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Pole position: Mid-sidewalk streetlights irk residents in northwest Calgary community

Two light poles in the middle of the sidewalk along 19 Street NW are causing a stir in the neighbourhood and residents are hoping to find a fix.

Maybe even a plan to address the obstacles in the future.  

A resident in the West Hillhurst area, who goes by Sidewalk Bob on Twitter (real name Mark), said these are just two recent examples he’s documented of pedestrian barriers affixed to city sidewalks.

He first got on to the problem when he saw how the new light standards were put in at Crowchild Trail and 5 Avenue NW. After snapping photos, he sent them to Coun. Druh Farrell’s office. Mark got a response that they were aware of the issue but it likely wouldn’t be fixed until the next stage of Crowchild’s expansion.

“That’s where I kind of snapped, and said, ‘I’ve seen these things all over the place and I’m going to start taking pictures,’” he said.

Mark knew about the 19 Street NW ones because he lives nearby.

John Bolger, manager, development with City of Calgary roads, said they rely on citizen submissions – like this one – to identify problem areas. Bolger said that obviously today’s sidewalk / light design standards are different, and they don’t install them like that today.

In this case, he said there was some sort of fault with the pole, so it had to be replaced.

“Now that we know about it, and there’s actually two on that block, we can take a look and see if there’s anything we can do to help the accessibility,” Bolger said.

The solution and the cost to fix it varies – depending on if it’s extending the sidewalk around it or relocation of the pole.

You wouldn’t put a streetlight in the middle of a car lane, Coun. Farrell said

When asked about the situation on 19 Street NW, the area councillor, Druh Farrell groaned.

“The issue here is just complete thoughtlessness about how people move around the city,” she said.

“Surely when you’re placing a light standard or street sign or anything right in the middle of the sidewalk that you’d think with some empathy.”

Farrell said that people with strollers, wheelchairs or other physical impairments wouldn’t be able to easily navigate that area. They’d have to go on to the road to avoid the obstacle.

“I think it’s just path dependency,” she said.

“We would never think of putting a pole or an obstruction in the middle of a (car) lane. It’s bewildering to me. It’s a mystery.”

Mark said virtually those exact words when we spoke with him.

“What strikes me as weird in this whole thing is there’s a city crew who goes around puts up these posts,” he said.

“They’ve got the truck, they’ve got the concrete, they’ve got the post and someone says, ‘where should we put this boss and he says, right here is just fine.’”

Once identified, the city plans for a fix

Bolger said that when they’re identified, they’re prioritized and they see what can be done in that construction year. He said they look at utilities, property lines, right of ways – all factors in how quickly the a fix can be done.

“We try to make those improvements when we can, especially when we’re doing life cycle like this,” he said.

In this case, though he wasn’t sure, Bolger said a fix for these locations could happen this year. It really depends on the work involved.

Mark was skeptical the work would get done. He’s seen work done on city roads where light poles have been an issue. The concrete work is complete, but no change to the light.

“I’d like the city to tell the crews where they’re supposed to put the lights and that someone checks that they did that,” he said.

Coun. Farrell said the 19 Street lights could have been changed when the post was installed. The road is wide enough for additional concrete work or for the light to be moved.

“What seems to always be the case is the pedestrian is impeded rather than the automobile,” she said.

She’d like to see a hybrid approach that relies on citizens reporting problem areas. But city crews and contractors need to identify them and suggest fixes.

“When someone is out fixing something or installing something, they should be doing it properly,” she said.

“We should rely on the contractor, if it is a contractor, to identify that there’s a problem.”

Coun. Farrell said no one expects perfection right away.

“We expect improvement toward a better standard where it’s just second nature,” he said.