I've been driving a lot lately.
For someone publicly critical of car-think and who as a result receives car-shamed apologies from colleagues who drive to meet me for coffee, this is not a shoe that fits without blisters. But it has helped me understand *why* people drive in a city like Edmonton.
From the point of view of a walker/cyclist/transit-rider, who's been playing a bit part as a motorist of late, I can more clearly see driving is far less about choice and far more about unnecessary barriers to doing things without a car. In Edmonton, there are a whole lot of incentives to get behind the wheel—and no, winter is not one of them—and few reasons to consider alternatives.
I've been driving a lot lately because my partner lives in Cloverdale. The community is small, idyllic and bordered on all sides by dramatic geography — hills, river valleys, vistas. Downtown is so close that the skyscrapers almost cast a shadow upon Cloverdale. But the way we treat non-automobile mobility in Edmonton for this central community, which hosts thousands for Folk Fest every year, is a story of closed walking trails, non-existent bike infrastructure and sidewalks, and unusable bus service.
Let me break it down by mode.
One day this week, I went to Cloverdale from my 124 Street condo using Edmonton Transit. My options were a bus route that would drop me off at a place requiring a 20+ minute walk after a 25 minute ride, or to wait for 30 minutes at the stop for the infrequent bus that rolls right past my partner's house. I chose the walk. And I decided to make it an adventure by walk on the roof of the Muttart as a short-cut. Walking is fun and I make sure to explore when I walk.
One day this week, I biked to Cloverdale. Hoo boy. Getting reasonably close wasn't so tough, once I braved biking down the Victoria Park hill, which has a 60 km/hr speed limit, in order to get to a protected bike pathway along the river to head east. Things got tougher, though, once in Rossdale, where my options for getting across the river were limited to a sidewalk along the 98 Ave. bridge. It wasn't safe, or inviting. I'll have to study the route more to figure out a better, safer route, possibly including the Low Level Bridge. Thankfully this trip takes only about 20-25 minutes and keeps me fit.
One day recently, I tried to walk from Cloverdale's neighbour, Riverdale (where I'd brunched at Little Brick), to downtown. Unfortunately, as is usual in Edmonton, walking trails are the first things to be closed whenever construction is afoot (pun intentional). I ended up hopping wire fences and walking in restricted areas in the Louise McKinney Park area to take a more direct route downtown. Detours are always offered to motorists when a road is closed. They are almost never offered to people on their feet or bicycles. Why?
Many days this week, in what is my cheapest and most logical option to get to Cloverdale from 124 Street, I've driven a Pogo carshare to the northeastern edge of its zone , which happens to be beside an old brewery and Diamond Park in Rossdale, on 100 Street. It's as close to Cloverdale as Pogo goes. From there I walk up on to the 97/98 Ave. bridge and head east, only for the sidewalk to end along 98 Ave. I'm then forced to run across a two-lane, high-speed traffic loop, then trundle in mud and slush on 98 Ave. until 96A Street, where the sidewalk returns. There are, oddly, crosswalks and lights on this route, as the Muttart is right here, but there are no sidewalks.
As my partner said on one of these walks to Cloverdale, as we got close to her place, "Finally, the sidewalk is back!"
Many days this week, I've also driven to downtown in my partner's car. From Cloverdale, the traffic never stops flowing, the lights are all timed to make the trip easy. We're at Jasper Avenue in about six minutes. Adding a trip to 124 Street adds another 10, and I stop for lights on Jasper maybe three times at most.
Thing is, the car will always have a convenience advantage — that's why we pay so dearly for them, in all ways (think social costs as well as material costs). But in Edmonton this advantage is stretched and distorted. If there were better bus service, my partner would likely take the bus downtown for work. If there were bike lanes, she would likely consider biking. She once walked to work, but now with the Cloverdale Footbridge gone and all those barriers up for the LRT and the funicular, the time to do so has been doubled.
So, have I been *choosing* to drive to Cloverdale or has driving been forced upon me?
The hope in this story is the Valley Line LRT. It will soon have a stop right in Cloverdale, two blocks from my partner's place. It will connect us, with a short walk, to nearly everything. I wouldn't be surprised, however, that we don't have sidewalks or bike lanes connected to the station when it opens. We still don't think of those things in our car focused city.