Ask anyone, anywhere, at any time in the city what they think is the number one problem with which Edmontonians have to deal, and they will most often give an answer that has something to do with transportation. With the city’s focus over the past ten years on improving public transportation, quality of roads, and their overall safety, it is surprising how these type of comments persist. The mayor, when a councillor, used only public transportation for three months to understand the problems people were facing in our city in order to better evaluate the solutions being brought to council. He, also, stood for hours on 114 Street and 76 Avenue to observe first-hand the ridiculously long delays the new LRT system was causing residents in Belgravia and McKernan, not to mention the traffic coming and leaving the University daily to the south. This type of understanding is key to developing our city’s systems in the best way within our new vision of Edmonton, and it should not only be encouraged, it should be the majority of council who thinks this way. This is how the administration should be operating, and how we should be evaluating how to transition our city into the vision of a city with equally beneficial and harmonious transportation options around town.
Instead, we know from several interviews recorded in the media – some from my own in the past few years with transportation and public works in my role as president of a community league – that much of the proposed improvements and transportation systems come to us from companies that are as far away as Spain, but most from Eastern Canada and the United States. As in the case of the Valley Line LRT extension, much of the designs are done by people who neither use the roads affected nor public transportation in general. However, and most surprising, most of these plans were designed by people who had never even been to our city. Jarrett Walker, one of the foremost authorities on urban transportation, has pointed out several times that it is difficult to really know what is good for a place if one does not spend any time there, nor if one does not have a vested interest in the community. Computer modeling only goes so far before massive problems can occur, as we have seen several times with the LRT Metro line. The city’s transportation problems are the result of tackling plans in isolation from one another, and council naively looks at only what is presented to them, instead of getting out, seeing how the people in our city move, and taking a first-hand approach to a very expensive and long-lasting series of decisions.
Take the recent Edmonton Journal comments this past November about Jasper Avenue’s newest revival. The administration states that the lights are designed for a pedestrian to walk a mile during rush hour without stopping. This means that people on bicycles and buses are stopping constantly, conceivably every block. There has been no thought about drivers who will short-cut through the other streets, as is seen in numerous instances currently. There has been no foresight to reference other transportation project in the vicinity either. I asked one of the planners how other road developments tie into the Jasper Avenue project, by which routes vehicles who come to Save-On on 109th Street, or any of the galleries on 124 Street will likely alter the traffic flow and was told that they had no studies to analyze this. So, the city has a great plan to make an old street pretty and pedestrian-oriented but is still designing the road to be a five-lane thoroughfare for buses, cars, and bicycles, one which will lead to any number of potential problems. Will the businesses lose customers because the vehicle pattern changes drastically, as the model suggests it will? How many new condominium and high-rise projects in the area have parking enough for their occupants, and how do these people get out of the area with the new road limitations in place? Does the speed of 37.8 km/h – how can one even design a proper report with such a ridiculous speed estimate in a 50 km/h zone? – take into account a significant amount of traffic blocking the left lanes to turn at key intersections along the route? We know that the city’s administration has no answers to these very real concerns with such a change in the use of the road.
Council is leading us – or being led by administration – towards another major transportation bungle. This is the same lack of foresight that created the absolute pandemonium of long vehicle queues and an even more dangerous mess for people who want to use their bicycles, or simply walk from their nearby condominiums around the Metro LRT extension on Kingsway and 111th Avenue. Council’s ideology perpetuates these mistakes, and even manage to irritate the cyclists for whom they are unable to get a proper bicycle network operating. The current council is unable to recognize this trend.
There are too many recent transportation gaffs to list, and very few successes, which supports the needs to change the ideology within council. I am the person who, like our mayor, goes out and observes current scenarios before agreeing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars re-organizing the city’s transportation. I take into account the businesses affected by bridge-building and LRT crossings. I listen to people’s valid opinions about projects like the Brewery District’s vehicle-focussed design and realize that this does not fit with what we are now planning on doing a mere four blocks to the south. And, I will be the councillor who never blames residents for the uncoordinated repair schedules of roads, like we have seen on 102 Avenue late last year. Rather, I’ll fight for tax dollars to be spent wisely. I advocate for a change in the way we are approaching our transportation, a change that must ultimately come from new people who stay accountable for these decisions.