Calgary's pedestrian roadways, patios to stay until snow clearing season

The extra pavement dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists, along with the pop-up style patios, were city pandemic measures to keep citizens safe and business afloat during Calgary's summer months.

Community and grassroots groups eye permanent treatments

Calgary has implemented measures to help people stay physically distant outside. They are limiting vehicle access on some roadways in order to make more space for people to walk, run or cycle. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Turning over some roads to pedestrians and cyclists, along with encouraging pop-up style patios, were city pandemic measures to keep citizens safe and business afloat during Calgary's summer months. 

The city initiated the use of "adaptive roads" — closing sections of roadway to regular traffic — to give pedestrians enough space for proper physical distancing in congested areas like the Bow River Pathway. 

But the extra pavement dedicated to eating out, walking around and wheeling through communities has given some the space to think: what if we could have more of this — or, what if this could be permanent?

Early on, Crescent Road N.W. was identified as a space that needed management. Videos showed vehicles lining up along the bluff at night to enjoy the view, blast music and motor through. It looked more like a club scene than a residential road. It was not a good look, or safe, during a global pandemic.

Quickly, city officials closed the road to vehicular traffic. Then closures were applied to other popular pinch points where Calgarians were flocking for fresh air and the sense of freedom during the lockdown.

John McDermid, a board member with the Crescent Heights Community Association, said the issues magnified under the pandemic on Crescent Road aren't new, but the city's nimble and swift action in April made the community see that closing the road was possible. 

"We had a number of proposals presented to us about three years ago by a group of residents … at that time, the suggestion of a permanent closure was floated," McDermid said. "It seemed kind of extreme at the time. And yet, here we are, with the road closed to local traffic and people are loving it."

Some don't want to go back

The community is asking that the city consider extending the closure for another six months, through the winter, to study its effects on traffic. McDermid said he hopes the outcome is a closure — or permanent change to the road.

"People love the space so much in its current form, they really, really love the space," McDermid said. "We don't want to go back to the way it was."

Roads department spokesperson Pat Grisak said the city will be sitting down with the community and meeting about the request. 

All of the city's adaptive roads and pop-up patios will be sticking around until snow clearing operations begin. Grisak said that means they will be open for use until at least October — weather depending.

The only lanes returning to normal in the meantime are on Memorial Drive and the lower deck of Centre Street Bridge. Grisak said they need to open for vehicular traffic, given kids are going back to school and traffic is expected to increase through September.

Memorial Drive will continue to be an adaptive roadway on weekends until snow clearing begins.

A gradual shift, accelerated

Bike Calgary has launched a campaign to help the city better understand how citizens want to use roads.

President Gary Millard said this shift in perception has been a long time coming, but he believes the pandemic helped bring the issue to the forefront. 

"For several years now, people have had more and more choices for transportation," Millard said. "With this long-term, gradual shift and this more recent accelerated push with the pandemic, we're realizing that people want more transportation choices.… We're asking the city to consider how we can share this space." 

Millard said the pandemic transportation lanes have been a great example of where in Calgary future networks or changes could be hiding. 

"First, maybe we can keep some of the temporary conversions," Millard said. "And secondly, maybe we look elsewhere in the city and say, where can we take some space that's currently being underutilized for motor vehicles and make it more useful for active transportation?"

Network connectivity

Bike Calgary has kept a list of the lanes they believe should be a priority in future planning, lanes that helped with network connectivity. 

Grisak said the city has been collecting data throughout its use of adaptive roadways.

"We need to sit down and go through all of the data we've collected on our lessons learned and process all that information and see where we go in the future with these," he said.

Could they be used next summer, when traffic naturally slows? 

"I guess it's a possibility," Grisak said. 


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