How Edmonton is quick to words but slow to action by Tim Querengesser

On September 10, Calgary will debate a motion to adopt a 30km/h speed limit on its residential streets. For anyone in Edmonton – a city that has bragged about being the first major Canadian city to adopt the principles of Vision Zero, which it did in 2015 – this debate and the widespread support the proposal appears to have within Calgary's council should be instructive.

You see, Calgary has not declared itself a Vision Zero city in the way Edmonton has. Those advocating for improvements under the Vision Zero banner in Calgary are not city employees beholden to the bureaucratic maxim of not rocking boats while trying to make change. 

They are just advocates.  

 Flickr/Allain Rouiller

Flickr/Allain Rouiller

This distinction is important. Reaching the very necessary goal of Vision Zero, which is to see a road design that results in zero deaths from collisions, will not be achieved through pain-free information campaigns that urge us to slow down, or tell pedestrians to pay more attention, or suggest those on their feet wear reflective tape, or have people with flags announce their presence at crosswalks. And it won't be achieved through having police ticket speeders (though this does help slow people down somewhat).

Instead, it will require a rethink of our streets and how we design them. Design a street for speed and you will get speed.   

While Edmonton has made some progress to protect active-mobility users on our streets, including the bike-lane network, creating some actual Vision Zero targets, adopting Complete Streets as a design standard and contemplating banning rights on red, what we have right now is a bit of city council contradicting itself. It has done this by voting in Vision Zero but then choosing to postpone a vote on one of its many necessary steps, which is 30km/h speeds in residential areas.

Speed is central to Vision Zero goals. As one Swedish Vision Zero expert visiting Edmonton said, as reported by the CBC, "To my eye, you have very high speed in your town compared to what we see in Sweden. We are giving higher priority today to cyclists and to pedestrians, getting the speed of cars down, making the city a lot of livable."


In Edmonton, real, hard, often unpopular decisions will have to be made for us to even come close to achieving Vision Zero. Political will, well, will have to be shown. Emails from angry drivers will have to be either ignored or absorbed or balanced, rather than used as reasons to postpone decisions. 

The boat, in short, will have to be rocked. Thirty will have to become normal in neighbourhoods.

I find it highly interesting that Calgary has gotten to this point and, after September 10, if all goes the way advocates hope, may in fact overtake Edmonton in putting some basic Vision Zero principles in place. All despite Edmonton having a dedicated office, budget and staff charged with that very task. 


Freedom of Information needs to earn its name by Tim Querengesser

On June 12, I filed a Freedom of Information request with the City of Edmonton as part of a story I'm working on. 

Under the Act, which came into force in 1995, the city has 30 days to respond to a Freedom of Information request. The city did this – only to tell me there was going to be a delay for an unspecified period. The staff that oversee these requests to the city have been mildly pushing to find a way to get me the public information I have requested. They have suggested ways to streamline the language of my request and reduce the people identified in it in order to shrink the amount that's caught in the inevitable net. They have been helpful, if requiring me to keep checking in on something that, ostensibly, they're supposed to be getting to me on a deadline. 



Still, none of this has resulted in documents in my hands or even a firm date of when I can expect my information request to be honoured. This means today, August 23, is 71 days since the request was filed and 41 days beyond the timelines the Act spells out as its target response times.

It's a convoluted and incredibly time-consuming process to do much about this, like file a complaint. And given the discussion about Freedom of Information with the city, it's something we need to discuss fulsomely.  

Ep. 01 – Elevating Edmonton: The launch of a podcast about architecture in Edmonton by Tim Querengesser


The first episode of Elevating Edmonton is here.

In our first round-table talk about architecture in our fair city, not-at-all experts Dan Rose, Dave Sutherland, Tim Schneider and me, Tim Querengesser, join actual architect Shafraaz Kaba to discuss Edmonton identity, proposals such as Manchester Square and The Grand, old hits like Peter Hemingway's pool and the CN Tower, and ongoing issues, like our constant identity crisis, our frontier thinking and our lack of an architecture school. Some coffee is sipped in the background; it may have contained Baileys.  

Music: Komiku - Mall
From the Free Music Archive
Licence: CC

Photo: Flickr/eng1ne

Unsafe crosswalks have city talking about legal implications: FOIP by Tim Querengesser

The City of Edmonton is discussing potential legal implications connected to unsafe crosswalks, a recent Freedom of Information request I have received reveals. 

After filing the request in June and receiving it today, I am able to report that 59 pages of documents the public is not allowed to see – because they are classified as privileged information – exist within City of Edmonton administration.

These documents were found after I requested the following through Freedom of Information: "Records of discussions between Transportation Officials and Legal Counsel regarding potential legal liability to the City of Edmonton as a result of documented inadequacies, safety deficiencies and lacking safety designs in crosswalks."

For context, in April, City of Edmonton administration shared a report to city council that showed 659 dangerous crosswalks across the city. The report also detailed how fixes for these crosswalks would cost $58 million.

Many noted at the time that our current pace upgrading these crosswalks – we spend roughly $2 million annually on crosswalk upgrades – would mean Edmonton will take 29 years to make these crosswalks adequately safe. Some questioned whether this situation, where the city has admitted unsafe condition for pedestrian infrastructure, exposed the City of Edmonton to legal liability in the event of a pedestrian being hurt or killed in one of these crosswalks.

The conversation at the time was amplified by the death, earlier in April, of 16-year-old Chloe Wiwchar, who a driver hit and killed as she walked in a crosswalk with signaled safety features on Kingsway. 

The questions about legal liability are natural because other cities are facing them and even paying for them. Because evidence from multiple jurisdictions shows that drivers who hit and injure or kill pedestrians rarely face serious charges, many have turned to the civil courts. Recently, California courts ruled that pedestrians injured in crosswalks can sue cities in civil courts, based on cities having an obligation to having safe property. In other states, that's already happening. In Missouri, a couple injured while crossing a street in an area identified by Jefferson City officials as dangerous is suing for $2.25 million. In Hawaii, a man hit by a driver while in a crosswalk recently won a suit and received more than $11 million in damages.

The City of Edmonton claims all 59 pages generated with my information request are privileged information (essentially, discussions between lawyers and clients) and therefore I and anyone else can't see them. To be crystal clear, that means there is only evidence of documents, but no evidence that the city is concerned about this situation or facing any potential lawsuits or doing anything other than simply talking about it.