Vision Zero

Edmonton's 'war on the car' is a dog whistle by Tim Querengesser

Hear that? It's the Edmonton Journal whistling for a bunch of dogs, throwing us another chapter in the bunk narrative of motorists versus pedestrians and cyclists. 

On Monday, the Journal editorial board argued that the city's proposed changes to the west end of Jasper Avenue suggest it has the "unspoken goal" of making driving a private automobile so frustrating that motorists just give up.

The suggestion riles up a huge majority of Edmonton residents, so bravo, Journal editorial writers. These residents are forced to drive because, well, Edmonton has outsourced mobility to the private automobile in this city on a scale other Canadian cities have recognized is unsustainable.

But the rile up is based on pure fiction — that giving an inch to pedestrians and cyclists means taking it from motorists.

Not true. 

The proposed changes to Jasper Avenue's west end — narrower lanes, transit buses sharing lanes with other vehicles and the overkill third lane being converted to event space and parking (though, let's be honest, the city hopes it'll be parking) — are all built around preserving Jasper as a vehicle-flow conduit. 

If you've been to the many open houses on the re-envisioning of Jasper Avenue project, you'll have heard from the overwhelming majority who come out and tell the polite, if potentially frightened city planners, that what they want is a street that does what the Journal editorial writers seem to think is impossible: a street that both offers a place that's inviting and safe to be a pedestrian, while also allowing motorists to flow through their neighbourhoods.

It isn't impossible. That's the false premise this argument is built upon.

Why? It's all about size.

Edmonton's traffic lanes are among the widest in the world. Some are wider than fourteen-and-a-half feet. The emerging '10 not 12' movement in the United States is using hard, scientific research to back up the assertion that reducing lane width slows traffic to a speed that sees more pedestrians survive when struck by motorists, but also allows traffic lights to be timed more effectively to ensure traffic continues to flow while also allowing pedestrians increased safety. 

There is a win win in this thinking. Jasper Avenue could be a place where multiple forms of mobility exist, rather than just one dominant one, with all other users risking their lives to exist there, as is the current case.

What needs to change most isn't Jasper Avenue, though. It's our mentality. We continue to live in the false idea of road scarcity. Any change, so goes this thinking, threatens the status quo, threatens the entitled right we have to drive without delay. 

We can re-invent Jasper Avenue to be more pedestrian friendly. Shops along the avenue will thrive, since pedestrians spend more time (and money) than do motorists driving through an area on their way to somewhere else. A sense of place will return to a street we talk of as our 'Main Street' but is something of a hybrid between a freeway and a pedestrian mall.

The war on the car is a false conversation in Edmonton. The war was fought. The car won. All the rest of us are asking for with projects like changes to Jasper Avenue is simple co-existence. 

* Full disclosure: I was nearly hit by the driver of an Edmonton Transit bus on Jasper Ave. this morning. I was in a crosswalk. 

© Copyright 2017 Tim Querengesser. No reproductions without license. Image: Flickr/Ishikawa Ken