What is a sidewalk for?
There are lots of different answers to this question - it depends on the user. People use sidewalks to walk to the store. People draw on them with chalk. People with mobility challenges roll along sidewalks in their wheelchairs.
If you talk to the City of Edmonton adminsitration, you might get a different answer about what sidewalks are for. You might hear things like
- bus stop signs
- construction barriers
- traffic signage
- and fire hydrants.
That's why I was so excited about Don Iveson's motion asking about signage blocking pedestrian paths which came back to committee today.
Too often, we think about our city from a car-centric viewpoint. I'm not suggesting that we become "anti-car" - this isn't about competition - but rather, it's incredibly important to consider the impact decisions have on all users. We must evaluate what we're building with a variety of different perspectives.
I often reflect on my home neighbourhood of Hazeldean: we just had neighbourhood renewal completed in Hazeldean and so we've got brand new sidewalks throughout (that we'll be paying off for the next couple decades). The problem is, every several steps there is a big metal pole bolted onto the sidewalk.
Walking can become frustrating, as you can't walk abreast with someone else without one of you cartoonishly walking headlong into a pole. In winter, plowing becomes quite arduous, and the shovelled section zig-zags about because the plowing vehicle has to swerve around the metal poles.
How would a mother pushing a stroller even get to the new Loblaw's City Market? Someone who lives in the area pulling a cart? This is one of the brand-new developments in dense, walkable, downtown.
The simple fact is, if the City proposed installing a fire hydrant in the centre of a roadway, they would be slapped down for being completely idiotic. So why do we tolerate this across the city on our sidewalks? Councillors Henderson and McKeen, along with our Mayor seemed to get it today
If forcing administrators and engineers to walk through their newly designed spaces is what it takes for them to discover that the centre of a sidewalk is not the place for a fire hydrant, so be it. But, I'd prefer having an extra guarantee with specifically worded policy prohibiting signs, poles and other blockages from the sidewalk unless all other options and spaces have been completely exhausted.
We made progress today, a report detailing options to improve the processes related to obstructions and disruptions on sidewalks and shared-use trails will be coming back on July 6th. However, as the motion was being moved, perhaps in an ironic stupor, administration suggested that the report also look at traffic disruptions on roadways as well.
Shifting perspectives is hard ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
The branch manager of Transportation Operations, Gord Cebryk, today said that the city hasn't looked at the pedestrian perspective much before. It's clear that the city needs to be given specific direction in order to understand that poles in the middle of a walkway are bad. So let's provide that direction as soon as possible.