Calgary Regional Transit: On-It Love In!

Calgary region’s newest transit service (launching October 11th) called ON-IT could easily be called “LOVE-It.” Why? Because, by all accounts, everyone loves the idea of piloting a regional bus service allowing people in High River, Turner Valley, Black Diamond and Okotoks to get to and from Somerset-Bridlewood LRT station in the morning and evening on weekdays. 

The Mayors “Love It,” Councillors love it and over 2,500 citizens in those communities have signed up for more information and updates. And it is not just commuters who are interested – so are post-secondary students and seniors.

At the ON-IT preview on Monday October 3rd (which I was invited to) citizen Maureen Nelson enthusiastically grabbed a handful of information cards to take back to the High Country Lodge in Black Diamond, certain many of the seniors living there would love taking transit to Calgary for day trips.  “Many residents don’t like driving in Calgary or parking….this is perfect.” In chatting with several other residents the On-It preview, there was a common theme  - “driving and parking in Calgary is no fun.”

  In Okotoks everyone go into the ribbon cutting action.

In Okotoks everyone go into the ribbon cutting action.

Visionary….

ON-IT is a visionary, innovative partnership between Black Diamond, High River, Okotoks Turner Valley and the Calgary Regional Partnership.  It is a two-year pilot project that does not replace private express buses that currently operate between High River, Okotoks and downtown Calgary, but rather is the beginning of a regional public transit system. The ON-IT buses won’t go downtown but rather to the City’s southernmost LRT station where riders can access the Calgary Transit system.

While, currently the service is designed to serve the 60,000 people living in the southern edge of the Calgary region, it is designed to grow with the region, whose population is projected to reach almost 3 million in 2073.  Okotoks alone could have 90,000 people in 50 years.  

As well Strathmore and Chestermere are working together to be ready when the pilot is completed to launch their own regional transit service in 2018, with its link being to the new 17th Ave SE Bus Rapid Transit.

This is long-range thinking…
  All aboard the bus is leaving so get On-It!

All aboard the bus is leaving so get On-It!

Experimental…

Over two years of regional transit research preceded the two-year pilot, information gathered and lessons learned was then applied to the Calgary region. The best routes, stops, fares and size of buses ere then determined for the pilot.  High River Mayor Craig Snodgrass loves the pilot concept saying, “surveys can be misleading as people might say they want a commuter bus, but then don’t use it. This way we will have empirical data on who is using the service and how often. This will allow us experiment with changes as we gather new information and make educated decisions going forward.”

Calgary’s Southland Transportation Ltd. was the chosen service provider for the pilot based on their extensive experience providing unique and specialized bus services in many communities in Alberta and British Columbia. 

Don’t be alarmed! ON-IT will not be using rickety old school buses, but rather 55-seat motor coaches typically used by travel tour operators, which means you will travel in climate-controlled, luxury with comfy seats and an on-board washroom.

On-It will also result is less pollution and free up over 100 parking spaces at the Somerset-Bridlewood LRT station. Woo-hoo!

  Ribbon cutting at High River was too much fun!

Ribbon cutting at High River was too much fun!

  Everyone was all smiles for the On-It Calgary Region Transit Preview. 

Everyone was all smiles for the On-It Calgary Region Transit Preview. 

Last Word

You gotta love ON-IT’s slogan -  “the best commutes include a nap!”  With a slogan like that, how can it not succeed? I am going to be very interested to see how this pilot evolves.

Click here for more details about On-It Regional Transit

Click here for more details about the Calgary Regional Part

Downtown Calgary: A Train Runs Through It!

It runs through the heart of Calgary like a steel spine. Our city was built around it. Our city exists in no small measure because of it.

The track of the Canadian Pacific Railway is a fundamental part of our urban geography. It is a daily factor in our relationship with the core of our city. It bisects the core from the Beltline. It runs through our neighbourhoods. It has become so familiar that their significance in shaping our city can be easily overlooked.

Yet now, in the wake of derailments, noise complaints, and visions of what our city's urban landscape should look like, Calgary's relationship with it's rail is again up for debate.

It's a complex situation with no easy answers.

CP's main line runs through the middle of Calgary's City Centre. The land next to the tracks is in play for major developments. 

OUR FIRST SPIKES

From the moment that the first spikes were driven, the rails have been an economic life-line for Calgary.

