The Evolution of Audio Announcements- The Captive Transit User Series Part 7

By: Giselle General

This is part of an ongoing series of posts discussion issues I personally encounter while taking public transit in Edmonton. Links to other posts will be added on an ongoing basis:

What is a Captive Transit User? I learned about the term for the first time from the City of Edmonton’s website. The easy definition is: someone who takes public transit because it’s the best (or only available) option for them to travel around. The part about feeling ‘captive’ comes from the restriction that sometimes comes up, perhaps because one is too poor to own and maintain a vehicle, one does not know how to drive, or for medical reasons, cannot operate a vehicle. In many ways, I relate to this a lot. Though I’m pretty fortunate to afford the occasional taxi ride, and with my husband having a car.

“A hundred and eleven street, a hundred and second Avenue…A hundred and twelve street, a hundred and second Avenue… A hundred and thirteen street, a hundred and second Avenue.”

These lady robot announcements weren’t always a part of one’s commute taking the bus here in Edmonton. The first time I started hearing them, I think it’s about 2012 or so, I can’t help but giggle while taking the bus because the voice just sounds monotonous and a bit silly. My brother (who was new to Edmonton at the time) and I would poke fun at the robot voice sometimes. But the more I hear these announcements, the more I appreciate its benefit when taking transit in Edmonton.

When I first came to Edmonton in 2008, I used a print map of ETS to get around. I have both the city-wide map to help me understand the different routes available, and the the route-specific maps as well. I needed to be familiar with the route number 4, 106, 150, 111, 112, 100, 119, 136 and the LRT so I can to go school, work, hang out with friends and do other activities. I still had a flip phone during those early years and Google Maps is not as good as it is now.

A public transit bus rapidly passing through.

I tried very hard to make sure I get off the right bus stop, but in the winter, when it is dark and the windows are frosted it can be tough to look out by the window and keep track. If you end up missing your stop by a few blocks, walking a few extra minutes late at night and in the winter is not something I – or anyone – look forward to.

I also realized that the audio announcements help people with disabilities! I remember reading a quote from a news article from a person who is blind, who said that the automated announcements of the next bus stops are really useful. I bet that for people who are also new to Edmonton, it’s handy as well.

Screenshot of Google Maps showing walking and bus directions in Edmonton.

When I visited New York City last year, a city where sure, there are numbers in the street names, but the system is so different, hearing the audio announcements of the upcoming bus stops, while looking at the app on my phone, helped me navigate around really easily.

But then, we all know that technology is not perfect. When I lived on the further west side of the city, taking the 136 bus, one of the words that is in several street names kept on being mispronounced. For some reason, ‘Potter” became “Potters” and the word next to it loses the letter S at the end. So, Potter Greens Drive sounded like Potters Green Drive. The city’s app for reporting different city issues also wasn’t perfect – there wasn’t an option to report operating issues specific to buses at the time. But I did my best to report it anyways. I really hope it’s been fixed.

At least twice a week, there seems to be technical issues with the LRT announcements when it is supposed to indicate the next station. Either the next station announced is a few stations off, or the announcements were in reverse order. Luckily, now there is an option in the City’s app to report issues about transit vehicle operations.

Selfie of woman outside in winter, wearing a knitted winter hat and most of her face covered in a light blue scarf

LRT stations have additional types of announcements as well which is handy. Particularly right now during the pandemic, there are audio reminders that masks are mandatory. Back in early 2020, both the above-ground and underground LRT stations started to give passengers a heads up that bus transit fares are increasing in the near future.

Overall, audio announcements has been a handy feature for all users of our transit system. I hope that it continues to have the proper resources to maintain and update its functionality so that it works most – if not – all of the time.

Edmonton Experience Story: Coliseum Open House Before Closing

By: Giselle General

On December 17, 2017, my partner (now husband) and I decided to take the one last opportunity to tour the Coliseum before it was officially closed down. This is a summary of the tour, including some observations of the area and new things I have learned.

My partner is a born-and-raised Edmontonian, while I moved here when I went to university. That being said, I had a chance to go to the Coliseum a few times. First, for an Oilers game with my partner, then for a few concerts, and also another time for an Oil Kings game, during one of the nights when there was a Teddy Bear Toss.

We went there by taking public transit, which was lovely because it gave my partner greater flexibility. Also from our memory, parking in Northlands is expensive. As the years went by, traveling around by transit is a part of our date that we enjoy, since the buses and LRT vehicles are almost empty and we cozy up in our seat.

