Calgary

Online petition asks city to open more roadway lanes in Calgary for COVID-19 distancing

Project Calgary has launched a petition online to get more streets opened to the public during the COVID-19 crisis.

Community group taking suggestions for which routes should be next

Pedestrians walk along a the closed eastbound lanes of Memorial Drive in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 9, 2020, amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. The city closed the lanes to allow for more physical distancing. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Project Calgary has launched a petition online to get more streets closed to traffic and opened to pedestrians during the COVID-19 crisis.

The community advocacy group says it could help citizens move more freely outside — while maintaining physical distance — while also helping businesses get through the pandemic by increasing foot traffic in commercial areas.

So far, the city has closed several lanes across Calgary, mostly in recreational areas that can see bottlenecks, such as Memorial Drive where the Peace Bridge crosses the Bow River, and on Elbow Drive in the Cliff Bungalow and Elbow Park areas.

While Mayor Naheed Nenshi and CEMA Chief Tom Sampson have both said there's an appetite for more lane closures, the city has continued to be quiet about where it plans to make more space available. And there are no public lists regarding these lane closures.

As the weather slowly gets warmer, Agustin Louro, who wrote the petition, says pathways continue to be a pinch point.

"Kensington and Inglewood, in particular the sidewalks, are narrow as well, so trying to keep two metres apart from somebody on a sidewalk that's not even two metres wide — you have to step on the street. There's no other way to do it," he said.

Looking for suggestions

Louro said the group is also looking for suggestions from Calgarians about which streets should have closed lanes.

So far, more than 300 people have signed the petition, many living in the inner-city and some scattered throughout northwest Calgary, according to Louro's data.

The Beltline Neighbourhoods Association has already asked the city for lane closures to create a network for residents to walk to and from grocery stores and visit businesses.

Olympian Denny Morrison signed the petition. He says getting outside and staying active is crucial during everyday life, but especially in the midst of the pandemic. He says this is a unique opportunity to rewrite what is typical.

"I think that's something that should have happened before COVID, anyways. It would have been great for everyone to encourage people to get out on foot and on bike," he said.

"Doing this during COVID here, when those lanes are being especially underused, maybe that can transpire into something that sustains itself after COVID."

Morrison lives in Brentwood and said he's lucky to have Nose Hill Park a stone's throw away. But in some more dense areas, he said it would be good to have more space.

Louro said with the province's relaunch strategy, this isn't just about giving people space to walk.

Closing lanes could also be a way to help businesses like restaurants and cafes spill onto the sidewalk and expand their capacity as a result. This is happening in other jurisdictions within Canada and across the world.

"If you can take those empty tables from inside and put them outside on the sidewalk then the restaurant owners or the cafe owners can still have more customers, which are really badly needed right now for them," Louro said.

Ultimately, Louro said Calgarians are showing the city there's a desire to be outside. And the city should listen and act.

"It should have been done yesterday," Louro said.

"Defeating COVID is going to require all of us pulling in the same direction. And if we're going to stay sane and stay healthy we need to get outside-time and we need to have a way to do that safely."

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