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Students help design safer pedestrian corridors in their Calgary neighbourhoods

The core question is: What would Calgary streets and pathways look like if kids were the priority users?

That’s what’s behind a Sustainable Calgary Open Streets project to work with city students to develop temporary designs and changes to their neighbourhood roads.

Right now, they’re working in Meridian, Martindale and Connaught.

Sustainable Calgary Executive Director Celia Lee said the initial projects were localized.  From there, they’re hoping to develop it into safe networks – neighbourhood active travel networks, she said.

“So as a result, you would have this safe network of routes in the neighbourhood that kids could use, but that would also be great for the local community,” she said.

Lee said kids are really thinking about their neighbourhoods in a way that adults sometimes don’t see.  Whether it’s snow collection in hockey nets over heated storm sewers, or affordable housing in alleyways, Lee said they’re not restricted by what adults consider feasible.

“They just think, like, let’s go for it,” she said.

The conversations may have even included snow catapults for quick, easy air to school.

Lee said it’s funded through the Climate Awareness Fund. The idea of the program is to imagine how we might travel differently.

“We need to be changing our travel habits for a whole host of reasons,” she said.

“We need to be healthier and we need to address climate change. Our kids need to be more physically active, and they do better at school when they are, but then also even just the socializing aspect of it.”

Student-developed plans around the Ecole la Mosaique school. CONTRIBUTED

Three Calgary projects

In Connaught, they’ve planned a temporary street closure. Lee said it’s a low-traffic street in an area low on park space. The plans have been drawn up for that one and the execution is slated for May.

Lee’s hoping they can turn it into a medium-term installation – between six months and a year.

In Martindale, they’re wanting to calm traffic along Martindale Boulevard. It’s where both Manmeet Singh Bhullar and Ecole la Mosaique schools are located. It’s a busy collector road that poses safety concerns with speed and illegal passing. 

They looked at curb bump-outs, raised crosswalks, street murals and even a bike lane. For now, in that area, they’re looking at pavement paint, planters and seating in the area.

Meridian is a more industrial neighbourhood, Lee said. There, the challenge was having sidewalks for people to walk on. The students suggested an adaptive sidewalk (think Crescent Heights during Covid), but Lee said they had to leave that with the city.

“But they then look at one of their own alleyways and said, ‘Well, could we make this alleyway a playful space for kids to walk to school?” Lee said. Planters, paint and seating are also ordered up for those spaces.

After consultation with the kids, plans were drawn up by landscape architecture students. They were then submitted to the city. 

Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott said cities have been built with cars in mind for the last 100 years.

“We want to change the dynamic of the spaces that we offer in the interior of urban areas,” he said.  

“But they’re still not feeling safe because a whole separate side of our habits and a whole separate side of our culture hasn’t matched up with that concept of a pedestrian-friendly realm.”

Student-developed plans around Manmeet Singh Bhullar school. CONTRIBUTED

Not just a temporary change: Lee

Walcott said he was happy to see both the kids and the community take this on.

For the city’s part, Walcott said they were able to support the Connaught project by reducing the cost of the area road closures. The typical road closure daily rate is being charged per week, he said.

Lee said each community got an $8,000 grant. Still, they’re fundraising to top up those amounts in each neighbourhood.

They’ve got community buy-in for the plans as well. Lee said they’ve approached neighbourhoods with co-design in mind.

“We use co-design so when we go to a community and we work with a community without a sort of pre-determined end goal… we’ve never really had significant pushback,” she said.

It was an 11-month project that technically ends in March. The executions go in May.

Lee said they’re hoping this has an impact on future City of Calgary policy.

“It’s not just about making a temporary change,” she said.

“It’s about sort of testing what the future could look like when we start making a more permanent change.”