A "Points of Interest" map of the Edmonton Coliseum.

When we went to the Farewell Weekend tour, it was pretty quiet. I wonder if it is because it was the last day, or because it was pretty chilly.

The map was a useful guide to particular points of interest, and upon visiting those places, there were signs that explained the function of the area and some interesting historical or sports-related facts. Many places that are not publicly available is available for viewing this time around, such as the locker rooms and bathrooms for the athletes, the media room, fancy suites on the top floor, with a lobby that looked like a hotel.

We both forgot about the open skating opportunity, so instead, we went to the frown row, Corey sat in the penalty box, and asked me to take a photo of him pretending to be upset for being sent to the box. We spent a some time watching people skate around, while enjoying the soda and nachos we bought from the only concession stall that was open.

The skating rink of the Edmonton Coliseum, veiwpoint from the bleachers.

Afterwards, we decided to take the LRT to go to downtown instead of going home right away. At Churchill station we saw a woman painting a mural on the concourse of the LRT station. It was incredible, with patterns of what seemed to be a woman, lots of red birds, and a village and various scenery of a community. I started from a distance when he nudged me to say hello to the artist and chat about the mural. I felt shy at first but my husband reassured me that the artist might actually appreciate the chat. And he was right. I told the artist that she outline seems really interesting, that the elements she’s painted so far look incredible, and inquired her on what the painting is about. She told me that it is part of an initiative called Paint The Rails, which now had resulted to several paintings across different city’s LRT stations.

As we were already in downtown, we decided to stop by the Farmer’s Market and we arrived just in time to see the different shops close down. It’s nice to see the different types of businesses that were there, and we took some photos in front of the nice decoration that were set up in the interior of the City Hall building.

Afterwards we decided to visit the funicular for the first time, which is just a few block away by the Hotel MacDonald. We thought it was really neat and the lookout point at the bottom was great! I remember that one of the benefits of the funicular is for people with mobility aids to have a chance to see our beautiful river valley more closely. Using it ourselves made us realize and appreciate that goal.

After that we decided to head on home. As the Coliseum was accessible by transit and our detour in downtown Edmonton was also accessible by transit, we continued to use transit to head home. It was a lovely weekend date in the winter that we continued to cherish.

“I Think I’ll Walk Instead”: The Captive Transit User Series Part 5

Woman wearing an orange fabric mask with plastic windown showing her smile, and wearing a straw floppy hat.

This is part of an ongoing series of posts discussion issues I personally encounter while taking public transit in Edmonton. Links to other posts will be added on an ongoing basis:

What is a Captive Transit User? I learned about the term for the first time from the City of Edmonton’s website. The easy definition is: someone who takes public transit because it’s the best (or only available) option for them to travel around. The part about feeling ‘captive’ comes from the restriction that sometimes comes up, perhaps because one is too poor to own and maintain a vehicle, one does not know how to drive, or for medical reasons, cannot operate a vehicle. In many ways, I relate to this a lot. Though I’m pretty fortunate to afford the occasional taxi ride, and with my husband having a car.

Time is money, and time is finite. At the same time, health is wealth. These are the different ideas I wrestle with whenever I think about how to travel to a location, as someone who cannot drive.

My family doctor’s clinic is located in a place that is accessible by public transit. At the same time, I’m aware of how long it takes to go there by walking. I’m very apprehensive about taking the bus right now because at this point in time, wearing masks is not mandatory, it is simply ‘highly recommended‘. I think, it is part of human nature, that if we can get away with NOT doing something, even if it is a small inconvenience, many of us tend not to do it. So what I did is walk the 45 minutes to get there and back. As the posters say, travel only when it’s essential. Might as well follow the advice.

Edmonton Transit Service Poster: COVID19 Update: Travel only if it's essentaial.

I’ve gotten so far as evaluating whether I’ll be capable or brave enough to consider biking to downtown. As I’m short and have a mediocre health levels, I always add 20% to the travel time that Google Maps recommend. If riding a bike takes 35 minutes, then for me it will be close to an hour, which is not bad. Is it worth the switch? But I think about my coworker who cycled to work who got hit by a car last December and was really badly hurt. That scares the daylights out of me. I don’t think I want another permanent dent on my skull. Falling of a mountain cliff and fracturing my skull once in my life is enough, thank you very much.

