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May 22, 2016
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A thread for the good, bad and ugly of pathways, sidewalks, intersections, and public realm in Calgary. The goal is to bring light to why some public realms fail pedestrians and what we could do about them.
This Fn corner ?
Annotation 2020-04-15 111313.png
This is the post that inspired me to create this thread, but I wanted to take another deeper dive in this one location in particular to explain why it's so frustrating as a pedestrian.
What I hope to illustrate in this post and thread is that our pedestrian infrastructure - and the processes that updated, design it and advocate for it - need help. Culturally too few think about how people walk around in the city for transportation, too many compromises occur that more-often-than-not short-change the pedestrian spaces for any other need and no mechanisms seem to work with speed to rectify past mistakes when we know better. Hopefully this thread can be a positive start to documenting, debating and coming to some conclusions on how to improve these issues and commenting on these issues.

Macleod Trail & 11 Avenue SE
this intersection has always had a super long leading left turn from north-bound MacLeod to 11 Avenue, delaying pedestrians forever and creating a dangerous conflict when cars try to beat the phase change. The population of the area within walking distance has doubled several times over since 2007, when Streetview came online. Traffic volumes have been estimated for vehicles as well from the City's traffic flow volume maps:

Street Name2007 Daily Vehicle Volume2018 Daily Vehicle Volume
Eastbound 11 Ave SE14,00016,000
Northbound MacLeod Tr SE33,00029,000

Let's explore the physical environment through Streetview:

2007: Victoria's Parks first condos had recently been complete = more pedestrians. No bicycle racks, 4 poles and construction blocking part of the sidewalk

2009: not much has changed, except discarded construction debris in the grate which inconveniently lines up with the crosswalk.

2012: not much has changed, except the trash has moved and a bike rack has been installed. Also construction debris.

2015: again more construction debris, blocking the sidewalk. Repaving occurring but no improvements to the pedestrian realm. Gruman's sandwich board makes it's first appearance. Still 4 poles to do the job of 1.

2019: 12 years later and ever so slight progress: 1 pole is removed, but replaced with another smaller pole to say "no parking". Also note the asphalt patch job as a result.

Conclusion: So in 13 years since the first Streetview picture, the corner has not been changed to any real degree. The corner remains marginally or not accessible to anyone with a mobility devise, stoller or large objects due to all the unnecessary poles restricting sidewalk width to less than a metre. Construction debris still litters the area regularly. The dangerous leading left-turn signal remains, delaying pedestrians and causing conflicts. Signal phases don't change in length between evenings and rush hours when local v. commuter traffic needs shift dramatically. Local walkable population has exploded, traffic volumes are down, pedestrian volumes can be assumed to be way up - but we don't collect it as regularly. Over those 13 years, The city has numerous complete streets policies, area plans, East Village and walkability promoting programs in the immediate area, yet nothing addressed this corner or countless like it.

I assume we waiting for enough political momentum overrides the status-quo? Surely a boring old maintenance and infrastructure update program could automatically replace these pedestrian failures overtime? It works for the roads that were repaved here twice over the past 13 years, surely sidewalk repairs could be done similarly.
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Kensington Road & 10 Street NW
  • Two ramps pointed across the street more or less direct rather than a single ramp pointing into the middle of the intersection. Only get points because so many fail at this easy one (although it is improving recently with accessibility upgrades)
  • Non-standard street poles are narrower than typical city poles, saving a few centimetres of pedestrian space in a tight corner. Narrow poles for everyone should be standard.
  • Colourful signal box.
  • Laughably small.
  • Completely inaccessible to two people walking past each other - let alone strollers or wheel chairs - comfortably in the NW's most popular pedestrian district (!)
  • Congested with street artifacts unnecessarily (hydrant, signs, garbage can, fence, signal control box)
  • Sign at head level for tall people
  • Curve ramps slope the whole sidewalk so people are always walking on an angle.
  • Terrible sight-lines due to fence.
  • Advance left-turn green prioritizes car movements over pedestrians.
  • Golden opportunity to upgrade missed during recent streetscape improvements, my guess hoping that the corner developer would help take care of it.
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11 Avenue between 4th and 2nd Street SW

This one is a bit more subtle but is emblematic of the way we treated our sidewalks over time. Here is the context shot from overhead.

Red numbers are vehicle access ramps (6) blue is one of our strange lay-by lane setups.

On the street level:

a couple things:
  • 5 out of 6 vehicle ramps are sloping across the sidewalk so pedestrians walk on an angle
  • There is two sidewalk cut-outs to use as a lay-by loading lanes which is really weird:
    • The curb lane is parking, which was extended by half a lane for some reason.
    • The now 1.5 lane wide curb lane was extended *again* by another full lane width but only for the area in front of the building
As a result of this, the road ranges from 4 to 4.5 lanes to 6 lanes wide all within a half a block. Sidewalk width and directness are sacrificed for this need for lay-bys of varying widths. This makes walking slower, less safe, harder to maintain for snow clearing, in constant random conflict with vehicles and generally uncomfortable for almost the whole block. Not suprisingly there isn't anything to help mitigate the bad with something more pleasant (e.g. street trees, consistent street wall etc.)