The CP has shaped our city’s evolution more than any other corporation over the past 100 years. Some might even say Calgary’s entrepreneurial spirit is a legacy from the CP’s entrepreneurial vision of building a transcontinental railway over 100 years ago.

The massive 158-acre Odgen Yards, which opened in 1912 immediately, became our largest employer, and stayed that way for decades as goods were shipped in and out of the city. At one time, all of the City’s streetcar routes were organized to get workers to the yards.

The rails were also the main point of entry to our city. The now long since vanished CP station was where newcomers alighted to begin their lives in our city – others just came to visit, staying at the purpose built Palliser Hotel next to the station.

CP rail tracks in the early 20th century transported both freight and passenger trains.  

In fact, the CP once owned most of Calgary’s downtown. CP created the design of the familiar street grid we still live with today. And Stephen Avenue,  Calgary’s signature street, is named after Lord Mount Stephen - the first CP President.  Mount Royal was created as Calgary’s first estate community for CP executives, and the iconic Calgary Tower was built by a CP subsidiary in 1968.

For better or worse, the rails have shaped us for a century. As Calgary's economy prospered and the city grew up around them, buildings like Gulf Canada Square, City Centre and the Palliser Parkades created a wall between downtown and the Beltline. 

But fast-forward to the early 21st century, and today our city of 1.3 million is renegotiating its relationship with the rails.

A NEW RELATIONSHIP

What was a geographic scar through the city is being redesigned.

While once the land near the downtown tracks were mostly surface parking lots, today they have become construction sites for major new office, hotels, condos and museum buildings. The Ogden Yard, is now CP’s head office campus - with four buildings being renovated into contemporary head office campus with 450,000 square feet of Class A office space and the old Locomotive Shop converted into a 600-stall parkade.

The CPR even operates differently within the city, as Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra has successfully champion the railway to cease work between 11 pm and 7 am at their Alyth yard in deference to peace and quiet in the neighbourhood.

But is is the question of safety that is the most fraught.

Councillor Evan Woolley, amongst others, have publically questioned the movement of dangerous goods through downtown and the Beltline. This, in light of disasters like Lac-Mégantic, but also derailments here in Calgary like the one in at the Alyth yard in 2013.

There may come the day when freight trains will not be allowed to pass through the middle of the city, perhaps the tracks might even be removed entirely. 

This would be a game changer for Calgary’s city centre. And the idea has been floating around for awhile.

Today the railway tracks are a major barrier between the Beltline community where people live and play and downtown commercial core where they work.  

THE POSSIBILITIES

In 2004, a team of City planners and community members worked together to develop a 100-year vision for what they called “Midtown” the area. That's south of the CP tracks to 13th Avenue SW,  from the Elbow River to 14th street SW. 

When it came to the railway, the ambitious plan identified some key ideas that would make the Midtown district a vibrant place to live work and play.

  1. Leave the tracks as they are
  2. Raise the railway line slightly to permit better access north and south
  3. Eliminate all together
  4. Bury them underground

Interesting ideas. But easier said than done.

From Midtown Urban Design Strategy. 

David Watson, General Manager, of Calgary's Planning, Development and Assessment division, said at the time, “the bottom line was the cost of moving the tracks was prohibitive.”

The CP’s position was somebody else would have to pay for all the relocation cost and they would still retain ownership of the land. That turned out to be a non-starter.

So the conversation quickly turned to how to make the tracks work better by creating better underpasses, redevelop the surface parking lots, and address safety issues.

But event this takes big money.

Part of that strategy has been implemented with the enhancement of existing underpasses like the $15 million dollar makeovers to the 1st and 8th Street SW underpasses. And the building a new $60 million underpass at 4th Street SE linking East Village to Stampede Park and 

8th St SW underpass in 2014. 

Rendering of the future 8th St. underpass, currently under construction. 

But is this enough? There's still an argument about removing the tracks all together.

The big idea from the Midtown Urban Design Strategy was the transformation of 10th Avenue into a pedestrian friendly 'grand boulevard', with a streetcar that would link Millennium Park and the Bow River on the west with the Stampede Park and the Elbow River on the east.

Sounds lovely until you crunch the numbers.

It would cost billions and could take decades. Even if you could just dig up the main line, it's linked to an entire network of sidings in the Calgary region, which would also have to be reconfigured.

