What Chu talking about?

Rookie councillor steps off the curb without looking both ways

Living in Calgary I’m often reminded of a clever editorial cartoon by Joel Pett depicting a delegate at a climate summit standing up and saying “What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?” On the stage a presenter stands beside a large screen that lists some of the benefits of acting to curb greenhouse gases: energy independence; preserve rainforests; sustainability; green jobs; livable cities; renewables; clean water air; healthy children; etc. etc.

It’s not surprising that I return to this image living in Calgary the centre of Canada’s overproducing energy sector where there’s a glut of new holes in the ground amidst diminishing markets. It’s an easy and effective joke to fall back on when you meet those people who still refuse to acknowledge the near-universal scientific consensus of anthropogenic global warming. But the image came back strong in the last little while thanks to Calgary’s newest hapless politico Ward 4’s Sean Chu.

First there was his embarrassingly shortsighted comment that it was cold in Calgary therefore climate change wasn’t real (hey look we’re in a plane gravity’s not real!).

Then there was the recent council update on Calgary’s Bicycle Program which saw Chu fumble for direction before asking why we couldn’t just take away sidewalk space rather than impact car lanes. “Why can’t you take three four feet five feet off the sidewalk?” he asked.

You’ve almost got to feel sorry for the guy.

Now let’s say the average inner-city sidewalk is between 1.5 to 2 metres wide. That’s about right according to Centre City plans. In some areas that might even be generous. So what happens when you take away a few feet?

Not discounting the comedic factor of people shuffling sideways trying to pass each other on their way in and out of downtown (hug your neighbour!) the suggestion that we should be sacrificing already narrow sidewalks in order to keep more cars on the road is to put it mildly absurd.

Of course there’s the fact that city transportation is mandated to prioritize pedestrians in its decision making followed by cyclists public transit service vehicles taxis and high-occupancy vehicles and then finally single occupancy vehicles.

But there’s also the inconvenient fact that encouraging cycling and eating up car lanes to do it alleviates traffic congestion saves the city money encourages healthy behaviour adds vibrancy increases interaction and shopping and more. But what’s that compared to allowing more cars to get stuck in traffic while stressed drivers try to navigate their way far across town to subsidized suburbs that are bankrupting the city?

It should be clear by now that I’m a fan of cycling as a means of transportation. It’s my main method of getting around but I also drive walk and take transit. Among those four options driving is the only one that has abundant roomy and well-regulated infrastructure. There are never dead ends on major thoroughfares when construction pops up and there aren’t points where two oncoming cars can’t get past each other on major routes. Roads also happen to cost enormous sums of money to build maintain and repair. They dominate our cityscape and force many who would choose other options into expensive vehicles that are nothing but a financial drain and help contribute to our environmental woes at every level.

And there are already signs that the city’s strategy is paying off. According to city stats the total number of bicycle trips in and out of the downtown core increased by 26 per cent between 2006 and 2013 with 11441 cyclists coming and going (down from 12007 in 2012). Personally I’ve notice a marked increase in winter cyclists over the last two years.

That progress is somewhat surprising given some of the mistakes in the first years of cycling infrastructure in Calgary — 10th Avenue in the Beltline is a nightmare the Seventh Street cycle track is a road to nowhere bike lane snow and gravel clearing is spotty and there’s been a horrible glut of communication with the public including the announcement of the new cycle track on First Street S.E. that rankles Chu which came with no explanation of how it will connect to the entire network.

Yet even with those challenges a modest investment in infrastructure is paying off and encouraging more Calgarians to get out of their cars.

At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what you think about preserving the environment and reducing our impact on the climate. Walking and cycling lead to increased vibrancy healthy activity reduced congestion cleaner air and cost-saving for citizens and the city — seems like a nightmare scenario to me.