Majority of Calgarians support ‘alternative plan’ for transit expansion over Green Line: poll

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Majority of Calgarians in favour of ‘alternative plan’ for Green Line LRT: poll
Results from a new poll suggest that most Calgarians want to see the Green Line be built using an alternate alignment that would not cross the Bow River. Michael King has the details. – Jun 11, 2020

The results from a new poll suggest that most Calgarians want to see the city’s public transit system expanded, but that they also want it to look different than early proposals for the Green Line LRT project.

Six-hundred-three people responded to the poll, commissioned by an ad hoc group opposing the Green Line, which was conducted from May 14 to May 19, shortly after information on the LRT’s revised Segment 1 alignment was published online.

The Pollara poll, done through online panel interviews, has a margin of error of +/- 3.66 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Nearly all Calgary residents who responded (89 per cent) believe the city will be “hit harder than any other city in Canada” by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic impact. Mayor Naheed Nenshi has spoken about that in recent weeks. Fifty-one per cent of respondents said they strongly agree with Nenshi’s comments.

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Most of those polled also said they believe Calgary’s recovery will take about two years, rather than six months.

While a majority of the respondents (69 per cent) are in favour of expanding the LRT system through the new Green Line, after hearing about the costs of the expansion, only 51 per cent want to see it “proceed as planned.”

When then presented with the details of an alternative plan, 59 per cent of respondents said they would rather see the city pursue that option.

The poll then presented three options to the respondents: the alternative plan, the current plan and abandoning the transit expansion all together. Fifty-one per cent supported an alternative plan, 31 per cent were in favour of the current plan and 11 per cent said they’d like to see the city move on from the Green Line.

Lori Williams, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, said the poll shows that Calgarians continue to have concerns about the project.

“The imperfect compromise solutions that have been looked at this stage don’t seem to be satisfying anybody,” Williams said. “The benefits are just not clear enough or certain [enough for] people who really want to support it.”
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Williams said the numbers also suggest that Calgarians have not overwhelmingly bought into one vison for the Green Line.

“Lots of alternatives have been suggested and lots of opposition to those alternatives have been mounted,” Williams said. “Ultimately, this just doesn’t look like it’s the environment… to go north [of the Bow River while being] both cost effective and least disruptive in terms of commerce downtown.”

READ MORE: Green Line LRT: Calgary city councillors raise red flags over escalating costs

The alternative plan presented in the poll included reducing the length of the LRT line by three kilometres, abandoning the downtown to 16 Avenue N. section, and instead expanding the bus rapid transit infrastructure, avoid underground segments, use platform-loading cars, have a number of short construction segments as part of the shorter line to make contracting faster, and having the city establish a “risk reserve” to cushion Calgary taxpayers against cost overruns.

Ward 5 Councillor George Chahal has voted to move forward with the proposed alignment, connecting 16 Avenue to south Calgary.

Chahal said the data collected on the project should be enough to support the proposed plan.

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“The Green Line has been debated and reviewed for a number of years prior to my time at city council,” Chahal said. “[The city] has done an extensive review of all the routes and opportunities available, and a cost-benefit analysis from an external party. All that indicates that getting to 16 Avenue to Shepherd is the best route.”

Chahal said the report presented to the Green Line committee takes into account the long-term impacts of having a route that crosses the Bow River.

“Connecting 16 Avenue to Shepherd provides the most ridership long-term, and it does provide us the most operational efficiency,” Chahal said. “[It gives the city] the ability to connect the largest number of Calgarians and adds the ability to connect further north as funding becomes available in the future.”

Many of those changes were approved by the city’s Green Line committee on June 2, and the new alignment is due to be presented to city council as a whole on June 15.

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Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi blasts poll, saying it’s ‘not useful data’

Speaking to Global News Morning Calgary on Thursday, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he questioned where the money to conduct the poll came from and suggested it was a “push poll.”

“The best definition of a push poll is if I said to you … ‘Given that we now know that chocolate causes cancer, is your favourite flavour of ice cream vanilla or chocolate?’ And that’s basically what this was,” Nenshi said. “It’s the same as asking five random people on the street what they think of potholes that they’re standing in front of.

“It’s not useful data at all, and I don’t know why they wasted the money on it.

“We have been talking to a lot of Calgarians about the Green Line,” Nenshi added. “Certainly, people have made their voices heard. We had a huge public session at council, and the vast majority of people are saying ‘Don’t drop the ball’ and ‘Get this thing done.’”

–With files from Global News’ Michael King and Melissa Gilligan

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