Would those billions be better invested in other infrastructure improvements?

But wait! There're other options. The past could become future.

Rendering of the new Hudson Yards in New York City. Imagine something like this linking Calgary Beltline to downtown over the rail tracks. 

PASSANGER RAIL

In fact, relocation could be the worse thing we could do, as the tracks are critical to the region’s future transportation plans as we wean ourselves off the automobile.

Peter Wallis, President and CEO of the Van Horne Institute at the University of Calgary, notes “the tracks are an important part of future plans for Alberta’s high-speed rail link,” which the Van Horne Institute has been championing for years.

And discussions have also been ongoing about the feasibility of the CP track right-of-way being used for future commuter trains from Canmore and Cochrane to downtown Calgary. Also possible are commuter trains from the north and south like the GO Train in southern Ontario.

This raises the tantalizing possibility of Calgary once again having a major downtown passenger railway station.

This would take the combined efforts and agreement of the City, CP, developers and community members. But perhaps this moment, when oil has bottomed out, is the time to do it.

9th Avenue was once home to an active train station and vibrant commercial street. Today it is mostly entrances to parking garages. 

DOWNTURN OPPORTUNITES

Francisco Alaniz Uribe, at the University of Calgary’s Urban Lab says, “we should use the current pause in our city’s growth to develop a private/public partnership to determine what is the biggest and bests future use of the CP Rail’s City Centre corridor for private and pubic uses.”

And certainly there seems to be more 'infrastructure' money floating about these days as governments look to boost Calgary's economy.

Uribe acknowledges the huge huge economic and engineering challenge presented by changing the tracks, but he thinks our city has a chance to imitate other city's faced with the same challenge.

He's for spending the money to boost the economy and bury the tracks. As he says, this would create a continuous public realm at street level between 17th Avenue and the Bow river. Which would represent the greatest gain for the public. This could allow Calgary to create something with grandeur, like New York City’s Hudson Yards or Chicago’s Millennium Park in the future.

Chicago's Millennium Park is one of the most successful public spaces created in the last 50 years.  It was built over railway tracks. 

Last Word

Whether now or later, for esthetic or safety reasons, speculating about the future of the CPR tracks is sure to continue. It's just another example of how while in Calgary we can find ourselves at a crossroads, our visionary nature continues to create a world of opportunities.

This blog was first published by CBC Calgary for its online feature under the title "Possible futures for the CP Rail line in downtown Calgary" on September 16, 2015.

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Calgary: Old Bridges Get No Respect

Regular readers of the Everyday Tourist blog will know that I love bridges. This past summer I have developed an appreciation for two of Calgary’s older pedestrian bridges that don’t get the respect they deserve.

The Edworthy Bridge (whoops Boothman) has a unique design with huge holes that over a great place to view the Bow River. 

Bridge with big holes?

Even if you are a long-time Calgarian, I bet you have never heard of the Harry Boothman Bridge. I hadn’t until I researched on the bridge that connects Parkdale with Edworthy Park, which I had always heard of as the Edworthy Bridge. Logical.

The Boothman Bridge has a wonderful sense of passage created by the middle circle that frames the bridge's entrance.  The top circle frames Calgary's wonderful celestial blue sky. 

Calgarians from all walks of life use the Boothman bridge. 

It turns out it is named after a Calgary Park Supervisor and was built in 1976, but that is where the information ends.  I checked with the City of Calgary and they have no information on Boothman, the cost of the bridge or who designed it. The Glenbow archives has a photo but no other information on the bridge. Amazing!

Every time I visited the bridge this year it was packed with people (I must confess, my visits were mostly on weekends). In fact, it seemed busier than either the Peace Bridge (between Prince’s Island and Sunnyside) or the King Bridge (between East Village and St. Patrick’s Island). 

On the southside the bridge lands at a huge picnic area that is busy even in early spring. This photo was take April 3, 2016. 

However, I was told by the City that is not true - Peace Bridge gets about 4,500 trips per day in the summer, King gets 2,200 and Boothman 1,600. 

I can’t help but wonder what the public’s response was to the bridge in the ‘70s as it was a key link in the early development of Calgary’s Bow River pathways system.  Was there a controversy over the cost and design?  I highly doubt there was an international design competition.  I wonder what people thought of the concrete bridge’s design with the big holes.  I guess we will never know?

