Edmonton vs. Kassel: Public Transit

A view of the city above the fountains of Wilhemshöhe

Now this is a doozy. Not only because it's a huge topic, but also because public transit in Edmonton is a very hot-button issue. LRT (light rail transit, similar to a subway or tram line) vs bus vs car tyranny - it's all been hotly debated for years, and will likely continue to be as people are still deeply polarized on this issue.

So how does Edmonton's current LRT system compare to other cities around the world, specifically Kassel? I've been to Paris, Rome, Frankfurt, Kassel, Berlin, and Hannover, and used their LRT-esque systems, some more extensively than others, and they have one thing in common - they're better than the LRT. More lines, more frequent schedules, cheaper fare, nicer trains, etc. etc. Edmonton has a metro population of 1,034,945. So how is it that Kassel, a city with a metro population of ~450,000, has a transit system that puts Edmonton's to shame, at least in terms of rapid transit? The picture to the right is one of the views from my tram ride home, so similar to Alberta, it's eerie.

Kassel is one of the more principal cities in the region. However, unlike Edmonton, Kassel isn't the capital of the state of Hesse. Frankfurt is. Frankfurt, with a metro population of over 5 million. Therefore, it doesn't necessarily have increased funding to account for the transit system. Instead, the difference may lie in the planning of the two cities.

Edmonton as established as a town in the early 1890's, a city in the early 1900's, and has since grown outward from what is now the downtown. Kassel is about 1000 years old, but took serious damage from WWII bombing - about 90% of the city was lost. In the 1950's, town planners decided to build on a new plan instead of keeping the old system. Ring roads were introduced, and led to the sort of sprawl that can be seen today, where neighbouring towns are so close by that you can hardly tell the difference. This was the case in the town where I stayed, Kaufungen. Driving south on the main road from Kassel, a little yellow sign under an overpass let's you know that you're in Kaufungen, which is comparable to Edmonton's Sherwood Park in appearance and general feel of the place.

Incorporated into the new planning of Kassel was the establishment of roads that were wide enough to serve the already-established trams (light rail trolleys). This system has remained over time to expand to townships just outside of the city, as well as regional expresses that have an even further reach. I found this out when I missed my tram stop and ended up on a 10 minute tram ride through the country side, eventually ending up in the town of Hesse and the end of the line.

There has to be a demand for this kind of supply. Every five years, Kassel hosts the documenta, a world renowned exhibition of contemporary, modern, and installation art. This, coupled with industries inside the city and it's university campuses, is enough to maintain its transit system, which is home to 9 tram lines and 28 bus lines, all of which have regular schedules, including night buses on weekend nights that run until just past 2 am. The picture to the left is a crap picture of just one of the many stations throughout Kassel that support many different tram and bus lines. The tram lines are also highly innovative by incorporating the tracks that serve regional trains to better serve the surrounding area without using more land for these lines.

Edmonton on the other hand, boasts similar festivals, industries, and institutions, if not more. We're the Festival City, with more than 30 annual festivals. We're home to three major educational institutions as well as others, often with satellite campuses throughout the city. Yet our transit system often draws the ire of citizens, who curse the lack of rapid transit to key areas, yet at the same time dismiss some proposals for expansion. In my own opinion, a lot of it is due to the typical Not In My Backyard, or NIMBY, approach. This shouldn't be news to a lot of long-term Edmontonians. A lot of it is cautious - cautious of changing economic outlooks, safety concerns, and aesthetic reasons. And some of it is warranted. But only some, and to quote Admiral Adama of Battlestar Galactica, sometimes you have to roll a hard six.

This is just food for thought, but from someone who has had both, I'd rather go back for seconds in Kassel, where I took the number 4 tram from Oberkaufungen Mitte, rode it for twenty minutes until Am Stern, and got off to go to school. It didn't stop there though, I was able to go throughout the city just by connecting the lines, and almost always started from Königsplatz, which became the meeting place for everyone and the butt of a few jokes. This is more than I can say for the often dull transit stations of Edmonton.

An impromptu photo op of me (center) and my geocaching group at Wilhemshöhe Bergpark's (mountain park) train station, one of the city's most popular attractions.

All photos are mine, MINE! Just ask permission, peeps, otherwise I go Gollum on yer butt.


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