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Calgary adaptive roadways could see post-COVID changes as traffic swells

Adaptive roadways along Memorial Drive could be an ongoing weekend fixture, should City of Calgary data back up the lane closures.

That wouldn’t bother area resident Danny Gayle, who, along with his girlfriend, uses the expanded pathway area four or five times a week.

“I think it’s good to keep people feeling happy and protected,” said Gayle.

“Everyone has a little bit more room, so everyone’s been happy about it.”

The Memorial Drive pathway was overwhelmed with users when both the city and province encouraged people to get out each day for exercise.

The city closed the two south lanes along Memorial Drive, from about 9 Street NW to the Centre Street Bridge, in late March to provide more room for physical activity, while adhering to social distance guidelines. The city did open other adaptive road areas – there’s 13 kilometres of them. They were reluctant to reveal details that might attract larger crowds.

At several points, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he didn’t want it to create a street festival atmosphere.

Ravi Seera with the City of Calgary said they’ve been collecting data on the adaptive roadways since the start of the pandemic. Seera said they’re trying to get a better understanding of usage patterns and any trends.

“What we’ve found so far is the majority of the usage seemed to happen on the weekends and weekdays is very minimal,” Seera said.

Seera said they’ve also noticed some areas get used a great deal, while other adaptive pathways not as much. The Memorial Drive pathway, for instance, is head and shoulders above the usage of other similar areas, he said.

Memorial Drive backing up

With traffic volume trending up on weekdays as the economy re-opens, Seera said they’ll be looking at potential changes. That could include opening all four Memorial Drive lanes during the week.

“It’s going to be a data-driven decision,” he said.

“We want to make sure that over the next couple of weeks, that if demand seemed to be lower on weekdays and traffic volumes revert back to normal, we’ll be looking at that.”

Seera said they’ve been noticing traffic backups on Memorial recently, especially in the peak hours. They want to find a balance between the space and good traffic flow.

Gayle said he has seen traffic volumes picking up during the week along Memorial Drive.

“It definitely has – I know that a lot of the bigger energy companies have started going back to work, or at least giving people a voluntary option,” he said.

“Traffic’s definitely picked up in comparison to April or May even, but it still seems to be manageable.”

Gayle, who grew up in Calgary and lived here his entire life, would like to see the open lanes stay. He doesn’t know if it’s feasible long term, but he said the it’s a good opportunity to get people outside and keep them separated.

“I think in the short-term people can suck it up and drive the extra five minutes in traffic. It shouldn’t be too much of a deal,” he said.

Traffic did bunch up along Memorial Drive when lights turned red. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Two lanes instead of one  – for safety  

Seera said that should the Memorial Drive lanes be kept closed, it would be both of the south side lanes. Having that physical barrier seems to provide peace of mind to users.

“We want to make sure the space is designed for all users and age groups, so physically separated space helps maintain safety,” he said.

It’s possible users would see lane closures in the area from Friday evening to Sunday evening or early Monday morning.

While Seera said that the adaptive roadways today are a response to COVID-19, they will be taking the data they get here to determine if there are applications beyond this year. Perhaps they could be used in future summers.

“We want to make sure the usage is there,” he said.

“If there’s no usage, it will be tough for us to maintain these setups.”

Seera said as things begin to open further, the data becomes even more important. When they first opened, provincial and national parks were closed, as were bars, cafes and other social locations.

“So, I would say this was the only outlet for the public,” he said.

That could be inflating the numbers we’re seeing on city pathways – and they’re aware of it.

It’s allowing them to get a baseline now and develop criteria for roadway closures like this in the future.

In the meantime, they’ll examine all of the adaptive roadway closures – including the new one along Stephen Avenue. Many will stay open in some form for the summer. 

Others will close to make way for traffic, parking and business access as Calgary’s post-COVID relaunch continues.