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Training the Towers - or why even bother?

Sir and Madam,

I saw the various comments in the paper today and agree with the general sentiments expressed. I think a lot of people here are fed up with watching city council pander to questionable tower developments and then seeing our neighborhoods suffer as a result.

There simply is no need to harm our existing neighborhoods at all. The old airport has plenty of room if these developers want to create densely urbanized areas. Same with downtown. And even in those places, there is no need for 50 stories, let alone 80 or more. For the most part, having all buildings well under ten stories seems to work really well for most of the city. Then up to say 40 or so in the downtown core. Any more and we risk widespread slums and systemic development problems.

In fact, when developers do put huge, ugly and inappropriate towers in a low-rise and medium-rise neighborhoods, it is a form of theft. The people in these neighborhoods have created value by owning, maintaining and upgrading their homes. As have the owners of walk-ups and other medium density rentals and rowhouses. But when these tower people come along, they essentially steal this value from the nearby residents and monetize it for themselves. And we get vacant lots and a trail of broken mortgages in return.

And sure, the city can easily fiddle with bylaws and zoning to make this behavior legal. But we all know that people like Robert Mugabe have legalized rather horrible behavior in their jurisdictions. Just because something is legal, that doesn't necessarily make it right.

So, I think the city ought to make the these developers live up to their names and have them actually develop new and liveable neighborhoods as we need them. Which realistically means no ugly and excessively tall towers. And yes, we know they make tons more money on the towers. But the cost to society is truly unfair. It is the equivalent of allowing one company to dump raw sewage into the ocean while everyone else has to clean up theirs first.

To address this we could hit the tower developers with a 100% (or higher) land abuse tax. Or we could call it an overpopulation levy. Whatever we call it, we use the proceeds to reimburse the local residents being harmed. Or even better, lets just not let anyone build these things here in the first place. That's clearly the best solution.

And if the developers don't like it, who really cares? They can just pack up and leave. Won't hurt me at all, nor will it hurt anyone else here. Even the city government benefits since it has one less high-cost customer to deal with. (hint: fire your worst customer!)

And so in this light, the other worst customer here is that LRT system.

Yeah, I know, this article is about towers. But that LRT system is even worse than towers. The LRT is blatantly corrupt and is a clear menace to the public. Everybody knows perfectly well that we can move more people faster for a lot less money by using buses. And with buses we don't need to destroy our roads, parks, heritage areas and otherwise vibrant business corridors either.

By comparison to cars and roads, LRT train systems carry blight. Everything LRT's touch is harmed and they attract criminals and terrorists. And steel and concrete might well make for a cool futuristic looking apartment. I get that even though it's not to my taste. But steel and concrete transport corridors adorned with high voltage power lines overhead are a horror story when it's applied to something that is supposed to be a park or a traditional tree lined road.

So, please, please, please get rid of the LRT's.

And if you can't do that, then at minimum, put them all in tunnels so they can't hurt people here anymore. But a far better answer is to just shut them off. Then give the roads, parks and other land they occupy back to the public. We miss this land and we as a city need it far more in the form of roads, homes, businesses and parks.

I think that most, if not all people here would agree that it's clearly better to take land currently wasted on the LRTs and put it back into public hands. And nobody I know of likes or needs the current practice of having Bombardier occupy our land in the form of an ugly, dangerous, inefficient and hugely expensive transportation monopoly business.

Well, nobody likes it but Bombardier I suppose. Monopolists are the same everywhere apparently.

Besides the obscene costs involved, this LRT system is also a business that causes serious problems like traffic congestion, violent crime and dangerous sandbars just to name a few. It's really too bad. Bombardier says lots of smart people work there. I believe them. But on the other hand, why aren't they making self-driving electric buses?

And how many towers could be built on just one LRT line? Enough to house 100,000 people? Or 2 million? In a place like Hong Kong or Singapore it could be 10 million or more.

And even if it's all low rise, the land from just one LRT line is still probably enough for 10 years of this cities growth. And given current trends, if immigration ever slacked off for any reason, it's enough land to last forever actually. So lets do the right thing and get this city back on the road to the future. That road includes liveable neighborhoods, real open roads and lots of trees and parks.

