By Kate Koplovich
With the Green Line Light Rail Transit (LRT) infrastructure project officially approved by all levels of government, Global Shapers YYC wanted to learn more about the environmental and economic benefits of the Green Line LRT. Especially as our city returns to normal following the COVID-19 pandemic during which time public transit ridership plummeted to approximately 51% of pre-pandemic levels (1). The Green Line LRT is not only the largest infrastructure project in Calgary’s history (2), but it’s also critical to mitigating and adapting to climate change.
So what is the magnitude and potential economic impact of the largest infrastructure project in Calgary’s history, you ask? Here are a few fast facts (3):
The full Green Line LRT will be 46km of track from Seton in the southeast to 160 Avenue north, and will expand the LRT system to carry over 110 million people a year.
The Green Line LRT is being constructed in stages; stage 1 will extend from 126 Avenue southeast to 16 Avenue north.
Stage 1 is a $4.9 billion investment from all levels of government: Government of Canada ($1.64 billion), Government of Alberta ($1.7 billion), and the City of Calgary ($1.56 billion).
The Green Line LRT will create $2.2 billion in economic benefits and $2 billion in potential property value increase by 2040.
Construction and operation of stage 1 is estimated to create 20,000 direct and indirect jobs -- the largest job creation project in the city.
It’s a massive investment, no doubt. But public investment into public transportation also means environmental benefits Calgarians should be aware of as they make their transportation choices. Public transit can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in numerous ways (4). Of course, public transportation means less private vehicle use, avoiding emissions from private vehicles. Reduction of private vehicles on the road means less traffic congestion; which means less GHG emissions from idling vehicles. In fact a study done on Montreal’s public transit network showed a reduction of 836,000 tonnes of GHGs a year. And, from a city-planning perspective, public transportation creates new ways to manage land use, reducing the need for roadways leaving land for alternative uses. It often supports proximity to amenities and improved mobility for all city-dwellers. Public transportation enables developments such as transit-oriented developments (TOD) (5). TODs contribute to a high quality of life by creating vibrant, active and interesting neighbourhood centres where people and businesses thrive. They provide the opportunity for more people to live, work and shop within walking distance of public transit. And that means more citizens and visitors will have an easy, accessible and economical way of living and travelling in our city.
So how can Calgarians taking the Green Line LRT help our city fight climate change? According to work done by the City of Calgary in 2018, the full Green Line LRT will save up to 30,000 tons of GHG emissions per year, approximately 6,100 cars off the road, as it will be powered by 100% renewable electricity (6). And, in terms of energy efficiency, the Green Line LRT is about 58 times more energy efficient than private vehicle use on a per person basis (7). Taking the LRT becomes more energy efficient than private vehicles when only 18 people ride a 3-car train (8).
From a community and social perspective, the Green Line LRT can also reduce household and transportation costs through savings in insurance, maintenance, and fuel costs including avoiding paying the Alberta carbon tax (9). Not only that, but the Green Line connects six high priority TOD sites across Calgary meaning less reason to get in our cars to experience our vibrant neighbourhoods and their amenities. The Green Line LRT will be within walking distance of 31 parks, 22 schools, 20 seniors’ housing facilities, 16 cultural facilities, 15 recreation facilities, 6 post-secondary institutions, 3 libraries, and 7 community associations (10). And, almost 200,000 jobs will be within walking distance of Green Line stations.
How’s that for a few good reasons to take public transportation in Calgary? Increased ridership demonstrates the need for improved service and convenience. This leads to further investment in public transit and operational expenses to increase service levels -- a positive feedback loop. And as Calgary grows and matures into a world-class city, and as it strives to become the city of choice for the world’s best entrepreneurs solving the world’s toughest challenges, an efficient public transportation system is a key attractant for businesses and young professionals. Need we say more?