On the north side the bridge lands at a popular cafe and a sunny spot for buskers.  

Editor's Note:

After this blog was published Everyday Tourist loyal reader B. Lester wrote to say: 

The designers of the Boothman Bridge were Simpson Lester Goodrich; my old firm. We also designed the Carburn Park  pedestrian bridge (still my favorite; have a good look the next time you are in the area of Deerfoot and Southland Drive); the Crowchild Trail pedestrian bridge at McMahan Stadium (the vibrations caused by the crowds of football fans are always a subject of some awe as the crowds pass over before and after every game); and the Deerfoot Trail pedestrian Bridge near Fox Hollow.
The challenge for pedestrian bridge designers in the "old" days was to create an interesting landmark on a very tight budget. City administrators in those days were willing to consider interesting designs, but only if they cost no more than a bare bones solution. Our view was that crossing a bridge should be an "event" in itself and we struggled to come up with solutions which would create identifiable landmarks without spending additional public dollars.

I wrote back and asked for more in formation on the rationale for the design and cost and quickly received the following info.

 

The Boothman bridge was designed back in the '70's in the days of peace, love, and rock 'n roll. It was the fledgling days of the back to the earth movement with geodesic domes and round bird's eye windows. The holes in the bridge were reflective of that movement.
The principal designer was my partner Mike Simpson who, although an engineer, had strong ties to the environmental design movement (a founding partner of the Synergy West environmental consulting firm), to the Alpine Club of Canada, and was responsible for a number of increasingly "out-there" home designs in the following thirty years.
Mike is the visionary responsible for the Sacred Garden at St. Mary's church in Cochrane and for the Himat project, a sculpture created to raise funds to assist small villages in Nepal. He is a very unique individual and I was fortunate to work side by side with him for 25 years.
I have no records of the costs of the Boothman bridge though I would hazard a guess at around $300,000. Six years later, I recall having multiple discussions with the city to justify the $1,000,000 cost for Carburn bridge. (Probably equivalent to $10 million in today's dollars?)

John Hextall Bridge

Again, I bet you are scratching your head saying, “Where the heck is that bridge?”  Perhaps you know it better as the old Shouldice Bridge that you can see from the Trans Canada Highway as you pass from Montgomery to Bowness.

The Hextall Bridge was constructed in 1910 by local businessman John Hextall who sought to create an idyllic garden suburb west of Montgomery called Bowness. In 1911, Hextall negotiated with the City of Calgary take over the bridge plus two islands that would become Bowness Park, in exchange for an extension of the Calgary street railway system connecting Calgary with Bowness via the bridge. 

However, only a small number of houses and a golf course were constructed before the economic bust of 1913 halted most construction until after World War I. However, Bowness Park became an immensely popular leisure area – it was the St. Patrick’s and Prince’s Island parks of the early 20th century.  Park crowds of up to 4,000 people were common on Sundays in the mid 20s, huge given the city’s population being only about 60,000. 

The Hextall Bridge, the gateway to Bowness, continued as a street railway bridge until 1950 when it was turned over to vehicular traffic.  However, it was too narrow for cars plus a sidewalk so in 1985 the City approved a new four-lane concrete bridge, turning the Hextall Bridge into a pedestrian/cyclist bridge and incorporating into Calgary’s vision for a world-class, citywide pathway system.

The design, known as the Pratt through-truss system, is a type of truss with parallel chords, all vertical members in compression, all diagonal members in tension with the diagonals slant toward the center.

The components were manufactured in eastern Canada and shipped to the site for assembly. Ironically, this is similar to the Peace and King Bridges, which were also constructed elsewhere and assembled in Calgary.

Hextall Bridge's criss-cross trusses are a lovely example of the industrial sense of design of the early 20th century. 

Why Shouldice Bridge?

In 1906, James Shouldice purchased 470 acres of farmland about 8 kilometers west of the City of Calgary in a community then known as Bowmont. In 1910, Shouldice donated 43-hectars of river valley to the City of Calgary with the understanding that the land would be used as a park and that the streetcar would run to end of his property.  In 1911, the city created Shouldice Park, which has since become one of Calgary’s premier outdoor athletic parks. In 1952, Fred Shouldice, son of James made a financial gift to the City to build a swimming pool on the site. 

