Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Brentwood's Transit Oriented Development

For a long time, the area around Brentwood Station has been dominated by strip malls and fast food outlets.  There has been some gradual evolution away from that with the University City development starting to take shape.   Two of its towers are completed and the buildings are taking residential and commercial tenants.

The location is of course transit oriented and it would be quite easy for people to take advantage of the nearby LRT station, which not only features the C-Train but also buses serving Foothills Hospital, the Alberta Children's Hospital, and University of Calgary, just to name the biggest employers in the area. The nearby strip malls, though altered slightly to make space for the development, still have two supermarkets, and other retail and restaurants within walking distance of the towers as well.

While the amenities and location will entice some people to move to the development, there still may not be the infrastructure to make a community out of what has been built there.  The abundant parking the serves the strip malls in the area will keep walking a bit more challenging than it ought to be and there will not be much through those parking lots to entice walkers to meander any.  Apart from the parking lots, the traffic on Crowchild and on the parallel roads that serve the Brentwood LRT station on either side would not entice a lot of pedestrian traffic either.

The development is still a work in progress and there is plenty of opportunity yet for the people living there to have their impact on the neighbourhood, but the longer standing businesses still make their presence known.  The ground level units in the development provide people with views of the parking lot at the Wendy's and the service area for the Jameson's pub.  The smell, sight and clatter of dumpster pick up and restaurant staff stealing out back for a smoke may not give people the sense that they are at home as much as they happen to be living in a neighbouring business's recently compromised parking.

There is further development to unfold in the area but despite the fixtures, benches and other touches to enhance the walkability and the curb appeal of the University City development there is still a chance that things do not live up to their promise.  If, as is a common problem with many condominiums, the development finds itself home to more renters than owners the area may not achieve the critical mass to help spark the momentum toward a sense of community there.  If it is left to happenstance and it becomes a matter of residents knitting together a neighbourhood out of chance encounters in elevators and hallways in the building and then in the nearby grocery aisles, cafes and pubs the development will have a chance at fostering a community.  As it stands though, it looks like it will take some effort and commitment among the people who move there to achieve this.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Parking Oriented Transit: Walkability Around 39th Street Station

Images for this blog post are located on my Flickr page with notes accompanying the images for further description and clarification.

Ideally, transit and walkability would reinforce one another but there are a number of LRT stations in Calgary that are clearly oriented toward park and ride usage.  The stations in the Northwest beyond Lion's Park Station are the clearest examples of the park and ride orientation and those stations successfully funnel riders from neighbouring communities from bus routes onto the LRT.  As the LRT turns south to serve the stations south of Stampede Park there might be some question about how the continued orientation to park and rides when there is so much more retail, commercial and light industrial business in those areas.  At Chinook Station the shuttle from there to Chinook Centre for retail customers underscores the large numbers of pedestrians that use that station and perhaps suggest that the station could have better served the area west rather than east of MacLeod Trail.

In this post, however, I'd like to turn my attention to 39th Street Station for the lack of infrastructure to support or encourage pedestrian use of the station.  There is some residential use on the opposite side of MacLeod Trail, but pedestrians might find the distance a bit prohibitive.  In the immediate vicinity of the station, there are a few car lots, a hotel, a building supplies store and municipal impound yard. Despite the large amounts of parking in the area and other aspects that favour car use, there is a reasonable amount of pedestrian traffic.  I don't have a scientific measure of the amount of pedestrian traffic, but there are places where pedestrian short cuts have beaten clear paths through grass.

The sidewalks that are in the vicinity of the station and are among the most uninviting in the city.  On MacLeod Trail, there is sufficient cement around, but the vehicular traffic on MacLeod and the lack of inviting destinations in the area undermines the walkability of the area.  (Ironically enough, crews were paving the interior of a median on MacLeod Trail on the day I took the images for this post.)  East of MacLeod the walking infrastructure is abysmal.  There are parts of sidewalks that have been unattended despite significant deterioration.  In some spots there are little to no curbs to separate the sidewalks from the road or driving areas and truncations for various driveways and railway tracks.  On 42nd Avenue between MacLeod Trail and Blackfoot Trail, the sidewalk on the south side of the street is unmaintained throughout the autumn and winter, despite it being the more suitable walking surface.  The only rationale that I can think of for this is that pedestrians using 39th Street Station would have to cross the street to get to that more user-friendly path.  On the north side of 42nd Avenue, the sidewalk has curb cuts that directs pedestrians into the oncoming traffic when it has any and there is a large stretch of the sidewalk that consists of disintegrating patio stone slabs that are being encroached upon by near by grass.  Despite the signage that the south side of the street is not maintained during the winter, (something that may suggest that the north side would be maintained) the snow removal on the north side is minimal to non-existent.

Despite the difficult sidewalks in the area, it is still used by some pedestrians.  It may not be a number that meets a threshold to require better maintenance but there is some.  Improvements to the walking in the area would not have to start with a complete overhaul of the paths on the north side of 42nd Avenue, which disappears entirely over the last 50-75 metres heading east to Blackfoot Trail.  One solution would be to put in a pedestrian crossing signal directly south of 39th Street Station to allow pedestrians to cross safely to the wider sidewalk on the south side of the street.  This would also require that the sidewalk be maintained year-round with snow removal.  The intersection of 42nd Avenue and Blackfoot may also need to be assessed to ensure that pedestrians have enough time to cross that intersection safely if their destination happens to be on the north side of 42nd Avenue.

I may be understating matters when talking about walkability.  Given some of the conditions, it may be necessary to call into question pedestrian safety in the areas where they would have to get into the traffic on 42nd Avenue because of the absence of any sidewalks whatsoever.  Hopefully the decision is not to leave pedestrians to use 42nd Avenue at their own risk until there is enough pedestrian traffic to justify giving more attention to the sidewalks in this area.