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Extension of road closures hours coming for Calgary’s Stephen Avenue

Changes to road closure hours along Stephen Avenue should alleviate some potential vehicle/pedestrian conflicts, said the Calgary Downtown Association.

Last week, concern was raised on social media about the 6 p.m. opening of Stephen Avenue to traffic. With patio extensions encroaching into the pedestrian realm, it’s forced walkers to resort to the vehicle lane to get around.

The tweet sparked a larger conversation about making Calgary’s premier pedestrian mall more… pedestrian-friendly?

At the end of March, the City of Calgary made changes to their seasonal temporary patio rules. The changes ensured space was left for an accessible corridor.

There are a couple of differences between these areas along 17 Avenue SW or other locations downtown, and Stephen Avenue.  First, Stephen Avenue is a dedicated pedestrian mall. It doesn’t have the same sidewalk, dropped curb, and then active traffic along it.

Second, the patio permits for Stephen Avenue are approved by the Calgary Downtown Association (CDA).

CDA spokeswoman Heather McRae said the warmer weather has brought more people into the Stephen Avenue realm. The CDA is “absolutely delighted” with the increase in foot traffic in the area.

McRae also said she was aware of the concern raised last week.

The CDA operates a winter patio program and a summer patio program

Right now, at the tail end of the winter program, traffic can access the route at 6 p.m. Come May 9, the road closure will extend to 11 p.m. That’s when the summer program begins.

“That will make, I think, people feel better about being out and about on Stephen Avenue later into the evening,” McRae said.

She said some of the patios will even be extended into the traffic lane when the road closure is extended to 11 p.m.

Getting used to the interaction

Patios on Stephen Avenue in Calgary on Wednesday, April 27, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong said the city has to continue to be vigilant on pedestrian safety. That corridor has walkers, bikers, cars and other mobility users. One thing they’ve done is reduce the speed in the area to 30 kilometres an hour.

He said, however, that in many cities around the world, pedestrians and cars co-exist in these kinds of spaces – including the roadway.

“What it does is just creates a significant vibrant energy there that people say, ‘You know what, either I’ve got to walk quickly or scoot all the way because of cars coming, or cyclists coming, or, for that matter, runners coming at me,” Wong said.

“The whole point of that energy is it creates a mindset that this is a happening place. That’s what we want to see.”

Thom Mahler, the director of Calgary’s Downtown Strategy, said the collision of the pandemic, the Stephen Avenue redevelopment and the downtown strategy implementation has created this unique situation.

“Over the last year or two, we’ve been trying out different things,” Mahler said.

“I think the pandemic and the need to deal with local businesses and support them has resulted in how can we expand patios.

“So, we’ll learn as we go.”

Mahler said it’s a balance of amenity space, hosting space for patios, access for vehicles at certain times, and safety for pedestrians.

Cutting off vehicle access requires a lot more consultation, he said. Patio program changes were just made, and they’ll monitor it through the summer.