By Trevor Busch
Construction of a pedestrian sidewalk on the south side of 46th Avenue has been delayed due to the objections of local businesses and the consideration of a number of potential alternatives.
At the Sept. 22 meeting, administration was seeking the direction of town council on what they determined to be the best course of action for providing a safe pedestrian access to the town’s southeast retail development area.
“Your council is going to have to show some decision making authority here, in terms what you would like us to do,” said Chief Administrative Officer Greg Birch. “We’re at an impasse now. There’s pros and cons to a lot of different things, and no clear path forward. We’re looking to you to point us in the right direction.”
In the 2013 budget discussions, council requested a sidewalk for pedestrians to be constructed on 46th Avenue.
This proposal was added to the 2014 asphalt and concrete replacement tender.
Representatives of businesses in the area (Potato Growers of Alberta, Horizon Implements, Fitch Tire, Buffalo Head Veterinary Clinic, and Boston Pizza) came as a delegation to the June 23 council meeting and presented concerns regarding construction of a sidewalk on the south side of 46th Avenue. Potential issues highlighted by this delegation included danger to pedestrians in the area due to large truck and agricultural equipment traffic traffic if the sidewalk was constructed on the south side of 46th Avenue, suggesting that it be placed on the north side of the road. The delegation also noted speed and volume of vehicles in the area was becoming a concern.
“At the council meeting in question, businesses came to you expressing their concerns about a sidewalk on the south side of 46th Avenue. We had a meeting with them, they all have viable concerns,” said Gary Scherer, director of public works. “We looked at the options, and one of the options is making it a one way, and using a portion of the road on the north side as a walkway, and putting in concrete barriers initially. They liked that idea, Alberta Transportation doesn’t like that idea, as it may screw up their signal lights. They also have concerns about traffic flow, traffic is really high volume there. Alberta Transportation doesn’t have a traffic counter at that intersection. I can’t judge how much traffic is coming through there every day. That’s the only intersection that doesn’t have a traffic recorder on it, which I don’t understand why.”
On July 11, public works held a meeting with 46th Avenue business owners to discuss their concerns, with these individuals expressing their opinions that locating a sidewalk on the south side of 46th Avenue would create problems for customers and suppliers entering and exiting their businesses, as it is a heavy traffic area. Other concerns included a lack of street lighting in the area, and instances of vandalism potentially increasing if the volume of pedestrians were to increase. Business representatives were also unsure of property boundary lines, and were concerned if a sidewalk would encroach on these boundaries.
“We’re kind of at a standstill. I know the businesses don’t like a sidewalk on the south side,” said Scherer. “Pedestrians would have to be aware of vehicles at every driveway, and there would have to be signage for businesses to be aware of pedestrians. Basically, we’re asking for your direction.”
According to administration, building a sidewalk on the north side of 46th Avenue along the side of the existing drainage ditch and parallel to Highway 3 — an approach favoured by business owners — would present significant problems, including increased cost for the town, and would require the approval of Alberta Transportation.
Another proposed option would involve converting a portion of 46th Avenue into a one-way thoroughfare and locating a pedestrian trail along the north side of the existing road and separated from vehicle traffic by concrete barriers. With proper signage, clearly-defined crosswalks and routes, this would improve on the heavy traffic problem without affecting business access.
“Just some clarification, from businesses I’ve talked to out there,” said Coun. Joe Strojwas. “The reason they went with a one way is they felt it was the best alternative that was supplied, but that wasn’t one that they were in favour of. It is a problem, there is an issue there, and it needs to be resolved. I’m assuming on the north side you can’t put a trail system there, because Alberta Transportation won’t allow that.”
A long-term solution could involve the construction of a foot bridge across the railway tracks and Highway 3, which would require Alberta Transportation’s involvement and grants.
“Can you not just paint a white line on the north side of the road, and make for a quiet laneway?” questioned Coun. Rick Popadynetz. “It would deter a lot of people from walking on the south side of the road, I think a lot of people would start walking on the north side of the road.”
Coun. Jack Brewin suggested moving the road further south might be a consideration to allow for a north side sidewalk.
“We only have about three to four metres of right of way at the front,” said Scherer. “Where the sidewalk is, is in our frontage. So we’d have to be buying properties.”
