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Youth En Route develops safe mobility solutions for 10 Calgary high schools

Youth En Route’s (YER) executive director said there are boundless opportunities to make small improvements around Calgary schools to improve accessibility and safety for both pedestrians and cyclists.

The group, which advocates for safer mobility options for city youth to get to and from school, has developed potential corridor solutions for 10 Calgary high schools. They released those plans earlier this month.

They worked with UCalgary Master of Planning grads Adam Schwartz and Nada Affan to put the plans together, hoping to spur conversations and highlight opportunities for simple improvements.

YER executive director Laura Shutiak said their solutions are backed up with data, including surveys on why students won’t ride their bikes or walk to school.

“These reports, I think, are informational, they’re aspirational, and they’re educational. They really help serve a broad audience,” she told LiveWire Calgary.

“We think it also tells a story to city councillors and to planners and beancounters at the city that there are kids that want to use this mode of travel.”

In last November’s four-year budget, Calgary city council approved $40 million for the 5A (Always Available for All Ages and Abilities) network. Shutiak hopes their work can help inform where that funding should be deployed.

One thing that’s apparent in looking at the different reports are the number of broken links in the designated bike paths in neighbourhoods and around schools.

Nada Affan, one of the report authors, said in a post on the Youth En Route website, that the reports will be tools to further the mobility conversation for city high schools.

“Exploring each school and their unique assets, identifying issues on school routes, and proposing recommendations for feasible infrastructure improvements is all part of the process of encouraging safe and active transportation routes,” said Affan.

“The right infrastructure is key to creating safe and healthy environments for pedestrians and cyclists, and these reports are valuable resources to help initiate these changes.”

Alignment with city plans and priorities

The Youth En Route team worked with schools and held engagement sessions with students before working on the plans over the past few months.

Prior surveys have shown that unsafe routes and heavy car traffic account for a large portion of students deciding not to ride or walk to school. Of the 10 schools included, 41 per cent of EP Scarlett students cited it as a primary reason they didn’t walk or bike.

Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said having these plans can help inform potential future infrastructure investments. She said it’s a chance to weigh them with or against other work done in local area plans, traffic studies or main streets planning in certain areas.

“I think this really helps with that narrative around that 5A network … high school students also need alternatives – they’re still students, they’re still youth and we need to keep them safe,” she said.  

“That should be a priority for us across the city.”

Penner said a lot of work has come from UCalgary Master Planning students in the past that has been incorporated into community planning. It’s also helped to inform and, in some cases, persuade the city and councillors to make these investments.

“I think it’s actually very plausible (for them) to become guiding documents for the city to look at when considering making investments,” she said.

That would be a win for YER, Shutiak said. They aren’t necessarily looking for massive infrastructure funding. She said there are small connections that could be made – particularly along 52 Street East, as it’s a connection point for three schools included in their reports.

“Part of that strategy is to get students and communities and parents to start being a voice,” she said.

“It’s much easier to be a voice who has examples of what you want when you can speak from a place of information and education.”

The funding for the project came from Alberta Eco-Trust through their climate improvement grant.