Angry southwest residents who don't want bus rapid transit in their communities again accused city officials of ramming it through with little consultation during another public meeting Tuesday night.
Numerous visibly agitated Calgarians came out to the meeting in Woodbine to tell city officials what they think about the southwest transitway project, which has been in the works since 2010, when council held consultation sessions on the initial plans.
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The project has since been discussed repeatedly at city council, covered in the local news, approved as part of the city budget, and awarded $26.7 million in funding from the provincial government, but numerous area residents continue to say the city failed to adequately inform them about what's going on.
"We were not engaged properly whatsoever," said Don Hughes. "The city is trampling this through."
Hughes said he only heard about the southwest transitway in late December and has been following the project closely ever since, because he believes the plan makes no sense for the area.
"It has no purpose but to jam up the roads entirely," he said. "So, what else can I say? It's ridiculous."
City officials emphasized that the addition of bus-only lanes to a section of 14th Street S.W. will not result in the removal of any existing traffic lanes, although many area residents have said they are still worried about the car lanes becoming narrower.
Tom Spenceley said city officials didn't advertise the earlier engagement sessions well enough and once he got a look at the plans he had serious concerns over a lack of parking for people who want to drive to rapid-transit stations and catch the bus.
"The response is from the city that all people are expected to use the nature trails and the pathway systems to get there," Spenceley said.
"So what have you done? You've just eliminated half the planet from ever getting on that bus, because no woman – self-respecting or otherwise – is going to get on a nature trail to go to a bus."
City transportation spokesman Sean Somers, who at one point during the meeting was yelled and sworn at by an older man who said people along the southwest route won't use public transit because they can afford to drive Mercedes-Benz vehicles, acknowledged the mood of the crowd was, at times, hostile.
But, in his view, Somers described the overall response from citizens as "pretty balanced."
"Obviously there's been some very upset and very vocal folks that have expressed their opinions, some more loudly than others and some other folks have been very appreciative and actually very supportive of what we're doing," he said.
Somers added that numerous people he spoke with had their worries allayed when city officials answered their questions.
"Some of the concerns are unfounded and based on misinformation, quite frankly," he said.
Part of larger network
Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart noted the southwest transitway is one of six rapid-transit routes that have been planned for years to create a grid system that will run throughout the city.
The system, which has already been approved by council, will provide rapid transit options at a fraction of the price of new LRT lines, she added.
Despite the extensive discussion that has already occurred, Colley-Urquhart said she understands why many people are upset about the transitway project now.
"It doesn't mean, though, that people would pay attention to that necessarily, right?" she said.
"So when they start seeing all these big plans and they feel they haven't been consulted, we have to keep talking to people to get their feedback."
Some tweaks to the final designs might be possible but Colley-Urquhart said some initial construction is set to begin later this year.
Somers said the project is expected to be complete by the end of 2018.
Additional public meetings cancelled
The city planned to hold five more public information sessions on the southwest transitway in March but Mayor Naheed Nenshi announced Wednesday afternoon those would be cancelled due to verbal assaults and death threats against city staff at the meeting on Tuesday night.
The meetings had been scheduled for:
- March 8: 5 p.m. – 8 p.m., Southland Leisure Centre, 2000 Southland Drive S.W.
- March 15: 5 p.m. – 8 p.m., Carriage House Inn, 9030 Macleod Trail South
- March 16: 7 p.m. – 9 p.m., Lakeview Community Association Hall, 6110 34 Street S.W.
- March 23: 5 p.m. – 8 p.m., Clearwater Academy, 2521 Dieppe Avenue S.W.
- March 24: 7 p.m. - 9 p.m., North Glenmore Park Community Hall, 2231 Longridge Drive S.W.
Nenshi said city staff will continue to engage with citizens online.
Below is a map the city created of the planned route and an executive summary of a functional study of the project, which also includes a map on page 4: