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Greg Neiman - Red Deer Advocate

Greg Neiman is a former Red Deer Advocate editor who now contributes regular columns and blogs which can be found in the Red Deer Advocate and on RedDeerAdvocate.com. Follow his blog at www.readersadvocate.blogspot.ca

Riverlands must be pedestrian-friendly

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Red Deer Advocate

No doubt city council and a fair chunk of city staff are taking a very close look at a letter from a former Alberta Transportation regional director, which says the $16-million plan for improvements to Taylor Drive is a waste of money.

Speaking as the one-time provincial director when the traffic mess was created on Taylor Drive, where it passes through the downtown, Jim Bussard wrote council recently to inform them that the planned fixes won’t help.

In fact, he says part of the plan could make things worse.

Basically, he says new intersections that would allow pedestrians to move between the Riverlands development and the city core will “confuse, bewilder and create accident situations.”

“Sixteen million dollars will have been spent to make traffic movement worse,” he writes to council.

What I don’t see in his comments as reported in the Advocate on Monday is an alternative that addresses the problems of Taylor Drive in that area.

Taylor Drive was designed primarily as an arterial road primarily to allow heavy traffic off Hwy 2 and 67th Street, to carry goods, workers and customers from the highway and city’s north side, to the multi-phased commercial sector in Southpointe.

The aim was to allow heavy vehicles to skirt the city core, and to link the southeast residential areas to the industrial areas on the northwest side, without having to route commuters through the downtown.

The route follows the abandoned rail line that was no longer needed when rail lands were taken by the city and developed into the downtown.

The footbridge just upstream of the Gaetz Avenue Bridge is the last (and nicest) vestige of that line.

Taylor Drive, with its double bridge, became much busier much faster, I think, than anyone projected.

As successful as it has been at carrying traffic flow, it also cuts 35 acres of potential prime development land off from the rest of the city.

At some point, somebody looked at the map and concluded the Riverlands and Cronquist areas were too valuable to the city’s future to allow them to remain an island bordered by a river on one side, and six lanes of heavy traffic on the other. The picture became further complicated when ReThink Red Deer rightfully pointed out that there is virtually no access onto the island, other than by car.

When Taylor Drive was built, it’s fair to say no one had foreseen that the city would grow as fast as it did, for as long as it did, and that eventually the only movie house within the city limits would be on the island.

As ReThink Red Deer warned, pedestrians did what pedestrians do: they walked by the hundreds from the downtown area to see a movie. Despite the barrier fences the city installed, people who don’t drive (typically youths) still make the unsafe dash across Taylor Drive.

It’s a testament to Red Deer’s safety-minded drivers that we haven’t seen tragedies as a result of this.

The residential and business potential of the Riverlands area cannot be ignored, or sneered at as pie-in-the-sky.

For a city like Red Deer, that area is as much a major part of our future as Edmonton’s municipal airport lands will be to them. Both will have the effect of nearly doubling the city’s core, in an era when planners worldwide are hailing “infill development” as a good idea.

But you’ve got to be able to get there. Edmonton has the luxury of their island being surrounded by arterial roads, a downtown college campus and rapid transit.

In Red Deer, we have a bus system that residents in the Cronquist area don’t want, and a whole lot of pickup trucks. That’s fine, that’s our city — but the future calls for walkability. The living experience of hundreds of other centres shows that vibrant cities draw more and more people who don’t always travel by car.

That growth requires infrastructure, in the same way as the city’s growth until now needed Taylor Drive.

Maybe Brussard is right. Maybe all we need at Taylor and 43rd is a roundabout, not a hugely-expensive, confusing intersection.

Maybe the pedestrian access points need to be somewhere else. I’d suggest we look first at the places where people are already walking (or would walk, if the area wasn’t fenced off).

I’ll bet council and planners are already looking at that.

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email greg.neiman.blog@gmail.com.

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