I heard perspectives that there will be frequent transit users that the system will lose due to COVID19. Unless the policy changes, I am one of them. Through my volunteering with the citizen-based volunteer government advisory board, the Edmonton Transit Service Advisory Board, I expressed my thoughts as clearly as I can. The chair of our board sent an official message to the councilors about the matter. While the outcome is not what we hoped for, there is some comfort in knowing that we made deliberate effort working with the government system in place.

White LRT vehicle on an outdoor train station platform.

In addition to the health-related aspect of wearing a mask, there is a safety component that I need to be more conscious about. As a woman, an Asian woman who visibly looks like one, I am aware of the additional hostility that Asian people are subjected to due to the pandemic. Comments such as “you bring coronavirus in Canada!” or “you’re a dumb sheep for wearing that mask”, can be hurtful, and potentially dangerous if the person saying them is being physically aggressive. That is the reality of sexism, racism and just overall xenophobia. One can argue that it is internalized victim-blaming, but there is merit in doing some preventative measures to stay safe. If I get hurt or killed by a racist, sexist person, I won’t get to continue my goals of living a positive life for myself and the people around me.

So this is where I am. Until mask wearing is more normalized, I will likely steer away from taking transit as much as I can. I might even take an Uber more frequently, given their firm policy of ‘No Mask. No Ride’. It will be interesting to see how transit policy changes in preparation for the upcoming school year.

“I’ll Make it on Time, I Think?” The Captive Transit User Series: Part 3

This is part of an ongoing series of posts discussion issues I personally encounter while taking public transit in Edmonton. Links to other posts will be added on an ongoing basis:

What is a Captive Transit User? I learned about the term for the first time from the City of Edmonton’s website. The easy definition is: someone who takes public transit because it’s the best (or only available) option for them to travel around. The part about feeling ‘captive’ comes from the restriction that sometimes comes up, perhaps because one is too poor to own and maintain a vehicle, one does not know how to drive, or for medical reasons, cannot operate a vehicle. In many ways, I relate to this a lot. Though I’m pretty fortunate to afford the occasional taxi ride, and with my husband having a car.

Volunteering and attending events take me to many parts of the city. Whenever people I chat with ask how I got there, and I say “public transit”, there’s a short flash of sympathy on their faces, followed by a slight grimace. One of the reasons is because they know and I know, how much time it takes to get around.

Taking transit, or at least using this method to get around, should never replace a car in terms of speed. I think that’s mindset flaw that many people have, particularly those who drive.

But I am not going to deny the fact that it does take a lot of time to get around places, while being optimistic that the connections that a transit user has to take actually work. Given the realities of travel, traffic, construction, and winter conditions cause a lot of delay. Missing connections cause stress and can discourage people from using public transit, or worse, grudgingly use it day in and day out, while making plans to get out of ‘feeling trapped’ as soon as possible, which is in the form of getting a car.

Frequency and convenience are two important factors that influence the appeal of taking transit.

Honestly, this is why I have mixed feelings with the Bus Network Redesign on a personal level.

First, the very micro-thinking, self-focused, part of me laments that I will lose the frequent bus stop that’s just a few steps away from my house. It’s so close, I shovel snow off the bus shelter during the winter, haha! I mean, the bus stop will not be removed altogether, it will be replaced by a less frequent, local bus route. The frequent major route is a 13 minute walk away.

Second, the solution-focused part of me is curious on how I would adjust to a 7 minute walk eastward, or a 13-minute walk northward to one of the several new, frequent bus routes. The 13- minute walk northward is a more familiar setup for me since I have done the same route on the weekends when taking certain buses. The idea of hopping on a bus that comes every 8 minutes is quite appealing. And since I’m an office worker who sits on my bottom most of the day, I suppose that a walk is actually a healthy thing to integrate in my daily routine.

Finally. the big-picture, community-oriented side of me is hopeful that once this new set of routes and schedules are implemented, there will be some hard evidence that will encourage the city to tweak things for the benefit of Edmontonians. Because I volunteer for our citizens -based government advisory board on public transit, I learned that revamping a city’s entire public transit network is something that many North American cities are going through right now.

The busy and fast paced way we are living our lives, pushes people to do things the quickest way. Traveling is one of those tasks that people don’t always have time or patience for. This is an important consideration when planning, changing, and implementing effective transit services.

