Friday, October 25, 2013

The LRT conga line

My company is very generous in terms of a parking allowance. That means most days we drive to and from work, and are mostly spared the horrors of public transit. Given that we are too cheap to buy a second car for the rare occasions we might use it, we take a small part of the 8 to 10K a second car would cost, and apply that to transit, Car2Go, or a cab. All of which have their shortcomings, but their big advantage is they are much, MUCH cheaper than a second car.

The only flaw with Car2Go is that we don't live in the Home Zone. Not even close. That limits our usage. It's otherwise a very cool thing.

Cabs. Well, this rant is about LRT, not cabs. I'll just mention I had one cab driver drive into a guardrail, and another that had me in more fear of losing my life or being maimed than just about anything I'd ever got into on my own.

Every now and then we have to make adjustments to life with one car. Sometimes it means going places sooner or later, or doing some careful planning to make it work. It isn't a big deal. Today it involved me being dropped off at an LRT station to go to work.

Maybe I picked the wrong car, but there are probably quieter tuberculosis wards. Several people were  hacking and coughing, and breathing in a rattling way that had me wondering just how much longer they might last. Then there was the cigar smoker across the aisle. Oh, not smoking, just stinking. Some kind of construction laborer that hadn't washed either himself or his clothes in a while was nearby. The guy with rancid Old Spice aftershave. At least there were no belligerent drunks.

I was wondering if I could get away with tucking my face inside my coat. When I got to the office I wanted to bathe in hand sanitizer, but there wasn't enough, and I didn't have any Q-Tips to swab the inside of my nose and mouth anyways. As you might imagine I was not looking forward to the return trip.

It wasn't so bad, although I was heartily sick of the automated announcements about letting the doors close. I say install a knife edge and more powerful motors on the closing mechanism. SNICK! When the train is crowded there is sometimes this neat conga line that forms. People nearest the doors get off the train, and often hold the doors to make sure they don't shut. Then a line of people that want out squirm past everyone else. Then another line forms for those who had temporarily got off the train to get back on it again, followed by new passengers.

It all works quite well, as long as the people involved understand the rules. It's hardly complicated. Even oblivious to the world schoolchildren and their bigger packs have mastered it. All it takes is one little old woman to bung up the whole works. She stood so that anyone trying to get the door buttons was at risk of being accused of groping her. Then she wouldn't move. As people further from the doors realize nothing is moving, they try to push past the other people, assuming they don't want out. Except many of them do. She is hanging onto the centre pole, and a big fat guy is standing right beside her blocking things even further. I made a point of stepping on his toes, and never have I wished more that I was wearing stiletto heels.

For a wonder the bus that is always late was there waiting. I'm hustling through the station as fast as my back will let me go because the bus drivers have a nasty habit of leaving just as the people from the train leave the station doors. The next bus is a long time, but at least it's a nice day today. That isn't always the case.

The bus was no worse than usual, other than a small group of people yelling at each other in not-English. For all I know they were discussing poetry, but it sounded like a fight was about to happen. It's usually pretty close to an hour to get from my office to the house. Driving is much quicker, except that I have to pay attention to traffic, and hope some idiot driver doesn't mess it up for the rest of us any worse than usual.

I feel for the people that have to do everything by public transit. Calgary is a city for cars. Transit only really works if you're commuting to downtown during rush hour from somewhere near an LRT line. Your life will be hell if you have to take a bus to a train, change trains to the other line, and take a bus again. When I worked at Skystone I once looked up how I'd make the trip by transit. Their office was in that little triangular commercial area north of Deerfoot mall. As near as I could tell it couldn't happen in less than 2 hours, and was more likely to take 2.5 hours, one way.

And that's under "normal" circumstances. All too often there delays. Even with the lights, the barriers, the lowering arms, the bells, and the noise and sight of the train itself, people manage to collide with the train. I put it that way because the train doesn't go skulking down the sidewalks looking to run over the unwary. It runs on tracks, and any number of people have worked very hard trying to keep the stupid out of it's way. To be honest, if you're stupid enough to end up underneath the train, I have no sympathy for you. I feel for the driver who probably saw it happening and couldn't do anything about it. I feel for the people that have to clean up after you. I feel for the thousands and thousands of commuters that have their schedules messed up.

I once saw a video of a big public square with a tram line running through it. There were no warning anythings. Cars, motor and pedal bikes, people, and the train all seemed to happily, or at least cooperatively, share the space. Why can't that work here?

Lastly, why does the train have to sit at a red light downtown during rush hour? There are about 600 people on a full train. There is no way 600 people are going through the intersection in cars. The driver should have a mechanism that over rides the lights so that when the train is ready to go, the light is green. The limit to how many cars can be on the track at once is the downtown bottle-neck, since both LRT lines share the same tracks downtown. Getting green lights for the LRT would keep the trains moving faster.

I was sure glad to get home to smell duck roasting in the oven, and a bottle of wine calling my name from the basement.


  1. I need to work at your company to get a parking allowance! For the first time in our relationship, J and I work within 3 blocks of one another, yet we can't commute together. I start work too early to drop A off at the dayhome and J often has to drive around the city so he's not done work at a regular time. It sucks, especially since I have to take the train. The train itself isn't awful but I dislike the drive to and from the train, and fighting for a parking spot.
    I appreciate the train far more in the winter when the roads are horrid.
    I wish we could be a 1 car household but I'm pretty sure that will never happen, even if we moved downtown.

    1. When I say my company, I actually mean mine, not where I work. Are you still in the tall building that replaced Penny Lane? Place Eight or whatever it's called? Pity about the not commuting together. During winter, I'm not sure what's worse, the other drivers, or the various issues with the train. If one knew in advance which was going to be a problem life would be much better. Lately the Twitter traffic info hasn't been all that good.


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