The bridge has colourful flowers at each entrance and huge planter boxes in the middel of the bridge.  Cyclist and pedestrians share the space with ease. 

No Respect

Personally, I think the Hextall Bridge is Calgary’s prettiest pedestrian bridge with its huge flower boxes and lovely criss-cross ironwork. But I doubt I will get many Calgarians to agree with me.

When I asked the City if they had any pedestrian/cyclist counts for the bridge they said they have never done counts for this bridge.  I wonder why?

The patina of the wood and steel (with exposed rivets) contrasts with the highly polished sleek look of Calgary's modern pedestrian bridges. 

Last Word

It is eerily how similar the stories of Bowness and Shouldice Parks are to what is currently happening in Calgary:

  • The idyllic visions of new master-planned suburban communities on the edge of the city.
  • The boom and bust of the 1910s. 
  • The donation of land and money to create parks and new recreation facilities by private citizens.

While all the social media chatter these days is about the Peace and George C. King bridge, it is important to remember that Calgary has been building bridges to connect communities to each other and to public spaces for over 100 years. 

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Calgary's International Avenue Follows Jane Jacob's Advice

Jane Jacobs, the 1960s guru of urban renewal, once said, “gradual change is better than cataclysmic development.” International Avenue certainly seems to be heeding this sage advice. 

The ten blocks of 17th Avenue SW between 4th Street and 14th St SW currently branded as RED (Retail Entertainment District), is one of Canada’s top pedestrian streets and well known to Calgarians. 

But further east on 17th Avenue, specifically the blocks between 26th and 61st Street SE (aka International Avenue) flies under the radar for Calgarians and tourists.  It is one of Canada’s hidden urban gems. Soon that may all change as International Avenue (IA) is about to undergo a mega makeover – a $96 million transformation to be exact. Starting this September, construction will begin to make 17th Avenue SE a “complete street” i.e. it will accommodate cars, dedicated bus lanes for Bus Rapid Transit, transit stations, bike lanes, new wide sidewalks all graced with hundreds of trees.  

  International Avenue is great example of messy urbanism with its multiple sidewalks, angle parking and mash-up of shops and services. 

International Avenue is great example of messy urbanism with its multiple sidewalks, angle parking and mash-up of shops and services. 

Urban Boulevard: A Game Changer

Alison Karim-McSwiney, International Avenue Business Revitalization Zone’s (BRZ) Executive Director since its inception in 1992, started working on this transformation in 2004. Collaborating with faculty and students at the University of Calgary’s School of Environmental Design, a 21st century vision for 17th Avenue SE was created, long before BRT, bike lanes and walkability became hot topics in our city. 

The vision to create a vibrant urban boulevard to accommodate all modes of transportation and foster a diversity of uses – retail, restaurant, culture, office and condos and even live/work spaces - was very ambitious for the modest communities of Forest Lawn, Albert Park and Radisson Heights that are its neighbours.

While it has taken over 10 years to refine the dream and secure the funding and approvals, land use changes are now in place allowing for several mixed-use developments along 17th Avenue SE, which could result in 13,000 new residents and 9,000 new jobs over the next 25 years. 

Chris Jennings, of Stantec Calgary who facilitated the design of new International Avenue told me,  “I love the ideas and vision that have been put forward for this project.  Not all of them can be accomplished during this project, some of them are ideas that will occur on lands not on city property and some of the ideas will need delivered as future development occurs – but man, it is going to be something special in 10 to 15 years.”

Link: City of Calgary 17th Avenue S.E. BRT Project

 A conceptual drawing of what International Avenue could look like in the future.

A conceptual drawing of what International Avenue could look like in the future.

Foodie Haven

IA has all of the ingredients for a funky food-oriented urban village. Currently, of the 425 businesses, over 30% are food and restaurant-related.   Since the late ‘90s, International Avenue has been home to the “Around The World In 35 blocks” event that allows participants to sample the eclectic flavours of IA from September to June. 

Did you know that IA is home to an Uzbekistan restaurant called Begim? Have you even heard of Uzbekistan cuisine?  In his Calgary Herald review, John Gilchrist described Uzbek cuisine as “fairly mild with some hot chillies and spices such as dill, cumin and coriander. Kebabs come in beef, chicken, lamb and lyulya (ground beef). There is no pork or alcohol at Begim as the Madjanovs (owners) are Muslim and all of their meats are halal.” 

