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January 01, 2014

Walk this way

Residents of the inner-city enjoy full benefits of City pathways

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth

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Calgary usually doesn’t rank very high on urban walkability scales when compared to other Canadian cities, but that doesn’t mean that you need a car to be able to take advantage of everything that the city has to offer.

Calgary ranked dead last in a recent Top 10 list compiled by Walk Score among Canada’s 10 biggest cities. But things are starting to change.

As our city grows and urban planners continue to work on making the downtown core more vibrant and accessible to all Calgarians, the options for getting around the inner-city without your own set of wheels are getting more and more attractive. With an ever-expanding transit system, easy-to-use car-share services, and a world-class pathway system, more and more urban dwellers are finding that living car-free offers a sense of independence they didn’t necessarily expect.

Chelsey Patrick is a 20-something Calgarian who recently moved into a high-rise building right in the heart of downtown Calgary. Even though she works in an office on Macleod Trail south of Chinook Centre, Patrick feels no reason to drive a car to get around. In fact, she owns a car, but chooses to park it elsewhere because she would not use it enough to warrant paying for downtown parking.

“Biking is my main form of transportation and when the weather is too miserable, I take transit,” Patrick says. “I do it for the peace of mind. I don’t like sitting in traffic. I like to ride my bike because I get that freedom to control my pace.”

One key way that many Calgarians who do not wish to drive are getting around inner-city neighbourhoods is via the City’s pathway system, which weaves through many highly-prized inner city neighbourhoods like the downtown core, Sunnyside, Eau Claire, and Bridgeland. A 2010 survey reports that 89 per cent of Calgarians use the pathway system in some capacity, with 14 per cent using it primarily to commute, whether it be by walking, cycling, or rollerblading.

“Calgary’s pathway system is strategically built to offer connectivity between communities,” says Duane Sutherland, the City of Calgary’s Parks Pathways Lead. “This means people, no matter where they are located in the city or what mode of alternative transportation they choose can use the pathways to get around Calgary.”

The pathway system is only going to get better as the city continues to grow. In 2013 the City of Calgary will implement the last phase of the recommendations stemming from the 2011 Pathways Safety Review Report, including adding centre lines, curb cuts, and wheel chair ramps to existing pathways.

Not everyone likes to bike, and there are plenty of other ways to get around Calgary’s inner city as well. As new shops, restaurants, office buildings, and other amenities pop up downtown, in the East Village, Inglewood, Mission, and other neighbourhoods, there are more worthwhile businesses within walking distance of most urban condo developments than ever before in Calgary. More and more people are finding that they can walk to work, and their favourite places to eat and shop, all without breaking a sweat. If weather isn’t cooperating, downtown dwellers can duck into a building and use the +15 system of elevated walkways to stay warm and dry.

The City of Calgary has made a concerted effort to make what they call Calgary’s Centre City (consisting of the downtown core, the East Village, Stampede Park, East Victoria Crossing, Victoria Crossing Centre, Connaught Centre, West Connaught, West End, Eau Claire, and Chinatown) more vibrant via a document called the Centre City Plan that was introduced in 2007. Among other things, the plan aims to make downtown more walkable and accessible to all Calgarians, but it is really those who live in the inner-city who reap the most benefits. Centre City initiatives include bridge lighting projects, late night taxi stands, +15 improvements, underpass enhancements, the installation of litter bins, additional lighting, plant life and public toilets in busy corridors, and other details that make walking in the inner-city a safer and more pleasant experience. Likewise, getting to the core from other popular neighbourhoods like Sunnyside, Ramsay, and Crescent Heights is just a matter of walking over one of the city’s many footbridges.

Chelsey Patrick says that as a young woman she doesn’t always like to walk around at night on her own, but finds it safe and convenient use the C-Train even if she only needs to go a few stops. She frequently takes advantage of the free fare zone, which stretches from the Downtown/West Kerby stop to City Hall along 7th Avenue. With the new West LRT line now open and city council considering adding new lines, it’s relatively easy for residents of the inner-city to ride the C-Train (and if needed, transfer to the bus system) to the outer corners of the city if they should need to visit friends or reach locations located outside of the city’s core. If a particular route is too unwieldy, you can always hire out a car share service like Car2Go to zip off to places that aren’t easily reached by transit.

Car2Go offers the flexibility of renting a compact, electric car to drive to the grocery store or to other further destinations at an economical rate. Parking is easier too as they are free to park in all authorized Calgary Parking Authority parkades and surface lots.

So, the old adage that you need a car to enjoy life in Calgary is quickly slipping away, especially for those lucky enough to live in the thriving inner-city. The city is changing rapidly and there are ever-increasing options for those who want to adopt an urban lifestyle and the peace of mind that comes from living a life that doesn’t include rush-hour traffic.

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