Calgary to reduce lanes on some roads to help walkers, cyclists keep their distance during COVID-19 pandemic

The City of Calgary plans to shut lanes on some sections of roads like Elbow Drive and Crowchild Trail that are near popular outdoors locations to help free up space for walkers and cyclists to maintain the recommended social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Calgary’s pathways and walks are filling up as people are desperate to get exercise

Sean Carter, owner of Bike Bike in Inglewood, said with warmer weather approaching he’s seen roads empty out while pathways fill up. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Getting outside is good, but getting too close — bad.

Calgary's pathways and walks are filling up as people are desperate to go outside to relax and get exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At some pinch points, it's tough to give people space. So, the city is working on a plan to help free up more space for walking and cycling — but it's a tough balance to strike.

During a press briefing Monday, Tom Sampson, chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, said seeing people outside is a positive — but folks fell flat on their ability to be socially distant on pathways and popular outdoor destinations.

"We need to be better than we are," Sampson said. "I saw large groups of people walking in tight bundles. And I know that it feels good because you're in the outdoors, but it's not … it shouldn't take me or it shouldn't take the premier, or the prime minister to tell you that."

Calgary pathways are full of people as Calgarians seek exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Mayor Naheed Nenshi echoed concerns. He said driving somewhere to take a walk is a no-no.

"That way we can avoid the overcrowding and some of our more popular places, or you get a chance to discover your neighbourhood a little bit more," Nenshi said on Monday.

With that in mind, Calgary's roads department, in coordination with CEMA, have identified roads where lanes will be reduced with the hope this can give walkers, bikers and other modes more space to be outside, while maintaining social distance.

Sections of Elbow Drive and Crowchild Trail will be part of this measure, among other popular walking spots in Calgary. 

The City of Calgary's roads department, in coordination with the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, has experimented with reducing lanes on some roads to try to give people not travelling in vehicles more space to be outside, while maintaining the two-metre physical distancing recommended during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Christine Boyd/CBC)

However, this doesn't mean these spots should be considered good walking destinations. Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said this is a tough balance to strike.

"We're making sure that we're not sending mixed messages and declaring, you know, like another Bow River Flow Festival … because that's exactly what we're trying to avoid."

Danny Haines is one of the people advocating for this kind of move. He said it's hard to walk to a grocery store and maintain a comfortable distance from others using the city's sidewalks. 

"It's super important for us to be able to get out of our houses and enjoy the weather and also get to places like grocery stores," Haines said. "If you want to do that you've got to walk on the sidewalk and walking on the sidewalk is kind of tough when you need to stay two metres apart from other people that are out there."

With the warmer weather approaching, Sean Carter, owner of Bike Bike in Inglewood, said he's seen roads empty out while pathways fill up.

"I've been hearing reports and seeing stuff on Twitter from customers as well that are saying they don't want to ride out in those areas because there's just too many people already," Carter said. "And it's not even warm out yet." 

Carra said places like New York have already shut down parks, and here in Calgary playgrounds have been taped off. So, this latest measure comes with its own caveat.

"If you don't use it properly, we're going to lose it because we have to make sure that we minimize social interactions and not contribute to this virus," Carra said.


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