Calgarians divided over billion-dollar proposal

thumb MAR_edited-1They weren’t sitting in gridlock, but Calgarians were vocally frustrated nonetheless on Nov. 13 at an open house that showcased proposals for a possible expansion of Crowchild Trail.

The City unveiled the plans as part of its Crowchild Trail Corridor Study, a project that officials say sets out to identify how to best tackle traffic problems on Crowchild Trail between 24th Avenue N.W. and 17th Avenue S.W.

“Everyone tries to weave in front of you and it slows everything down,” said Discovery Ridge resident Matt Lalonde. “It’s really frustrating.”

The plans were varied and extensive, and often included three different options for how to improve traffic in problem areas.

Residents of the West Hillhurst, Scarboro and Sunalta communities were out CityBlueprintKen Zdunich (right) and Allen Anderson (middle) talk to a city official about proposed plans to expand and streamline parts of Crowchild Trail. The plan, which currently has no funding from the city, caused quite a stir at Tuesday’s open house.

Photo by Krystal Northey in full force to voice concerns about the effects an expanded Crowchild Trail would have on their communities.

Many West Hillhurst residents said the proposed changes would “destroy the vitality of their communities.” Alternatively, many frequent drivers came to show strong support for an improved commute, and environmentally conscientious citizens advocated for options that would reduce carbon emissions.

Lalonde is one of the 106,000 drivers who travel over the Bow River on Crowchild every day, and said he is in favour of any construction that could alleviate the congestion caused by multiple lane changes.

“I think at the end of the day in any city, no matter how good transit is, you should have a good roadway system in place, especially for things like emergency vehicles,” said Lalonde.

A city built for cars

While Lalonde advocated for a Calgary that “accommodates all methods of
transport,” including single-occupant vehicles, West Hillhurst resident
Nigel Bankes begged to differ.

“This is crazy,” said Bankes. “We are building a city to accommodate motor vehicles instead of people, and we should instead be managing the supply of cars to plan for a low-carbon future.”

“This isn’t encouraging public transport, it’s encouraging people to do what’s most convenient for them,” Bankes said.

The open house was held at the University of Calgary’s Red and White Club, where walls were lined with billboards showing maps, routes and details of the proposal, which if completed would cost an estimated $1 billion.

While plans had residents choosing sides, city officials were quick to point out that nothing has been set in stone.

“The Crowchild Trail Corridor Study is just that, it’s a study, and in the life cycle of a project like this from planning to construction, this is the very first step,” said Ryan Murray, spokesperson for the city’s transportation department.

Murray compared this study to that of Calgary’s West LRT.

The LRT study was conducted in the late 1970s, and “shovels didn’t hit the ground” until 30 years later, Murray said.

“We’re just studying the options to see what the impact would be. The purpose is to get feedback,” Murray said.

Murray stressed the fact that at this point, the proposed project has no funding, and said he hopes the study will develop a timeline for efficient and staged construction.

Criticisms of the plans

Ald. John Mar expressed strong criticism of the plans at Tuesday’s meeting. The Ward 8 alderman represents many of the communities that would be affected by the potential expropriation of housing and schools, as well as the possibility of construction restricting access to local roads, and increasing community traffic.

“People recognize that yes: there is a north to south issue. No one is denying that,” Mar said.

“But I’m not prepared to tell my constituents that we are going to bulldoze their homes and destroy inner-city communities that I represent to accommodate single-passenger vehicular traffic.”

Mar said that instead of focusing on an overhaul of Crowchild, the city needs to work on expanding the capacity and scope of the existing LRT and public transportation systems.

He said that while he is not opposed to all aspects of the plan, he believes it to be premature due to the lack of funding.

“This is backwards thinking, it’s not forward thinking for 21st century mobility,” Mar said.

The long-term study aims to address the alignment of Crowchild Trail and to take into account all walking and cycling routes, Calgary Transit, and access to communities.

The possibility of a so-called “High Occupancy Vehicle” lane connecting the University of Calgary area, city centre and Mount Royal University areas will also be examined. Such a lane could be used for emergency vehicles, city buses and possibly for cars with more than one passenger.

Don Nicho, a self-proclaimed transportation watcher, said he is in favour of the proposed plans, but not simply because they will shorten his commute.

Nicho said he has “spent the last 20 years getting involved in transportation issues.” Nicho argues that complicated merging and frequent bottle-necking over the Bow River put drivers at risk.

“I’m not talking about convenience or people who just love freeways and want to pave everything. I’m talking about safety.” |

How do you feel about the proposed Crowchild Trail expansion? Let us know in the comments below.

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