Gilchrist once told me, ““On this strip, you find food cultures as close as they come to their native lands.  It lives up to its name ‘International Avenue’ with great restaurants like Mimo (Portuguese), Fassil (Ethiopian), Pho Binh Minh (Vietnamese) and many other favourites of mine.”

Love this example of how a modest house has been turned into a restaurant, not just any restaurant but an Uzbek restaurant. 

Arts & Cultural Hub

One of Karim-McSwiney’s 15 goals (yes, the website ambitiously lists 15) is to transform IA into an “arts and culture” hub. In 2013, IA became home to its own arts incubator called “artBox”, a multi-purpose art space located in the old Mill’s Painting Building (1807 – 42nd St SE) with studios and performance space for local artists. Almost anything goes at artBox, from Aboriginal to African art, from concerts to exhibitions.  It has quickly become a meeting place for artists from diverse ethnic backgrounds and as well as patrons of the arts.

So successful, it spawned “Emerge Market,” a retail pop-up shop in a shipping container on the front lawn of artBox.  Its goal is to assist young artisans and entrepreneurs to set up shop to test their products before taking the major step of opening up a permanent shop.  How smart is that?

The BRZ’s website lists six venues in IA that have live music weekdays and weekends. Who knew?

Angela Dione and Angel Guerra Co-founders of Market Collective (a collective of Calgary artisans established in 2011) were at a transitional point in the collective’s evolution when the International BRZ found them space in a former car dealership showroom for their pop-up Christmas Market in 2012.  Market Collective has since gone on to become just one of 17th Avenue’s incubator success stories.

Art box is an old retail paint store that is now a multi-purpose art space.  It has been so successful that a pop-up sea container has been added to allow artisans to showcase their work. 

Gentrification Free Zone

While places like Kensington, Mission, Bridgeland and Inglewood are quickly becoming gentrified, i.e. places where only the rich can afford to live, eat, shop and play, one of Karim-McSwiney’s goals is to foster development without significant increases in rent for retail and restaurant spaces, thus helping ensure the local mom and pop shops don’t have to close their doors or move elsewhere.

She and her Board realize one of the keys to IA’s future is to retain its established small unique destination with its local shopkeepers and restaurateurs. Illchmann’s Sausage Shop and Gunther’s Fine Bakery have both called IA home for 45 years and La Tiendona Market for 21 years.  It would be a shame to lose these icons as part of any revitalization, which is what happens all too often.

I love the fact that there are no upscale urban design guidelines for International Avenues facades.  Love the colour, playfulness and grassroots approach. 

  There are also several great neon signs along International Avenue. Love that this one has a phone number not a website address - how retro is that?

There are also several great neon signs along International Avenue. Love that this one has a phone number not a website address - how retro is that?

Last Word

For more information on events and new developments on International Avenue go to their website. Link: International Avenue BRZ 

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Are Calgary's Traffic Signals Optimized?

It all started with a simple question, “Why doesn’t the City have more flashing traffic lights late at night when there is little traffic?”

Recently, I had an opportunity to chat with a seasoned traffic engineer (who does not work for the City of Calgary and wishes to remain anonymous) and ask if s/he thought Calgary was doing a good job of optimizing our city’s 1,034 traffic lights.

While sitting in traffic, we all question the wisdom of traffic light management - in our own city and when visiting other cities.

This third party expert’s comment are enlightening.  Read on.

At 9:30 on a Monday evening the traffic at the corner of 19th St. and 5th Ave. NW is sparse, perhaps flashing red and yellow lights would be more environmentally friendly? 

Rush Hour Priority

“The City spends a lot of time and effort developing signal timing plans to optimize traffic flows on major roadways. These efforts are noticed when you catch every green light (I am not sure this ever really happens, but we will pretend it does) as you head down a major road in rush hour.

Creating an optimal traffic light signals program for major roads is a complicated process at the best of time. It gets very complex with variables like winter weather, accidents and construction. The needs for side street traffic, pedestrian and cyclist movement add another level of variables. 

On the whole, the City of Calgary does a very good job at optimizing the major roads during the morning and afternoon rush hours.”

