During my recent trip to NYC, I began to compare and contrast our beloved "C-Train" with the New York Metro Subway system. While the two cities have completely different population bases, the square foot imprints of Calgary and New York are very similar in size.
After 30 years of watching TV/Movies about NYC, I had a certain negative image of the subway system ( and the whole city itself...) and figured it would be a crime ridden, rat infested, graffiti strewn sewer! To my surprise, the stereotype could not have been any further than the truth! I found the system to be relatively clean and extremely safe. In fact, I never once felt uneasy on the platforms in New York, which cannot always be said in on certain platforms in downtown Calgary at night!
I was also amazed at the ease in which the subway can be used, and how convenient it really is. I found you can pretty much get anywhere in the City quickly, at any time of day. I was also amazed that they system can handle a rush 60,000+ people following a Yankees game and a Paul McCartney concert we attended. ( Try that after a Stamps games C-train!) The trains appeared to come every 5 minutes and the system covers the entire city....unlike Calgary.
Looking back 100 years ago, Calgary had 27 KM of streetcar tracks, with a City population of only 30,000. ( Smaller than Airdrie...) The streetcars went to then far reaching outposts such as Ogden, Bowness and Forest Lawn. I was impressed when I read this, as this must have been pretty progressive for 1909! A quick math scan will show that there where 1,111 people/km of track back then.
Move ahead 100 years ( and about 500 sq.km & 1.1MM more people) and lets look at the current Calgary Transit System. We now have 41 Km of C-Train track for a city of 1.1MM people. ( Hmmm...27KM of Street Car in 1909, 41KM of LRT in 2009?) This looks like almost 27,000 people/km of track. It doesn't seem like much of an improvement to me.
With the City of Calgary's 40 year+ restrictive land use policies on adding Downtown Parking space additions, it would appear that they want more people to use public transit. I believe that most people do not use the C-Train system as it is not convenient for most citizens ( unless you work Downtown) as it is too narrow in its service area. I know that the City is moving ahead with its West Leg line, but I think that until the city is entirely serviced ( eg. SouthEast Line and North Central Leg.) most commuters will not give up their cars.
Its a shame to think that in 1909, New York City had the technology and foresight to build and complete an extensive subway transit system, yet modern Calgary cannot even get a solid transit plan together for the next 20-30 years. I bet it was easier and quicker to get to Bowness or Ogden from Downtown 100 years ago than it is today.