Urban Design

by Pamela Hruska

Lately, there is movement in film making that looks into the behaviors and impacts of humans, and though it may have always been a focus of documentaries, it is certainly coming up with more frequency with which we are taking an in-depth look at our impact on the planet. Fast Food Nation, Supersize Me, Who Killed the Electric Car, Manufactured Landscapes, An Inconvenient Truth, Sicko, and the most impressive Plant Earth documentary series from BBC are to name a few of those films that make you sit back and contemplate. After having watched all of these films and pondering their messages, it makes you step out your door with perhaps a more scrutinizing look at the world.

I did step out my door and scrutinized, and what I saw in city where I live, was that perhaps we could do a better job at tackling its growth spurt and future development plans. Stepping out the door in Calgary with the intention of walking to work or anywhere down town is a crap shoot. You turn one corner only to find that sidewalk is closed, so you scuttle in the traffic skirting from side to side crossing your fingers the epically bad Calgary drivers don’t peg you off on your chicken scramble around downtown. I’m curious to know how those who use wheelchairs get around. Whatever happened to the construction sites being responsible for putting up scaffolding around the sidewalks? Why can they just slam up a big fence and force pedestrians into the road? I guess it’s all part in parcel of how Calgary goes lately: so overwhelmed by development and new infrastructure that it forgot simple decencies.

Mount Royal ParkMount Royal Park

I can appreciate that Calgary is growing, that it needs roads and buildings to be developed, and for urban planning to be addressed in a serious matter right now, but the way the city is going about it is feeling chaotic and hasty. Building after building is being torn down with open pits sitting around for long periods of time. Roads are being ripped up everywhere. Traffic lanes are being closed during peak hours, and yet to come is the possible one year closure of a main block in Calgary’s downtown core due to the upcoming EnCana Building. What would be nice is some prioritization and proper allocation of resources and workers for these jobs. I would be curious to know if projects would be completed in a more timely fashion and with fewer repercussions if there were to be less jobs on the slate all at once.

As an example, the Glemore Trail expansion is a valid project, where as traffic calming circles are, in my opinion, unnecessary. Given that there is a worker shortage in this city, to have pulled manpower to make these traffic circles seems like mismanagement in a time where the city may have benefited from using its staff more appropriately.

New Encana BuildingNew Encana Building

Traffic calming islands have popped up everywhere in Mount Royal it seems (see this articles cover shot). Some of them with little islands of weeds in the middle, but mainly they are giant concrete barricades that have been poorly manipulated into some shape meant to represent a circle. There is one specific island that has rickety wooden pegs with fluorescent orange signs and arrows indicating what direction to travel in with yield signs everywhere. People have ran over the more permanent signs, and I’m not sure if it’s because it’s a hobby for them, or if this is their way of protesting these retarded little islands that have sprouted for no good reason. Since its arrival, the traffic circle has not been used properly by residents, the signs have yet to be standing, the grass part in the middle is a pile of dirt, and the pedestrians at these circles must full blown sprint to the other side if they want to cross and not get annihilated by the SUVs who are trying to fit on these roads which are not big enough to support their behemoth nature.

Calgary has added on the city website some information on what a traffic circle is. Translated, it means this to an average Calgarian:

A traffic circle has been placed in the centre of your community intersection to widen roads and allow for increased pavement to take place. That’s right, that little bump of dirt and concrete with 6 posts, all knocked down, is the island. If you didn’t see it right smack in the middle there, maybe you were one of the people taking out the signs. That’s ok. We have endless replacements of ugly orange signs to put up in the meantime. * Please report problems with damaged or missing signs to 3-1-1 if inside the local Calgary calling area or (403) 268 – CITY (2489). Vehicles are required to travel in the direction around the island, please, again, not right over top of it. The purpose of these calming measures is unclear. We sent out a survey and the majority of those who responded requested that we did not pursue the project two years ago. But, if you read the fine print, and did not obtain your 160000 signatures on a petition and send it to your city council in time, we have no reason to listen to you as a community member, and have decided our little project is worth pursuing over more pressing issues such as the homeless population. A vehicle already in the intersection wins, so hit the gas pedal and try to get in there first so you don’t have to wait around or pay attention to the rules of the traffic circle. As with any uncontrolled intersection, if two vehicles arrive at the same time, the biggest vehicle goes first. Pedestrians are not mentioned as part of this traffic circle because they are insignificant and clearly will not win in the world of traffic circle law in Calgary, as they are too slow and smaller than your average SUV.

Harsh, I know, but as one of those who responded to the survey asking if residents would be interested in traffic circles, I clearly said no, with supported rationale, and got ignored along with all the other residents who over all voted NOT in favor of this project. In a democratic process, the votes said do not go ahead with this project. But they went ahead. And now, I’m a bit sour about it all, and want the City of Calgary to start taking urban planning seriously, and to be able to allocate resources and money appropriately by setting priorities on jobs instead of tackling too many projects at once.

Calgary from afarCalgary from afar

Perhaps if we all ponder this a little more, planning could be done in a way where in 20 years, the buildings we put up today don’t get ripped down like all the ones we are demolishing right now. Maybe we could look to see if we really need suburbia strip malls, which have their own street names with the exact same box stores in them, at 10 minute intervals from one another. I hope that this growth spurt does not cause us to simply do a patch work job of things, but that our citizens and planners alike can do a progressive thinking and ecofriendly job of the needed development. Who would have known this city would have grown the way it did? And though it must be a gigantic challenge to figure out how to take an existing city and help it flourish as a metropolis, certain aspects could be approached better. Even just a sidewalk would be great.

  • Urban Design
  • by Pamela Hruska
  • Published on August 26th, 2007
David Gluzman
Interesting Resources
Keep Calgary Moving (City of Calgary Transportation Plans) PDF
Cover Image
..an interesting look at a recent traffic calming measure, where the permanent sign posts have been bent since its first weeks, and the temporary wooden placeholders get destroyed on a continual basis (shot from April 07).

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