The benefit for vehicle traffic is...? Some lanes 2.5 times wider than necessary? So you can double park? You could probably park more vehicles if you scrapped the lay-bys and had a straight, consistent curb the whole block. I get this was likely installed by the book in the 1980s, but it's these small details block after block that aren't improved that create a failed pedestrian realm throughout the city.
In the Kensington picture, I think they purposely did not re-do that corner because that lot is slated for redevelopment. You will notice that is really the only block that was not re-done when they did the streetscape improvements a few years back. I think you are right in assuming that whoever develops something there will take care to fix it up.
In the Kensington picture, I think they purposely did not re-do that corner because that lot is slated for redevelopment. You will notice that is really the only block that was not re-done when they did the streetscape improvements a few years back. I think you are right in assuming that whoever develops something there will take care to fix it up.
My critique of the "developer will do it eventually" approach at work here is that it might never get fixed or take years/decades or end up with non-ideal outcomes. In vehicle speak, it would be as if we only doubled 10 Street SW from 2 lanes to 4 lanes when this building was redeveloped. It's another sign that we don't take pedestrians or the infrastructure they require seriously if we are willing to wait until a random time in the future to get it, even in a key area.
One that I don't walk often, but have heard some serious safety complaints about, is the NW corner of 11th Avenue and 8th Street SW:

Tough, due to the historic building. And to their (minimal) credit, they have tried to snug the traffic signal pole up as tight to the building as possible. However, it is very small, entirely sloped to push you out into traffic, and on a very busy pedestrian route between the Beltline and downtown.

The good news is, there has been a master plan for 8th Street completed, and here is what the plan calls for:

It removes a lane of westbound traffic on 11th, to add to the public realm. No idea on timing of implementation though....
1 Street SW LRT Station

I think some of the anti-human stuff on the right has been since improved due to Telus Sky - although we could probably have a whole sub-thread just of wild construction closures of public realm spaces as well.

I don't know if I have seen another LRT system with this much clutter on the station. The renovations of the downtown corridor were a step up, but the clutter and design > pedestrian space thinking that led to so many columns was not a win. So much going on: maps, structural supports, ATMs, advertisements, seats. Could they not take out all the signs and string them between the structural columns freeing up 75% more space?

3 Street and 5 Avenue SW, facing south

3rd Street SW was designed to be more pedestrian oriented, albeit a long time ago. Let's see:
  • Traffic signal control box in the middle of the crosswalk
  • Non-standard, ornamental street signs right in the middle of the pedestrian footpath, with that awkwardly high gap underneath. Are we supposed to duck?
  • Sewer in the middle of the crosswalk
  • No ramp on the north-south crosswalk. Hopefully this has been amended with recent accessibility upgrades
  • Bonus points: street dirt and debris leaves the outline of where the curb actually could be to give more room to people but not impede traffic flow. Kind of like a sneckdown

  • Fancy pavement and ornamental street lights are fine, but those are way down the list from having consistent, clear and easy to navigate sidewalks. In this case, the addition of these nice-to-haves, without resolving the underlying design problems, actually made the pedestrian realm *worse* and harder to navigate

Probably could have had usage of a new sidewalk for a decade before that property gets redeveloped. They also skipped the NW corner at Memorial which is all broken up, with horrible curb cuts, but did the NE corner ?. Just a disaster.

In the Kensington picture, I think they purposely did not re-do that corner because that lot is slated for redevelopment. You will notice that is really the only block that was not re-done when they did the streetscape improvements a few years back. I think you are right in assuming that whoever develops something there will take care to fix it up.
17th Avenue SW

Here's a minor detail, but I don't recall seeing this design in other cities' main pedestrian streets. 17th Avenue SW finished section by Tompkins Park between 8 and 7 Streets SW.


