Calgary traffic: going nowhere fast

By Natalie Sit

Where is Calgary headed?

With recent statistics showing Calgary’s population grew by 14 per cent since last year, Calgary must confront its traffic problems quickly and efficiently. To get a jump on things, the city announced a $350 million program to relieve traffic congestion. Of that, $70 million is earmarked for three new overpasses in the south.

However, studies show that more roads and interchanges increase traffic over the long run. Some believe the city should start looking at alternatives sooner rather than later.

Why do we build

The three interchanges, situated at Crowchild Trail and 50th Avenue SW, Glenmore Trail and 18th Street SE, and Macleod Trail and Shawnessy/Midlake Boulevard SW, are all part of Calgary’s Transportation Infrastructure Information Project.

"When we looked at these 25 or so projects council asked, ‘If you had more money right now, which one would you build beyond TIIP?’" said City of Calgary Senior Transportation Planner Frank Perich. "These three interchanges came to the surface. We didn’t invent them, they were already identified for the 2010 network. It’s just a matter of which ones we could build right away."

As well, the city will eventually extend the LRT line further south than the Fish Creek station and that will occur in conjunction with the Shawnessy/Midlake Boulevard overpass. All three overpasses will be completed at the end of 2003, and take into account future LRT developments.

"The LRT would have been crossing Shawnessy Boulevard at grade," explained Perich. "Then someday down the future we would have to put a detour in and build an overpass for the LRT. It’ll probably save us a considerable amount of dollars."

Driver disincentives

According to University of Calgary Environmental Design Associate Professor and Coordinator of Urban Design Dr. Bev Sandalack, new roads may not help Calgary’s traffic snarls because building more roads actually increases traffic.

"They may solve a few short-term localized problems but what they ultimately do over the long haul is increase traffic," explained Sandalack. "It’s an absolute endless cycle you get on. If you make roads easier to travel on, then more people tend to travel on them."

While Ward 7 Alderman Druh Farrell is not opposed to spending money on road infrastructure, she thinks the city should also look at alternatives.

"To say that Calgarians are in love with their cars and refuse to think of other methods is wrong because we’re not offering them alternatives and we’re not making it difficult to not use those alternatives," explained Farrell. "You need a mixture of incentives and disincentives. We’ve been buffering our citizens from the impact of their decisions. If they want roads that get them someplace quick, maybe they should have to pay a gas tax or a toll."

L.A. not the plan

Farrell feels the city has strayed from the ideals of the Go Plan-a document that outlines Calgarian’s opinions and future infrastructure policies-to a city that was never outlined in its policies. City of Calgary citizens said in the Go Plan they do not want a sprawling city like Los Angeles but Calgary has not learned from bigger cities’ problems. Both Sandalack and Farrell agree that this must change before the situation gets worse.

"I think Calgary is an incredibly rich city, it’s one of the richest cities in North America," said Sandalack. "There aren’t the same urban problems you would find in cities in the United States where there’s a decaying urban core and there are huge problems with homeless. We have a lot of luxury to do things right and we’re putting the emphasis on the wrong place."

To counteract this, Sandalack wants City Council to step back and decide what sort of urban life Calgary wants and how it should get there-something that’s addressed in the Go Plan. Another idea is that Calgary should be made up of neighbourhoods and not suburbs.

"Every neighbourhood needs a little bit of what’s required to live there," explained Farrell. "And what we’re doing as a city is isolating recreational areas, working areas, where you live-they’re all separated. What we’re doing is really counterproductive to creating a city."

Where now?

Calgary is on the cusp of major decisions. While some believe traffic problems have hit critical mass, others feel Calgary’s traffic is minimal compared to other major urban centres.

"We need a balanced approach. We’re experiencing growing pains. People aren’t used to traffic delays in Calgary," explained Farrell. "I think people need to realize this will be the wave of future unless we change, first, the way we build our city and second, our behaviour."

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