When a land use redesignation came to council in mid-February, concerns were raised that a five-unit row house was just adding traffic to an already crowded area of Calgary.
One area homeowner said felt the ongoing densification was having a negative impact on businesses in nearby Marda Loop because of regular traffic jams.
But, the executive director of the local business improvement zone said the density has been a ballast for many area shops during the pandemic.
The plan, presented at the Feb. 8 combined meeting of council, was for the row of homes to face north on to 49 Avenue SW in the community of Altadore. It would replace a single-family home on the lot and turn it into five smaller ones.
Councillors heard that from the developer that it fit that “missing middle” for homes in the area.
“After collecting data from the market and other industry partners, we identified the need to increase in missing middle offerings in the neighbourhood,” said Lisa Ferreira of Professional Custom Homes.
Ferreira went on to say that there was support in the area for continued density and for this development.
In the city administrations report, it outlined several other similar R-CG designations (residential land use designation that allows for row houses facing a street) on the immediate area.
Opposition to the development
Area resident Todd Poland told councillors that little had been done in the way of community outreach. He lives two doors down and didn’t hear about the proposal.
Poland also said that with new infill developments popping up, underground work was consistently tearing up the roadway to put in service upgrades. A 1950s electrical system was putting pressure on the system, he said, with regular surges. Kids in the area can’t get into their designated school.
He said parking was a concern in the area, too.
“Parking is a constant problem already on the block. Neighbours fight for space nightly I don’t know how the proposal is going to get five new homes in a space that used to have just one,” Poland said.
Then, it came down to traffic in the area.
“We have regular traffic jams, as you know, in Marda Loop and I think this affects small businesses negatively,” Poland said.
“People avoid Marda Loop because it’s a constant traffic jam.”
The City of Calgary’s traffic volume maps show 33 Avenue SW with a similar volume of daily traffic each year going back to 2014. It’s around 13,000 – 14,000 vehicles per day. (Note: There was no data for 2019, but traffic on routes connecting to 33 Avenue SW increased slightly.)
The 33 and 34 Avenue SW corridor does have a new master streetscape plan through Calgary’s Main Streets Program.
Mostly cut-through traffic, said area BIA ED
Bob Van Wegen, executive director of the Marda Loop Business Improvement Area (BIA), said the traffic issue has been there for a long time.
He said most of that traffic is non-local. It’s cut-through traffic, he said.
“We’re the only real east-west corridor between 17 Avenue and Glenmore Trail,” he said.
“So, it’s always going to be a problem at certain times of the day.”
Van Wegen acknowledges that the growth in the area’s density does play a role in keeping a sustained volume of vehicle traffic on the roadways. He doesn’t believe it’s the main driver of it.
The congestion is always going to be there – one, because it’s a popular retail area, combined with the cut-through traffic. Second, there’s construction, he said.
“There’s almost always construction going on in the area,” Van Wegen said.
That traffic certainly hasn’t affected the success of area businesses. Van Wegen said five years ago they had 130 businesses in the BIA. Today, they have more than 150 members.
In fact, he said the resilience of the businesses in Marda Loop have been exceptional compared to other parts of Calgary. It believes that’s the result of increased density and the additional foot traffic its produced.
“If the traffic is a factor driving businesses away, I don’t see evidence of that in terms of businesses wanting to come here,” he said.
“It continues to be in a place that is attracting businesses just like it’s attracting people to live here.”
Marda Loop serves residents in this area
Van Wegen also sits on the city’s Established Area Growth and Change Strategy team. He’s well versed in how the city is trying to create complete communities in established Calgary neighbourhoods.
He said the area isn’t as reliant on traffic from outside the area as one might think. Sure, it’s an attraction for the whole city, but the majority of clients are from the area.
“I would speculate that even during COVID, with more people working from home there’s probably more people in the area all day, then there has been in normal times, and that certainly supports businesses as well,” he said.
“I think businesses have really felt the support of the local community. That says something about the about the value of having more people living there and more businesses.”
There will come a point in time where more investment is needed in transportation infrastructure, Van Wegen said. Recent additions include an overpass at Flanders Avenue connecting Garrison to Crowchild and Currie Barrack. There was also a bike lane added on 20 Street SW – a sort of north-south connector to the area.
Van Wegen said just prior to COVID there was boosted bus service with the addition of the MAX Yellow BRT service. It improves connectivity to the area.
Main Streets and Established Areas
Work continues on the city’s Guidebook for Great Communities and the Established Area Growth and Change Strategy
Van Wegen is also hoping the Main Streets investments come sooner rather than later. In an ideal world, that work would have been done years ago as the influx of density began.
“I feel like we are playing catch up in Marda Loop, to some extent. I like to joke that I don’t think I have five matching street lamps or 30 meters of sidewalk that all looks the same,” he said.
We asked if the approval in density should work hand-in-hand with improvements to the infrastructure. Especially in popular areas like Marda Loop.
He said there should be a measured investment in areas where there’s demand for growth. It has to be investments that stimulate the kind of growth they want, too, he said.
“But, I guess it’s hard to have those things marched forward in perfect unison,” Van Wegen said.
Even with improvements, Van Wegen said it’s not likely it will improve the traffic flow in the area. They’re not really meant to, he said.
Perhaps there will be some localized traffic flow improvements, Van Wegen said. Work in the area will likely be focused on street parking and pedestrian safety.
“I don’t think people should expect that the improvements on 33rd and 34th will substantially improve traffic flow. That’s not their intent,” he said.
“I think the intent is to make the place more livable and make it better for all modes, including pedestrians.”