the largest skylines for its size.
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Old Posted Dec 16, 2014, 7:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NorthernDancer View Post
Your own numbers show that Calgary has way more "metro economic activity" per capita than Dallas, yet you say that sprawl has "major economic advantages". What advantages?

Even just within the US the highest GDP per capita metros are the Bay Area, Seattle, Boston, and DC - all among the least sprawling. New York, Portland, and Minneapolis also rank above Dallas - but below Houston. Ultimately though, there really just isn't any obvious correlation between sprawl/land use restrictions and economic activity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of...opulous_MSA.29



Quote:
Originally Posted by Crawford View Post
Calgary is possibly the most centralized city in North America. The downtown employment share is massive. And Dallas is a horrible comparison. Dallas probably has one of the smallest downtown employment shares of any metro on earth.

Which should serve as important lesson on the benefits of centralized cities.
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Old Posted Dec 16, 2014, 7:27 PM
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I didn't read through the whole article, but agree with most of the comments so far. Calgary has a highly centralized workforce, so it isn't surprising that the numbers are high.
IIRC the percentage of workforce for the downtown area is something like 32% which is the highest in NA, or at least very close to it. Combine that with a cap on downtown parking and roads into downtown and it's made the train system very popular.

The trend I'm happy to see is that the city is finally leveraging the existing system by developing around the train stations. It used to be that most of the train ridership numbers were downtown core work related traffic, but I'm seeing much more traffic on weekends and evenings which is good to see.
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Old Posted Dec 17, 2014, 1:04 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Crawford View Post
Calgary is possibly the most centralized city in North America. The downtown employment share is massive. And Dallas is a horrible comparison. Dallas probably has one of the smallest downtown employment shares of any metro on earth.
This suggests that choices have been made in how cities develop with massively different results. Up to World War II, North American cities were very similar. The divergence since then relates to how cities addressed the automobile.
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Old Posted Dec 17, 2014, 2:02 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Crawford View Post
Calgary is possibly the most centralized city in North America. The downtown employment share is massive. And Dallas is a horrible comparison. Dallas probably has one of the smallest downtown employment shares of any metro on earth.
Not really that true. Only 20-25% of regional employment is in downtown Calgary. Higher than many American cities, but most people are not commuting downtown, even in Calgary.
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Old Posted Dec 17, 2014, 9:33 AM
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Originally Posted by ssiguy View Post
Calgary is a VERY wealthy city with a high rate of disposable income and car ownership but it gets high transit ridership. Despite Vancouverites often looking down on Calgary as a right -wing oil town, Calgary actually has higher transit ridership per-capita than Vancouver yet Vancouver is a significantly larger and older city.
Not sure where you got your numbers from, but the figures I have put Metro Vancouver transit ridership 55% higher than Calgary. Vancouverites don't look down on Calgary.



http://www.calgary.ca/Transportation/TP/Documents/forecasting/Changing%20Travel%20Behaviour%20in%20the%20Calgary%20Region_v1_forWeb_2013-06-04.pdf



http://buzzer.translink.ca/2012/10/more-trips-in-metro-vancouver-and-more-bike-and-take-transit-initial-findings-from-our-2011-trip-diary-survey/
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Old Posted Dec 17, 2014, 3:02 PM
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Not really that true. Only 20-25% of regional employment is in downtown Calgary. Higher than many American cities, but most people are not commuting downtown, even in Calgary.
Which North American city has higher downtown employment share? Can you name one?

Certainly no U.S. metro has higher downtown employment share.
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