“I Don’t Want To Be Raped Again” The Captive Transit User Series: Part 2

This is part of an ongoing series of posts discussion issues I personally encounter while taking public transit in Edmonton. Links to other posts will be added on an ongoing basis:

My frame of mind for the longest time was, the most dangerous place to be is my own bedroom. This however, didn’t prevent me from associating darkness and public places with being at risk.

What is a Captive Transit User? I learned about the term for the first time from the City of Edmonton’s website. The easy definition is: someone who takes public transit because it’s the best (or only available) option for them to travel around. The part about feeling ‘captive’ comes from the restriction that sometimes comes up, perhaps because one is too poor to own and maintain a vehicle, one does not know how to drive, or for medical reasons, cannot operate a vehicle. In many ways, I relate to this a lot. Though I’m pretty fortunate to afford the occasional taxi ride and with my husband having a car.

When it comes to big picture thinking on social and political topics, this is a short list of a trauma-informed approach (the 4 R’s) that I compiled.

  1. Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery
  2. Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system
  3. Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices
  4. Resists re-traumatization 

I sincerely hope that government officials and service providers, especially with transit, would integrate this perspective in very clear and tangible ways more often.

The way the human psyche works, all it takes is one horrific and traumatic event to discourage someone from doing something, or to have a very negative association towards something.

That makes a lot of sense. If a person gets attacked in a specific LRT station, that person will likely try to not use it ever again, or if they don’t have a choice, to be more wary, stressed and anxious every time the use it. Certain bus routes apparently have a prominent reputation for having lots of disruption, where the likelihood of being harassed is a lot higher. Imagine being in an ongoing state of high alert and anxiousness on a regular basis?

As a high school student in a city in the Philippines, I always got told to go home way before sunset, because taking public transportation after dark is dangerous. As a relatively new resident of Edmonton back in 2008, I was also told to be careful when commuting in downtown because of the “sketchy people” that are around.

This is tough, because when I was hearing these messages, many of these people don’t know of my history of sexual assault. My frame of mind for the longest time was, the most dangerous place to be is my own bedroom. This however, didn’t prevent me from associating darkness and public places with being at risk.

When I got home from my office in downtown, sometimes I say to myself with a huge sigh of relief “Today is a good day! I didn’t get raped…or stabbed, or groped. Thank goodness!” There are numerous stories of harassment that I hear from fellow residents of Edmonton about unwanted attention while waiting for a transit vehicle, or while onboard one. Many people crafted strategies to minimize the likelihood of this happening, such as wearing headphones and staring blankly when someone is trying to strike up a conversation.

Many share the feeling that they are forced to be nice to not “set him off” and to avoid being an ‘active hostile target’ of harassment. There was that story of a woman speaking out when a man on a bus started making racist remarks to an Asian-Canadian person. There is two types of hostility in this instance, the one inflicted towards the Asian-Canadian person, and then towards the woman who called out the harasser.

Commuting late at night poses a additional set of challenges. There’s that heightened sense of panic when the bus is missed or the last route has passed. There’s a recent announcement that the city’s telephone service line, 311, is unavailable in the evenings after 7PM, which is a disservice to those who are more vulnerable in the evenings.

One time, I was stuck at the U of A South Campus because when I got off the LRT, the connecting bus I was planning to take just departed, and it is another half hour for the next bus since it is after 10 PM. I realized that instead of waiting completely alone, it is better for me to take the train back to the University of Alberta station and take a taxi there to get home. This is a good back-up plan assuming there is indeed a taxi waiting in the stall by the University Transit Station every time. And based on personal experience, that is not always the case. Spending extra time to re-route one’s travel to get home because of safety reasons is a bit counterintutive since the best scenario would be just getting home quicker, but for a transit user with limited money, this is a reality. A trade off between money and time, with safety being potentially compromised along the way.

Being blamed for an attack while taking transit really riles me up. It reminds me of the blame cast at me and that I internalized, and that many others have experienced as well.

Perhaps it is a very high standard, but this is my take on achieving a safe transit system: When an Edmontonian who previously had a horrific experience taking transit, then decides to take a chance and felt comfortable, safe and satisfied in their journey from point A to point B. I have some level of hope from what seems to be the city’s effort to incorporate GBA+ Analysis framework, and the availability of ways to make an impact such as city committees like the one I volunteer for. This is the threshold that ought to be met, and I do hope we get closer to getting to this, in a way that an average person will instinctively notice it.

