This weekend I was shoveling snow with other volunteers to make our local community rink. Right beside me was Gavin and his very determined 6 year old daughter who shoveled in the cold alongside everyone else for hours. Gavin laughed. “She’s perseverant!”
As I watched council vote 10-4 to make the downtown cycletrack network permanent, I thought of Gavin and his daughter. I wondered why the Ward 4 councillor opposed such a common sense way to make some streets a little safer – not just for young (and old) cyclists but for pedestrians and drivers too.
Take Gavin and his daughter. He told me she rode her bike to school – even in the face of extreme cold. I asked which route she took. Gavin said they like going down 2nd St NW, which is a city bike route used by many cyclists and pedestrians. They feel safe and secure. But then they have to head west on 20th Avenue NW, which is an extremely busy road and not very encouraging to cyclists, especially during rush hour. Gavin admitted that for safety’s sake they have no choice but to use the sidewalk along 20th Avenue, travelling slowly and leaving the right of way to pedestrians.
Gavin’s daughter is a rarity. The trend in Calgary shows fewer children walk or cycle to school. Increasingly, more and more schoolchildren are being driven, getting less exercise, putting more vehicles on our congested roads and turning stressed parents into chauffeurs. I’ve heard this first-hand – and from parents who live close to schools.
Why is this happening? Because parents are scared. In Charleswood they’ve told me they won’t allow their children to cross or walk along busy Northmount Drive – even with its 5 school zones. Families in Highland Park won’t let their children anywhere near traffic rushing along 4th Street NW. Parents in Cambrian Heights have described how idling cars obscure local crosswalks and make the walk for their young children dangerous. In Dalhousie, a senior told me that he’s raised concerns for years about how quickly traffic speeds by St. Dominic’s School, to no avail.
Sadly these parents are right to be worried. The stakes are high. On average a pedestrian is hit in a collision every day in Calgary. Nearly 10 pedestrians die each year, including on Centre Street. And local road rage is in the news again.
Some councillors framed the downtown cycletrack network as being for or against the automobile. In fact the improvements brought forward are making these streets safer for pedestrian, cyclist, transit rider and driver alike. We may not need bike lanes everywhere, but we do need safer streets.
Going forward when we consider projects to improve our streets, I’ll think of Gavin and his daughter and all those parents who want their children to be able to walk or bike to school and beyond.
As a kid I got myself safely to school from the time I was 6 years old. Seems to me these children deserve the same opportunity.