Coun. Brewin indicated he would not support the construction of a sidewalk on the south side of 46th Avenue.
“My feelings, and what they’ve told me, is they do not want a sidewalk there, and I won’t support a sidewalk.”
Scherer pointed out there is more at stake than the concerns of local business owners.
“Let’s look at the big picture. What about the pedestrians? They’re walking down there without any safety considerations, and they have been doing so for many years now. That’s the big picture — pedestrian safety.”
Mayor Henk De Vlieger admitted that considering the alternatives, there seemed to be little other choice but to construct a sidewalk on the south side of the avenue.
“We have been discussing this for a quite long time. We’ve had input from the local business owners that are on that road. I came to myself kind of a final opinion on the whole thing — we have to do something sooner than later. A one way street, a cannot see that happening. That’s going to cause more problems than it does good for the area of Wal-Mart and Tim Hortons. To move that sidewalk on the north side, I don’t think that will happen, it’s too close to the highway, even moving the road out a bit. I still think the only solution is putting a sidewalk on the south curb. It’s no different than when I back out of my driveway, I have to be very careful, because there’s always people walking on the sidewalk. I have to pay attention, and I think I have to pay attention no matter where I’m at.”
Mayor De Vlieger went on to note the path before council would seem to be clear, despite it perhaps not pleasing all parties involved.
“To go behind the businesses, that’s out of the question, too, because people will take the shortest route, that’s just a matter of fact. People are still going to take that route, even if you put on the north side, and I think once that sidewalk is there, people will get used to it, and after a while they don’t know any better. It’s really the only solution that you can have. Personally, that’s the only option there is.”
Coun. Randy Sparks appeared to agree with the mayor’s assessment of the situation and the choice being faced by town council.
“I appreciate those comments, because this has turned into a very complex situation here. Really, even though the businesses there may not want a sidewalk on that side, that’s really the only option. You just can’t have it on the north side, because it impacts highways. If we have a three metre right of way on that south side, I think we should utilize it, put signage up there, and get that done. That to me is the best solution without causing a bunch of grief for everyone.”
Coun. Brewin continued to argue against the proposed sidewalk, suggesting its construction would unfairly impact businesses that had been in existence on 46th Avenue before the construction of the southeast retail area.
“I feel we’re penalizing these businesses by putting a sidewalk in front of them now. They’ve had these businesses established there years before Wal-Mart and all these other businesses were built there, and now we’re telling them we have to put a sidewalk in front of their building. I wish we could find another alternative, maybe north of Highway 3, putting in a pedestrian crosswalk maybe at the lights at the junction of Highway 36. I don’t think it’s fair for those businesses that have been there for years and years, that we’re now going to put a sidewalk there. And it’s dangerous. I appreciate what the mayor said about pedestrians, but when you’re driving big equipment in and out, it’s hard to gauge how fast that traffic is coming around the curves, and you’re worrying about pedestrians. I really feel that we’re penalizing those businesses by putting a sidewalk there.”
Coun. Popadynetz suggested a paved footpath on the north side of Highway 3 to the Highway 36 intersection could be a feasible solution.
“When you look at pedestrian safety, you look at where do they walk,” said Scherer. “I spent a lot of time out there watching them. Most walk on the south side. I saw very few walking across the Highway 36 intersection. Most of the people want to walk on the south side of that road, that was my observation.”
Coun. Strojwas indicated the owner and developer of the southeast retail area should be contacted to see if they could contribute to a solution to a problem they are largely responsible for in the first place.
“A sidewalk has got to be done, but you get into the development and there’s no sidewalks. We’re putting a lot of time and effort into doing this here, perhaps we need to get into a discussion with them and see what they would like to do. Maybe they would come to the plate with some of this cost here. They’ve never been contacted. They created the problem, let’s make them part of the solution.”
Coun. Brewin appeared to agree.
“I guess hindsight is 20/20, but we kind of dropped the ball when we let developers develop that property without looking after this problem we’re facing now. Now we’re putting it on the taxpayer’s shoulders to build this, and it’s very disappointing. I’m not in favour of it at all.”
Council voted to table the issue for one month, and directed administration to contact the southeast retail area landowner to see if they might like to be involved in the discussion surrounding pedestrian access to the area, as well as contacting Alberta Transportation about the potential for construction of six foot paved path on the north side of 46th Avenue.