Learn and Explore the City: Fort Edmonton Park

This is a quick overview, from someone who moved to Edmonton and didn’t grow up here, about a really neat city attraction that is historical, interactive, and entertaining: Fort Edmonton Park.

If I were to choose a phrase to describe it, the place would be a “living museum”, with actual old buildings from a time long ago in the city, complete with decorations and accessories from that time. Where there are actors who wear attires from that time, which can make visitors feel like they have traveled back in time.

My then boyfriend (now husband) and I went there for our dating anniversary, our second one, back in 2012. An idea we copied from a TV show is what we call a “superdate” which is an all-day date where one person from the couple plans all the activities without telling the other. And then, on the day of, the activities are disclosed shortly before going there. After a lovely lunch in a restaurant located in a local neighbourhood business plaza, and him buying a large stuffed giraffe too big to fit in the back seat, I told him that our next destination was Fort Edmonton Park.

Visiting the Park

Fort Edmonton Park is an reconstruction of how Edmonton looked like in its early days. There are four time periods that are represented: 1846, 1885, 1905 and 1920, showcasing how the city of Edmonton has evolved from a fur trading area, to how the first few homes and structures were built that is the starting signs of a village, to a city that is starting to grow and expand.

I personally wasn’t able to wrap my mind around what a fur trading building looked like until I visited the park for the first time. Seeing and touching samples the different types of fur was super interesting. I had used Bank of Montreal for my personal banking needs and was really amused to see an old tiny building with the bank’s name, indicating that it is one of the earlier banks in the city. Seeing old clothing and the structures of these homes and thinking about how people back then had to deal with the cold winter months, filled me with wonder.

There are other entertaining activities as well. There is an old train that visitors can hop on and have a tour of the entire area. There is a small theater that shows historical films, and there was even a photography shop where people can wear costumes and have a portrait taken looking like it’s from a hundred years ago.

I keep seeing digital posters for advertisements regarding events that take place when the park was closed for touring. The bus I take when commuting to work passes by Fox Drive that leads to Fort Edmonton Park. I ought to check out the annual Halloween event at some point, it looks really interesting. There are opportunities to have brunch or dinners at the Hotel’s restaurant all year long, and the food is pretty good!

In my opinion, every newcomer to the City, both the born-and-raised Canadians who came from other provinces, and those who landed from other countries and had made Edmonton their home, should have the opportunity to visit this location, ideally within their first few years. Understanding the context of what the city has looked like many years ago can help those who are new here, appreciated how things are today.

Learning History

While I feel like a broken record when I say “welp, that was NOT included in my ‘Welcome to Canada’ booklet”, it’s very true. There isn’t a lot of information about this city when I moved here. Fort Edmonton Park was a helpful way for me to learn and witness this. We don’t have a City Museum in a conventional sense, but I would say this is the closest one.

I was fortunate enough to squeeze in one elective class during university which was Introduction to Native Studies, and in 2017 because it was Canada 150 I learned a little bit more about Canada as a whole. I also took another elective class during university which was an advances English Literature class that discussed Canadian authors that describe the experiences of Asian people from 1900 onwards.

Now that I am learning more about the history of Indigenous peoples in Edmonton and realizing that Fort Edmonton Park has gaps, I’m relieved that the renovation will include an additional exhibit specific to this.

Booking Venues for Special Events

I didn’t know until I was a bridesmaid for a friend’s wedding, that Fort Edmonton Park is a lovely venue for a wedding and it is a well-known one, particularly in the summer. We had one of the old small churches in the Park as the location for the wedding ceremony, and then we had on of the second-floor halls of an old store as the location for the reception. While the bridal party was walking around the area for our wedding photos, we learned that there were two other weddings happening on the same day. We ran into another bridal party having their group photos, and we walked by the other wedding reception’s venue, hearing the lively dance music through the air.

I also thought that Hotel Selkirk is just a historical building that visitors at the park can tour, but as it turned out, people can rent the rooms, like a regular hotel! I learned about this during the wedding as well, as my friend rented two rooms as a waiting area for the bride and the groom’s wedding entourage. That was a lovely way to experience the city and this location, integrating historical structures with modern-day activities.

The website for the park is www.fortedmontonpark.ca/ . I look forward to the park opening again for tours, and experiencing it again with a slightly different perspective now that I’ve lived in Edmonton for a little bit longer.