Off-Peak Period Needs Improvement

“Where Calgary’s system is less effective is during off-peak periods and weekends. Often, the signal timing plans and progression models are less precise during those periods due in part to City resources being focused on making the busy rush hour periods work really well. There is only so much money to go around and to acquire all the necessary traffic count data. To utilize the necessary staff time to optimize signals in the off-peak periods more effectively would be a substantial undertaking.”

Everyday Tourist Research: It is true that while everyone focuses on the rush hours (aka peak hour traffic), in fact midday and evening traffic (3.3 million trips) is more than both rush hours combined (2.6 million trips). So it would make sense to optimize lights for off-peak period also. City doesn’t have current figures for weekend traffic. (Source: City of Calgary)
 City of Calgary, 2015 Vehicular Trips/Day

City of Calgary, 2015 Vehicular Trips/Day

Benefits of traffic light optimization

“There are two major impacts of improved traffic light management – time and emissions. Time is significant because unnecessary idling at red lights lengthens the period that vehicles are on the road, which creates more congestion, which then could lead to a demand for more or larger roads to accommodate the congestion. Congestion also adds to driver stress levels and perhaps even road rage. Emissions are significant because the longer a car is operating, the more noxious fumes it is emitting into the air.”

Everyday Tourist Research: Using the Natural Resources Canada “Individual Idling Calculator,” if the average Calgary driver sits idling in traffic for 20 minutes a day (say 10 minutes each way for commuters), it costs the driver $150/year in gas alone and each car emits 450kg/year of greenhouse gas (GHG) into the atmosphere.
Given Calgary has 2.6 million trips per day during peak hours or about 1.3 million round trips (includes workers, school buses, transit, commercial vehicles) that adds up to a cost of $195 million/year and 595 million kg/year of GHG.  So even a 10% improvement (2 minutes) in traffic signal optimization would mean a cost savings of $20 million and 60 million kg/year less GHG emitted in rush hour alone.

“The City is spending a considerable amount of time and money on measures like cycle tracks to reduced emissions through reduced vehicle usage. That is excellent and should be continued, but we could also reduce emissions with improved off-peak and weekend traffic signal optimization.”

Red Light Rage

“Every driver stews when stopped at a signal for what appears to be no good reason. It’s late at night when no other traffic is anywhere to be seen, or during the middle of the day when the opposing flows clearly don’t need as much green time as they seem to be given.

The City does have an on-line opportunity for citizens to identify under-performing traffic signals. A driver stuck at the light that seems to be red for no reason should report it at City of Calgary Traffic Signals Link.

The City will then review it in the field to see if the traffic light needs to be tweaked in terms of cycle length, or could become a flash light at certain times of the day or perhaps earlier in the evening than is currently applied.  We need to work together to help the City optimize traffic lights.”

There were lots of times when there was no traffic at 19th St and 5th Ave SW at 9:30 on a Monday evening.  There area probably lots of secondary and tertiary intersections like this that could benefit from flashing lights during the over night period.

Last Word

Obviously, there is a need for resources to be set aside by the City to facilitate this.  Its takes time and horsepower to send staff out to look at hundreds of signals, many of which might have perfectly good reasons for operating the way they do and require no adjustments.

However, relatively small amount of effort could potentially produce a significant positive impact on Calgarians’ quality of life and our environment. It would also be a significant cost savings for businesses; especially given Calgary is a major distribution hub.

There are opportunities in traffic signal optimization to make a difference that could benefit everyone….not just drivers. And we can all play a role in identifying the biggest trouble spots.” 

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Calgary: Planners and Politicians are too downtown and ego centric!

Everyday Tourist Note: We love getting comments and insights from readers. This week, we received a very thoughtful email about Calgary's urban/suburban divide that warranted a guest blog. 

I keep reading about the urban/suburban divide, the evils of sprawl, and the mismanagement of development. At the same time, I read of the declining importance of downtown, with the majority of employment growth occurring in the outside areas – the industrial parks, the distribution centers, universities and hospital campuses, the airport – and on.

Downtown is an island of high-rises that has less and less relevance to the majority of Calgarians. (photo credit Peak Aerials) 

What is downtown Calgary?

We have dozens of office towers occupied by oil and gas companies, banks, legal firms, investment advisors, and government.  It certainly isn’t representative of the full economy of the city.