And sure, let lowers be where towers need to be. Small ones. They can even look cool too if you want. As long as there's not too many and they're not too tall.

And a small subway does look good on TV or the YouTube ads even if it's basically a loss-leader just to get business to the convention center. So, not my first choices then, but ones I can live with as long as my taxes stop going up.

But these current overbearing surface LRT rail systems littered with tall towers in all the wrong places?

It's time to think about the impact of electric self-driving cars and buses instead. Plus net-centric intelligent traffic systems and distributed work centers like we already have in the form of industrial parks and other business centers not located in the core. Downtown continues to diminish as a work destination while at the same time it expands as a place to live. The end result is, or at least should be, less commuting and a better place to live and travel in.

So why build obsolete commuter rail systems that, besides interfering with traffic, we don't even need and they don't even really work anymore anyway? Nobody in their right mind bought a mainframe in the 1990's. And nobody in their right mind buys a rail-based commuter system today. At least not one in a place like Edmonton and in the form of the current LRT's.

Instead, imagine for example what the old NE line would be like if it were a road and not a railway. Would it be lined with trees, homes and businesses? Of course it would (providing it were zoned this way). So by now Edmonton would be host to yet another fully developed, very habitable and decent area to live, work and travel in.

But 40 years later, in reality it isn't even close to being habitable, let alone decent. In reality it's just another ugly, slow and dangerous railway corridor. So why does it even exist then? As a return-on-investment thing, it ranks right up there with slag heaps and tailing ponds.

At best, the return here is at rural/industrial levels, where, and no offence intended to industry or rural either, the rate is far lower than urban municipal land values would suggest for any business, let alone one as problematic and costly as a commuter rail corridor. And in reality it's even worse since commuter rail corridors all require heavy public subsidies just to exist.

So, forget that. Slag heaps, tailing ponds and even railways do have their place. But that place is a heavy industrial area, not on the surface of a modern city.

In the city, it's clearly far better to allow cars and buses free run on those corridors instead of clogging them with obsolete commuter trains. Even on the bus, the travel time from the 'burbs to downtown would probably be cut in half if the city allowed express buses to run the distance like they used to before all these trains showed up.

Plus, in the case of the NE line, as a road it will finally be able to flourish as a proper place to live and do business. This is a proven fact since basically all other roads here are already well known for their ability to do just that.

No rail system will ever reach this level no matter how hard the city infrastructure department and Bombardier wish for it. At best they support dingy rail slums kept in place by unfair zoning regulations. That's because, for good reason, nobody wants to live next to the tracks.

I certainly don't want to live anywhere near the tracks and nobody else I know does either. They are ugly, dangerous and in the way. And I own a car and can use a bus just fine. So, just like everybody else here, I don't need a railway either.

And in the case of the old NE line, even with a new station it's still a giant fail. A new station just adds time to the commute from the 'burbs so even more people will abandon it. Rather than waste time on the train, they will drive, work from home or move downtown and just walk to work. It's not like there are no choices here.

And I know, the train does look sort of busy at rush hour. But really, how many busloads is that? Even 50 buses is still far, far better to have on a road that includes cars, trucks and people. Especially on a road that is also lined with homes, trees and businesses. So, to dedicate the entire corridor to trains that run empty and infrequently most of the rest of the time is, well let's just say it's suboptimal this time since I'm getting tired of saying it's stupid all the other times I bring this up.

So lets get real here: No towers and no LRT. And yes to nice homes and yes to good roads. And a double yes to undeveloped and natural river valley parks as well as fully developed places like Whyte Ave and our shared, tree lined roads that can carry express buses along with the cars and trucks. These are the things that make the city worth living in. Surface LRT's and inappropriate tower developments on the other hand, make the city well worth leaving.

Italics are like Italian, except here they are in English and are printed at an angle.

If you oppose the train you can complain to the mayor or your councillor here: City of Edmonton Website
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