Calgary

Path to connectivity: Why northern Calgary residents want better ways to walk and bike

Calgary talks about making its neighbourhoods friendly to those walking and wheeling. But in the suburbs, one city councillor says she sees a lot of missteps.

Councillor says retrofits are needed in established suburban communities

Nicole Dawe, Ward 3 Coun. Jyoti Gondek and Moraig McCabe stand on the Rotary Mattamy Greenway at 15 Street N.E., a gravel road that travels under Stoney Trail. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Calgary talks about making its neighbourhoods friendly to those walking and wheeling. But in the suburbs, one city councillor says she sees a lot of missteps.

In Ward 3, Coun. Jyoti Gondek says roadblocks have been in the way of getting pathway infrastructure projects completed — and ensuring projects are conceived holistically to include bikes, strollers, scooters and pedestrians.

In Coventry Hills, a strip of green cuts through the entire curvilinear community. While the roads are built in a giant loop — sending cars all the way around — there's a pathway on the strip that helps people on bikes, walking and wheeling, cut through for a more direct route.

That is, until you get to Coventry Hills Way N.E. — while the green continues, the path veers off to the west.

Gondek said it's because the grass was earmarked as a utility corridor, possibly for Calgary Transit.

"This lovely green space starts where a regional pathway ends," she said. "Why would the pathway not continue into here? Why wouldn't we put down some pavement here so that people who have mobility issues, people that are pushing a stroller or whatever it happens to be, can travel along here and get from one end of Coventry to the other?"

She said trying to get the final stretch of the pathway done has been a struggle as it is considered a new project and gets shuffled to the bottom of the list, waiting for funding.

"Somehow, the pyramid that prioritizes the pedestrian got inverted when it came to doing neighbourhoods like this," Gondek said. "And that's a shame."

She said the city needs to explore retrofitting neighbourhoods to bring them up to current standards. There may be a pilot program coming to help.

The greenspace ahead is a popular spot to walk but only accessible to those who can go off the pathways. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Nicole Dawe said when she moved to the suburbs to start a family with her husband, they were used to the infrastructure in the inner city. Getting around often meant hopping on a bike and pedaling there.

"Maybe it's crazy of us to have the audacity to think that we want to do that in the suburbs, but that is what we're trying to do," Dawe said.

After buying a chariot for her two-year-old, Dawe wanted to pedal to her favourite breakfast spot in a nearby community. 

With her husband and child ready for the adventure, they all took off. Getting there was the easy part, with hills to coast down to Symons Valley Road.

But getting back home, and trying to avoid those same hills on the way back, is where they got into trouble.

Incomplete connectivity 

Using Google to find a new route, the maps suggested that Dawe could use the Stoney Trail interchange at Harvest Hills Boulevard.

The overpass does have a sidewalk on the bridge itself, but leading up to it?

Dirt and grass with a well-worn path — there's even a pedestrian light with a button, but no sidewalk to speak of.

"We thought there must be some way for us to do this," Dawe said. "And when we got there, we realized that it was a lot more difficult than we thought."

Determined, they trudged through the dirt for a kilometre or so, and eventually made it to another path, and home. 

According to a city website, the existing interchange was constructed in 2010 and is getting a second bridge beside it.

When completed, there will be three lanes of traffic in either direction, along with a multi-use pathway — in 2022.

Gondek said these types of connections between communities are just as important as the ones within a community. 

"People will say, why would anybody want to cross Stoney Trail to go to a different community, just stay in your own community?" Gondek said.

"Well, some of the things that people are missing is that we have amenities throughout the northern hills that are shared by communities."

A pedestrian button installed on the Stoney Trail interchange at Harvest Hills Boulevard does not have a path leading to it on either side of the intersection. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Moraig McCabe lives in Coventry Hills and founded Creating Coventry. The group was originally formed to engage the community and update local playgrounds.

But McCabe said what came up time after time during interactions and consultation was the community's desire to be connected.

"They want to be able to get out and walk their neighborhood and bike," McCabe said. "And yes, we live in the 'burbs, but we all don't want to just be in our cars 24/7."

She said this doesn't stop at the border of Stoney Trail, or between communities. New areas, like Livingston, are being developed as transit-oriented hubs.

A nail sticks out of a wooden plank left in a deep tire rut on 15 Street S.E., where the Rotary Mattamy Greenway pathway picks up. (Helen Pike/CBC)

"It does make me wonder, why did they put [a pedestrian signal] in and not put the pathway in?" she said. "We're trying to encourage people to get out and walk and be healthy and be active. And yet we can't do simple things like just connect up a small piece of the pathway."

McCabe said at this point in her life, the lack of connections means she finds shortcuts by walking along the grass, through snow and uneven footing. But not everyone can do that. 

"It's fine for me," she said. "I can walk over the grass, I can trek over the mud hills that we've seen, but not everybody can. And there's a lot of people with young children in this area and there's also a lot of older people coming up that have mobility issues. And we just want to make it accessible for everybody."

Are there missing connections, and pathways going nowhere in your community? Email helen.pike@cbc.ca

About the Author

Helen Pike

Reporter

Helen Pike joined CBC Calgary as a reporter in 2018 after spending four years working as a print journalist focusing on urban issues and municipal affairs. You can find her on Twitter @helenipike.

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