And while there is a retail component to downtown, it is certainly not a draw for the majority of people who have much more accessible shopping without any of the hassles and expense of going downtown.

Many of the towers would not exist but for the extravagance of the oil industry in good times, and now that the industry has again fallen on hard times, the downtown is paying a steep price.

Many believe that this is a long term, or even a permanent problem, as the economic structure of that industry has changed.  At the very least, we may again be facing a lost decade, similar to the 1980’s.

Yet employment growth, and economic expansion, continues in Calgary, as does population growth. But despite the fact that the large employment centers outside the downtown are out-performing the downtown, the city remains disproportionately focused on downtown.

We continue with our hub and spoke approach to public transit, our tunnel vision on all things downtown, be it bike lanes, parks redevelopment, pedestrian bridges, and on. And all we hear about are the evils of sprawl.

 

This City of Calgary Land Use Typology map illustrates how Calgary NE and SE have be designed as major industrial employment centres (purple). However, these areas are serviced mostly by road rather than transit.  It also illustrates how most of the residential zoning is on the west side of the city with employment on the east, yet most transit routes are oriented north and south. The City is responsible for the disconnect in Calgary's land uses, not developers. 

Calgary's current and planned LRT routes are all downtown centric. 

Change focus

Where is the focus on the access needs of the industrial parks, the distribution centers and other outlying employment centers?

Who is championing public transit that will service these areas without the inevitable connection to the C Train or routing through downtown. 

Where is the encouragement to better link these employment centers to surrounding residential with the same access that we fund in the core?

Is there any less need for funding of pedestrian access and bike routes in the suburbs, or to these employment centers?  Some would argue the need for bike routes is even greater, given the city’s long standing approach to development, where suburbs are essentially individually walled off communities, and the routes in an out are mid to high speed roadways with no pedestrian or bike access.

SE Inland Port anchors a major employment centre in Calgary with minimal transit service. 

Quarry Park is a major employment centre in Calgary's SE quadrant but has poor transit service as a result of all transit in SE focused on existing South LRT leg service to downtown.

Southeast is booming

Over the past few years, two major employment centers have developed in the Southeast – Quarry Park and Seton (the South Hospital Campus).  These are not centers that were being redeveloped and face the limitations of decisions and designs of decades past. 

They were clean sheets of paper, and could be designed and built to fulfill all of the pet initiatives being touted by council, city planners, and the various special interest groups that arise every time changes are planned in communities.  

But neither development can be viewed as overly pedestrian or bike friendly, transit oriented, or even planned to encourage living in nearby suburbs.

Somehow we have developed this skewed vision of a world-class city, with a downtown full of architecturally significant towers and condos, with these great public areas, art work, parks, etc.  Unfortunately, that is not where the majority of the population is, wants to be, or can afford to live. Nor is it where the majority work.

South Health Campus will anchor a new Healthcare focused city at the southern edge of the city. (photo credit Peak Aerials) 

Urban Sprawl City's fault

Calgary is where it is today because of our city administration and planners.  They annex the land.  

They layout and approve the subdivisions, shopping centers, employment centers, industrial areas, and transportation routes.

They layout the rules for all the development that happens in new communities.

Yet it is the developers who seem to be at fault for the sprawl, the transportation issues, the lack of density, the dependence on cars, and on and on.

Something is amiss.  

Map of Calgary's vision for Rapid Transit routes is still downtown centric, but there are more east west routes.

Out of whack? 

I think the City’s basic priorities are out of whack. The future of Calgary is not in the downtown, nor in the million dollar infills or luxury condos. 

Calgary is a city of young, growing families, most with jobs outside of the downtown, with a focus on raising families with ready access to parks, recreation facilities, neighbourhood schools and shopping.

While the designer bridges and public artworks look great on postcards, they have little impact on the majority of Calgary’ citizens.

Gerry Geoffrey is a retired CFO of a major Western Canadian corporation and a resident of Calgary since the mid 80’s. His sentiments are similar to the feedback received from many Everyday Tourist readers.

Finally, the SE quadrant will be getting not one but two new recreation centres - SETON and Quarry Park.  (photo credit, SETON Recreation Centre, City of Calgary website).

Downtown urban design makes for dramatic postcards, but don't serve the needs of the majority of Calgarians.