Wards 13 and 14 and school board races profiled
Opponents see parking problem in the making
The hotly debated southwest BRT, which will ultimately see its terminus in Ward 13, has become one of the key issues facing would-be councillors in a crowded race to take down a long-time incumbent.
It’s been a rocky road for the proposed 22-kilometre transitway that will connect the downtown core to southwest communities and key institutions like Mount Royal University and Rockyview Hospital, before hitting the end of the line in the quiet, tree-lined neighbourhood of Woodbine.
For Scott Eden, president of the Woodcreek Community Association, the $208-million project has residents in the mature community alarmed over a feared influx of commuters, who could park their vehicles in Woodbine to take advantage of the transitway.
“I think the question of whether this is something the community wants or needs has never been fully answered,” said Eden, who noted the city’s consultation with the community often felt more like an edict. “There’s a big concern that the community could easily become a parking lot.”
The proposed terminus for the southwest BRT would be right on the edge of Fish Creek Park at 24 Street and Woodpark Boulevard S.W., which has some in the community concerned the already popular destination will become saturated.
For 17 years, Diane Colley-Urquhart has represented Ward 13. In Monday night’s vote, she will face a crowded field of six challengers that includes a former Alberta MLA, a former leadership runnerup for the Wildrose Party, and another who had previously run for mayor of Lethbridge.
The veteran councillor said city administration hasn’t demonstrated the need for the project, particularly with the city facing a $170 million budget shortfall when a new council reconvenes to set its four-year budget.
“First and foremost the southwest BRT needs to be put on ice with a new council,” she said. “There is no justification at all for this project to proceed until the new community of Providence is built out.”
Colley-Urquhart isn’t alone among Ward 13 candidates expressing concerns about the plan. Once a two-term MLA with the former Progressive Conservative Party, Art Johnston is taking a second stab at a municipal office after losing a Ward 12 race in 2001, and has his own concerns over the possibly impact of the southwest BRT.
“When you look at the disruption and the cost, (residents) just don’t feel that the ridership is there to justify it right now. And I agree,” he said.
In 2009, Mark Dyrholm was runner-up to Danielle Smith for leadership of the Wildrose Party and is now hoping for a career in municipal politics.
He noted that because the southwest portion of Calgary’s ring road is well underway, it will provide transit relief needed for southwest communities and that should be enough to scuttle the transitway for now.
“We need to stop the BRT for now. Once the ring road is in place, there might be a different strategy that works better,” said Dyrholm, a chiropractic doctor.
Adam Frisch, who has previously challenged Colley-Urquhart for the Ward 13 seat, said the BRT plan remains flawed, and needs to go back to the drawing board.
The longtime community volunteer wants to see it put on hold until the ring road is completed and a new traffic study can be conducted.
“Obviously, this plan has not been to everyone’s satisfaction, otherwise it still wouldn’t be such a concern,” he said.
“One of the solutions touted for a while is just to have residential parking permits for Woodbine, but that becomes more administrative and then we’re just adding to the cost.”
But the transit line has a solid corps of defenders in the race as well.
Adam Boechler previously served two terms as vice-president external for the Mount Royal University Community Association and believes there’s a significant need to provide mass transit not only to the school, but to suburban commuters as well.
“I’m in favour of the BRT. I know students are thirsty to see some high-volume transit option to get to the university,” he said. “And when you look at Woodbine, it’s a big black hole on the transit service map.”
Kay Adeniyi, a Nigerian immigrant who works as a water technician, agrees that there is a need for better transit connections into southwest neighbourhoods.
“Ridership of public transit in Calgary is lower than before, so we need to look at the system itself to see if it needs additional or different routes,” said Adeniyi, who lost his bid for mayor of Lethbridge as a university student in 2010. “To me. the BRT sounds like a great idea.”
For Sherrisa Celis, a seniors’ advocate, there could be a significant benefit of the BRT to members of the community desperate for better transit access.
“I believe it will be more advantageous to the communities,” she said. “We have to think about students and those who go downtown and can’t afford parking. It will make it easier to commute, and access to the hospital will be important as well.”
Scott Eden, president of the Woodcreek Community Association, says there has been inadequate consultation on the BRT.