“For a couple of years now, I've been involved in a fruitless and now quixotic quest to make my road feel a little bit safer,” says Glynn Pearson. The Calgary resident has been hounding the city to institute traffic-calming measures in his neighbourhood. He sums his complaint up this way: “Why, in a city that is supposedly democratic and egalitarian, does there appear to be two standards for safety and quality of life, one for wealthy enclaves [Elbow Park, Mount Royal and Scarboro] and another for the rest of us?”
Pearson lives on 33rd St. in the southwest neighbourhood of Killarney. In case you haven’t driven on that road (and he fears that you probably have), it’s a picture-perfect residential street — nice middle-class homes, big trees and well-kept lawns. Running through it is a narrow roadway that’s perfect for street hockey or kids riding bikes. Except you wouldn’t want your kids anywhere near it.
“We are terrified of having them out there,” Pearson says of his two daughters, aged two and five. “They do not go out the front door unsupervised.” He’s not alone. Neighbour Reid Cummings says he won’t let his seven-year-old son cross the street by himself because of the increasing traffic volume, blind intersections and “prolific” speeding on the roadway.
Though it looks residential, 33rd St. receives substantial traffic (about 3,600 cars a day according to city estimates) from people driving through Killarney via 17th Ave. to the north, and 26th Ave. to the south. With parked cars on either side, the road is barely wide enough for two medium sized vehicles to pass each other.
It’s a recipe for disaster; Pearson points out that there have been at least two severe accidents on the street during the three years that he’s lived there. Other residents along that stretch of road report a host of incidents, ranging from cars being swiped and side-view mirrors getting whacked off to household pets getting run over.
The roadway is just too narrow for the traffic it receives, says Pearson, who believes the solution is straightforward: institute traffic-calming measures. Yet, though Pearson and his 33rd St. neighbours have brought their concerns forward to a traffic review meeting as well as raising the question directly with their alderman and city traffic engineers, he feels they’ve been largely ignored. The culmination of their efforts was that in 2007, a single speed bump was installed on the street.
“We call it a speed jump,” Pearson says, wryly commenting on its ineffectiveness at slowing traffic.
What causes even more angst for Pearson is his belief that they are the victims of a conscious disparity — with close-by neighbourhoods like Mount Royal, Elbow Park and Scarboro getting substantially more traffic calming measures in the form of reduced speed limits, traffic circles and no-turn signs.
“By simple observation, you can see there’s a disparity,” says Pearson, who notes that while it’s virtually impossible for drivers to shortcut through these affluent neighbourhoods, Killarney has four “collector” roads designated by the city to handle significant traffic volumes between downtown and south Calgary. He adds, “It’s tough not to draw the conclusion that the city’s looking after affluent people first.”
For its part, the city says that people often believe that their road is dangerous even if it isn’t. Derek Heric, a spokesperson for the city’s Transportation Planning department says that according to its numbers, traffic volume on 33rd St. hasn’t changed since 1997, and the speeds measured there “were nothing to worry about.”
“We’ve done all we can from a traffic measures standpoint,” says Heric, adding that if there’s a problem with speeding or bad drivers, it’s an issue of traffic enforcement by the police, not city traffic policy.
As for the perceived disparity between have and have-less neighbourhoods, Heric refutes this, saying, “We treat every community the same. For us, it’s based on numbers. We do traffic counts, we do speed studies and we use that data to determine what traffic measures we can use.”
Still, Pearson, who readily confesses he’s not an expert on traffic engineering, wonders how wealthy land developer and Mount Royal resident John Torode got a personal meeting at his home with Malcolm Logan, the city’s director of roads, to discuss traffic calming (a meeting mentioned on the Mount Royal Community Association’s website), when he couldn’t even get a city engineer to come over and sit on his porch to observe rush hour traffic.
“Really, at the end of the day, our voices as the people who live on this road saying it’s not safe are being ignored,” says Pearson, who bears himself with the calm frustration of someone who has hit a city roadblock — and not the good kind that might bring his community’s traffic worries to a standstill.