Idylwyld revamp designed for more than just cars — which is a good thing

Saskatoon’s plan for Idylwyld, which would see one lane of motor vehicle traffic removed and add raised bike paths, has reignited an age-old debate in the city.

City’s plan for Idylwyld will bridge divide between Saskatoon’s east and west sides

Bike paths are visible in green in this view of 23rd and 24th Streets at their intersection with Idylwyld Drive. They would run parallel to the sidewalk and will be clearly marked as cyclist areas. (City of Saskatoon)

Saskatoon's plan for Idylwyld, which would see one lane of motor vehicle traffic removed and add raised bike paths, has reignited an age-old debate in the city. 

But believe it or not, it is actually possible to allow for more pedestrians and cyclists and improve traffic flow at the same time. 

Why the seemingly endless discussion about Saskatoon's major corridors? Besides growing to a size where we now need a new transit system, there are other good reasons to rethink some of the city's key arteries. 

We've now reached a point where our streets need to be redesigned for multiple purposes.  

Saskatoon has been accommodating the automobile since it was invented in 1885. In 1963 the city made it official with it's first Community Planning Scheme, which deliberately shaped our city exclusively for motor vehicles. 

Like anything else that is over 55 years old, city plans wear out and eventually need to be replaced. 

Idylwyld is crucial to Saskatoon

Why Idylwyld? Doesn't this roadway need to stay as wide as possible to handle thousands of cars?

About six years ago, the South Bridge (now known as the Gordie Howe Bridge) opened, diverting hundreds of large semi-trailer trucks away from downtown. This created an opportunity to re-think Idylwyld Drive, its purpose, function and role as a major right-of-way which has served in the past to divide Saskatoon between east and west. 

This view of the intersection at Idylwyld and 20th Street shows the removal of 'pork chop' islands that pedestrians currently have to leap-frog. (City of Saskatoon)

Imagine Idylwyld was born. The project is meant to envision Idylwyld as a central corridor within the city's overall growth strategy over the next 30 years. The proposed design is meant to modernize the area and deal with barriers that restrict the flow of pedestrians. It also features raised bike lanes at the expense of one lane of traffic.

The key focus of Imagine Idylwyld is the length of roadway between 20th Street and 25th Street. This stretch makes up what is today the west boundary of downtown. Crossing in an east-west direction is difficult even for able-bodied citizens. Imagine if you were elderly or had a mobility challenge. 

The senior population is booming. Their mobility must be considered in all designs. Saskatoon needs to be more age-friendly and redesigning roadways is part of that. 

This redesign of Idylwyld will allow the great divide between downtown and the historic neighbourhoods of Riversdale and Caswell Hill to be eliminated. It will create a better flow of pedestrians and consumers between east and west. It will reflect a new standard of street design, which now includes wider sidewalks, dedicated bike lanes and roads for cars with improved lane movements. 

Imagine Idylwyld reflects clear input from the public, who said whatever is done, Idylwyld must continue to move large volumes of cars. After all, the road is still connected at both ends by highways.

This view of the intersection at Idylwyld and 20th Street shows potential for high-rise buildings and possible rezoning of the industrial-looking area to maximize land use. (City of Saskatoon)

City hall is designing streets for everyone, even on roadways which are projected to carry large volumes of cars. Look at the new Central Avenue north of Attridge Drive. This street connects to the new North Bridge set to open in October and also contains separated sidewalks and bike lanes. Once completed, you will have safe, viable, direct options for your commute on Central Avenue.

Idylwyld is a bit different. It's double-loaded, meaning there is development on both sides, but the roadway was designed exclusively to move high volumes of cars through the area. The design encourages cars to pass through as quickly as possible. It's not exactly business-friendly, which is why you don't see very many storefronts on the downtown portion of Idylwyld.

Can Saskatoon grow better? If population growth and retention of people is a high priority, don't we have to do things differently? Or are we satisfied with our historical pattern of gain followed by loss?

Growing a better city for people has nothing to do with politics. It's common sense to build cities for everyone. Health, mobility, safety and esthetics are not political dogma. These principles, and a few others, are fundamental principles of sound urban planning.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ

About the Author

Alan Wallace is the planning director with Wallace Insights and president of the Saskatchewan Professional Planners Institute. He is the former director of planning and development for the City of Saskatoon.