A couple of thoughts from a pedestrian advocate:
  • Drain grate cuts into the sidewalk. Sidewalk is still wide-ish there but 0.3m or so "door zone area" of the sidewalk is now a tripping hazard. Why wouldn't you put in a standard vertical grate integrated into a flush curb?
  • The light pole was installed about the same distance away from the curb, but it's a bit wider. Effectively it cuts 1/3 off the sidewalk width and keeps that 0.3m door-zone near the curb
  • A little further down the road is a no parking sign is placed within that 0.3m area near the curb. Same with temporary construction sign a bit further down.
  • It's a brand new sidewalk in our highest pedestrian traffic area, and it was built only a year or two ago. The whole project rebuilt all underground deep and shallow utilities, so I would assume there shouldn't be many underground conflicts that would drive this outcome.
My question is do we or do we not care about this 0.3m door zone area?
  • If it's important: why don't we keep things out of it (e.g. parking signs, drain grates, construction material)?
  • If it's not important: why don't we put more stuff in it (e.g. light pole) so the sidewalk can be wider along our busiest pedestrian street?
Currently two strollers can't pass each other by that street light on what might be one of the busiest sidewalks in the city so it feels as once again, the pedestrian realm was sacrificed to answer (or fail to answer) that question.
Co-op Midtown - 11 Avenue SW between 10 and 11 Streets SW
This one was inspired by the conversation in this thread 16 Avenue NE Co-op redevelopment thread. In that thread there was lots of good discussion about what does it mean to design urban, is it even possible on such an auto-oriented street, grocery store design etc. Let's explore everyone's go-to urban grocery and apparent development attractor for thousands of high-density Beltline units in the past decade, Co-op Midtown. It's a bit different case that some of the previous examples as it's a mix of public and private space, but has many lessons in pedestrian and public realm to explore.

Context: red arrows are the vehicle access ramps, blue circle is the entrance. There are 4 access points for vehicles, and one access to the Vantage Pointe garage off 10 Street SW.The grocery store and tower were built in 2003 and 2004, before many of the other redevelopments in the area. Previously the block operating as a vehicle storage lot for ATCO (I think) and had a few light industrial buildings. Prior to that (e.g. 1940s/50s) there were houses on the block.


The closest vehicle ramp to the door has the only "sidewalk" to the entrance, however it is obstructed by two near-identical signs to warn you that you can't park overnight on private property as well as the big vehicle overhanging bar. Closer to the entrance, temporary plant racks and signs are setup adding to the congestion. Bonus points for having a bicycle rack in a parking spot - one of Calgary's only examples. Unfortunately at the time of writing the rack has since been moved to the congested narrow part of the "sidewalk". The blue line shows the cut in where the already narrow dedicated pedestrian space is narrowed further. Here almost everything that could be done to ignore pedestrians and pedestrian access has been done, or at least always a lower priority than more signage for parking..


From 11 Street SW looking east (aerial photo): some effort was clearly made to at least acknowledge the urban condition. Wide sidewalks, trees, benches were added here. No entrance at the corner, although if you follow the beige roof feature, it almost looks like they designed it to acknowledge the corner of 11th and 11th, perhaps a long forgotten thought of a future entrance or a faux-architecture nod to how traditional pedestrian-oriented stores work? Again, someone is thinking about urban-format and pedestrians, just not executing in a way that would make a material difference to them. Ironically, the faux-entrance has more pedestrian space that the real one.


From 11 Street & 11 Avenue SW faux-entrance corner: of course there is construction debris in the most recent Google photo, due to the 11th and 11th tower project here : ) Structurally, only complaints are the non-accessible ramp, street light interfering with pedestrians crossing, and the always ubiquitous-in-a-Calgary-sidewalk, the overly large traffic signal control box. Otherwise it's actually nicer than this photo might suggest: trees, largely unobstructed pedestrian footpath, lots of benches that get regular use and has great sun. Not on the list for offensively anti-pedestrian urban intersections.


  • Would have been interesting in the design and planning rooms back when this was proposed. You can see the outcomes of what they were trying to do and the tension between their different perspectives: traditional, conservative suburban grocery design + first-in urban redevelopment + mixed use + pedestrians as part of the conversation, but not a priority (still better than most suburban designs at that time IMO)
  • It's like pedestrians were acknowledged mostly everywhere except for the only thing you'd think matters - being able to access the store. Obstructions and poor access - even walking from the parking lot.

A different approach:
  • Here's an example of a suburban grocery store in the Netherlands here. Note that it also "faces inward" by placing it's entrance toward the interior parking lot - which is larger than Co-ops. The whole complex is also mixed use and relatively new. That's probably where the similarities end.

Below is the front entrance to that parking lot circled in red. Note the ample parking for everyone including bicycles (being the Netherlands, of course). No curbs, a giant plaza area immediately outside the area, little if any unnecessary signs or poles except to keep cars out of the walkway immediately near the entrance. The closest parking spot might actually even be *closer* in this this development than in Co-op's example. A residential component is integrated directly above the store as a bonus (I am not even advocating for that, as it's a whole other issue than public realm).


Again, it's the details when it comes to pedestrians. You can make a suburban, car-oriented grocery store with a surface parking lot a hell of a lot better if you actually give pedestrians even a bit more attention and space. The money and development triggered by Co-op could easily afford better treatment (the whole Co-op development probably cost more than the Dutch example with similar density) - but the issue isn't money, good places for pedestrians are cheap. It's about not ignoring the details and having the right values.


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