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Work to begin on the foundation for Calgary’s 52 Street SE BRT conversion

It’s one of Calgary’s longest stretches of roadway and it’s about to get some upgrades.

No. It’s not Deerfoot.

It serves as many as 53,000 cars daily in one southern section. In the far northeast, there’s a stretch that sees 43,000 vehicles daily. Growth along this route has pushed daily traffic numbers up roughly 100 per cent since 2005.

It’s 52 Street.

It starts just south of Seton Blvd SE and spans nearly 25 kilometres to the north where it turns into Falconridge Boulevard in the northeast. You could technically include that part to where it ends in Saddle Ridge. There are roughly 32 intersections along the roadway.

Right now, 52 Street is serviced by Calgary Transit Route 23. It goes from McKenzie Towne to Saddle Ridge. It’s a route that according to a July 2020 report had consistent ridership, despite the rest of the city seeing a massive drop in transit use during COVID-19.

On Dec. 4, the City of Calgary received provincial funding for several COVID-19 stimulus projects. One of those projects was upgrades to 52 Street to begin laying the groundwork for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

The entire project budget is $14.3 million, with roughly $2 million of that picked up by Calgary developers. The remaining portion is covered by the Alberta government.

“We don’t have a color name for it yet, but the 52nd Street East MAX line will be an extraordinary help for people who live and work in East Calgary,” Mayor Nenshi said on the day of the announcement.

Review and design work upcoming

According to City of Calgary transportation spokesperson Michael Cox, they’ll be looking at 15 to 20 of the intersections along the route.

“At those intersections, we’re going to look at the analysis and traffic patterns to determine which ones could benefit most from transit signal priority, or potentially from queue jumps,” Cox said.

Signal priority gives Calgary Transit buses the ability to travel through and clear an intersection ahead of waiting traffic.  Queue jumps are partial dedicated lanes that allow buses to gain the priority.

They’ll also widen 52 Street between 130 Avenue and McKenzie Towne Avenue SE to make way for bus only lanes. That’s the area where 52 Street can see between 30,000 and 50,000 cars daily.

Cox was clear that this would provide additional space and efficiency for Route 23 for now. An entirely new route wasn’t going to service the area.

The analysis work is underway with the intention of beginning the work in early spring. To qualify for the COVID-19 funding, the work had to be complete in 2021. It’s expected completion is the fall.

The actual full BRT sits between the City of Calgary’s short term and medium-term timeline. Enhanced bus service comes in at 1.3 million population. Medium-term is at 1.5 million population.


Big employment centres

Ward 12 Coun. Shane Keating said the work will start taking congestion pressure off southeast Calgary commuters.  Keating said along 52 Street E are major employment corridors and it’s a vital route for bus passengers. The southeast – particularly Quarry Park – is the number two area of employment in Calgary, he said.  

“I think anytime we improve public transit in the southeast, you’re going to alleviate some congestion on the roads,” Keating told LiveWire Calgary.

While it may take some cars off the road, Keating said Calgarians should be mindful that the nature of a BRT without fully dedicated lanes means it’s still subject to the whims of traffic along the corridor.

Right now, like other MAX lines (Orange and Teal) this work will create a series of signal priority and queue jumps, said Cox. The funding allows them to get the infrastructure in place today, laying the groundwork for future upgrades.

Keating said the additional of a more complete BRT line, along with Deerfoot upgrades and the eventual construction of the Green Line, create myriad transportation options for Calgarians.

“You’re allowing those who don’t have to take a car to take transit in a reasonable manner,” he said.