Edmonton prepares to embarrass itself internationally on pedestrian safety / by Tim Querengesser

Starting on July 9, Edmonton will host a four-day International Conference on Traffic Safety at the Shaw Conference Centre. And to prepare, and to underline that words are mostly what we do here rather than actual action, less than a few blocks from the conference centre, Edmonton has allowed walking to become something people choose to do with traffic.

 Edmonton is a great place to get in some unplanned running – which this guy is doing in order to walk through the downtown. Clearly he's feeling the Vision Zero love. Photo: Tim Querengesser 

Edmonton is a great place to get in some unplanned running – which this guy is doing in order to walk through the downtown. Clearly he's feeling the Vision Zero love. Photo: Tim Querengesser 

The situation was bad enough over the past few months as the demolition crew that took down the Bank of Montreal building at 101 Street and 102 Avenue apparently managed to significantly damage the sidewalk in front of the land parcel, closing the sidewalk on the east side of 101 Street. Many have emailed people within the city and have shared with me the responses they have received, which show that there is not a high level of concern about the situation – all the correct permits to close the sidewalk are in place, apparently. No pedestrian detour has been created. Nothing to see here.

What has made this situation perverse, however, is that now, a half block north of the BMO site, the sidewalk outside our main commercial area, City Centre Mall, is closed on the west side of the street. What this means in theory is a person would have to cross 101 Street three times in order to walk to several destinations if they were walking southeast. Again, no pedestrian detour has been created.

The result in practice, as I observed last night while standing there for three minutes, is that people are now walking with traffic, literally in the vehicle lanes (which of course have not been largely affected) both in front of the BMO site and now to the north, on the other side of the road, in order to walk around these sidewalk closures. It's quite the feat for the first large city in Canada to adopt Vision Zero principles. Watching people navigate this space while huge city buses squeeze through it is frightening. Someone will get hurt.  

One can only hope the resulting embarrassment this will create when outsiders have a look and point this out will sting.

The International Conference on Traffic Safety will feature presentations from several experts from Sweden, which has led the way on Vision Zero, a talk by Jane Terry from the U.S. Safety Council, a talk called "Safe System in Urban Environments: Catering to Vulnerable Road Users" by Colin Brodie, from New Zealand, as well as a keynote by Anders Lie, a Swedish administrator with more than 20 years experience pushing for Vision Zero.  

I sincerely hope all of our esteemed guests go for a stroll in our downtown while they're here.