A few thoughts on speeds, streets and Edmonton's future / by Tim Querengesser

It's been a difficult week for Edmonton when it comes to its vision of the city it wants to be — though there is at least one silver lining.

First, I should provide context. As most know I'm a writer, mostly in magazines now but also still in newspapers, and I'm also about to start a contract book. But as many also know I'm also passionate about creating healthier, more active options for people to move about cities and communities beyond car dependency. Many people just don't get why I wear two hats like this.

 Flickr/Kurt Bauschardt

Flickr/Kurt Bauschardt

I came by this honestly after growing up in an exhurb of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. Though I got my driver's license the day I turned 16 and though I have rebuilt cars, motorcycles and snowmobiles like any good country boy learns to do in such circumstances, I do not wish car dependency on anyone. It is not a healthy lifestyle. A lack of transportation options negatively affected my own life, until 20, when I left the exhurb for Ottawa and university (oh, the joys of moving *into* a city rather than *driving* into a city) and continues to affect my parents' lives. Both have replaced joints from not walking as much as they should, while my dad's also diabetic and my mom had a stroke a few years ago and automatically lost her license. Seeing her stranded at home on too many occasions underlined what the term car dependency actually means. It means being trapped.

Thankfully she got her license back.  

On Wednesday I sat through several hours of debate on a motion at city council that, many councillors noted, sidestepped dealing with what should have been the question put to a vote — whether to endorse a 30km/h speed limit on residential streets throughout Edmonton. Instead of that vote, however, council pushed its decision a year out. And as they did this it became clear to me that, just like climate change, the issue of road safety is not one that people will engage with based on facts. What I saw was a debate about worldviews rather than facts. And what I feel is so often unchecked in all this is how centrally car dependency has defined our worldviews.

We bake in a lack of choice when we build cities the way we built much of Edmonton — with multi-lane collector and arterial roads connecting to neighbourhoods of sparsely populated, mostly single-family homes hidden in enclaves of curvilinear streets designed, at least for the lucky residents who live deep within them, to keep vehicle speeds low. These people, ironically given their speed-protected environs at home, have no option other than to rely almost exclusively on an automobile for every trip they make. Every errand, baseball practice, school open house, doctor's visit or late-night snack requires keys, a steering wheel and gasoline.

It's not a surprise to me, then, that any proposal that is perceived to make this life even more difficult and unenjoyable — such as the space taken for a bike lane or a reduction in speeds to allow pedestrians the right to live if hit — can be seen as a loss. This is the only way I can square what I see, which is that many Edmonton residents hold the seemingly contradictory idea that people should go slower in their *own* neighbourhoods but that they, themselves, should not be impeded while driving through someone else's neighbourhood. As a result, it seems, 30km/h residential speeds are seen by many as a road too far to go.

I'm sad to say it also doesn't surprise me that a lot of our leadership seems to accept and amplify this contradiction. In place of clarity and resolve many people either elected or extremely well paid as civil servants to guide our city toward a place where more of us come out ahead have found ways to delay, obfuscate, leave basic questions unanswered or equivocate. I found it difficult to swallow. In what has become an unavoidable pattern to me since moving here in 2013 of wearing the race t-shirt before running the race, Edmonton patted itself on the back for becoming the first major Canadian city to adopt Vision Zero, in 2015, and then did very little else. It has not even started running that race. 

Thankfully, a few positive things emerged this week. Here they are in no particular order.

I bumped into a Cloverdale neighbour who's suddenly angry and motivated to push back on all of this stuff. And like me, he's especially tired of 98 Avenue bisecting our neighbourhood at 60km/h. I nearly die crossing it at least once a week. Let this be known: while the rest of the city is upset at the prospect of losing their 50km/h speed limit, I'd love for even that still-unsafe speed to be applied to my neighbourhood. Our neighbourhood has only asked for this since, oh, 1986. 

Another positive thing is that council unanimously voted in favour Wednesday of a motion to explore a bikeshare in Edmonton. One of the many hats I've started wearing as a self-employed guy is transforming my passion for active mobility into projects beyond stories. So, I've set aside being a writer on occasion to pursue the idea of a bikeshare in our city and, after lots of lobbying, meetings, pitches, a trip to Montreal, presentations and long talks, what started as a realization there wasn't someone stubborn and annoying like myself pushing for bikeshare in the city as an advocate has finally culminated in a step forward.

Doing these sort of things for my city is a big reason I left my last job. I felt I had no time to give back and continue to fight for a more equitable city for everyone. I couldn't volunteer and be part of Edmonton. So, this week, I feel more fulfilled than I have in ages.

Edmonton City Council will vote on a 30km/h speed limit on residential streets in March, 2019. If our council votes against it, or worse, finds a way to avoid voting in the first place as they did this week, I think it's plain. Edmonton should become the first major Canadian city to drop out of the Vision Zero program. If it can't vote for this proposal it should admit continuing with this theatre is insulting people who have either lost people, seen them injured or who feel unsafe or forgotten on our streets.