Complete Streets, Complete Communities

It’s easy to think of Edmonton’s streets as just ways to get from point a to point b. We might notice when our streets become an inconvenience, like potholes or if a traffic light takes too long to change. However, a closer look reveals that our streets are fundamental building blocks of our communities. In addition to helping people get from one place to another, streets and sidewalks are also where we meet our neighbours, walk our dogs, go for runs and where our children ride their bikes or play. Street design can affect how easy it is to walk to the corner store or how fast cars travel in our neighbourhoods.

In 2013, the City of Edmonton developed the Complete Street Guidelines following a wider movement in Canada and around the world. According to Smart Growth America, complete streets is about creating “safe, comfortable and convenient travel for everyone, regardless of age or ability – motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transportation riders.”  The purpose of Edmonton’s Complete Street Guidelines is to help make sure we get the right mix of elements to create great streets. The Guidelines are used by the City’s Transportation staff when designing brand new streets in new neighbourhoods, and redesigning existing streets as part of the Neighbourhood Renewal Program.

In the past, Edmonton’s streets were designed based on a single set of standards – a 50 metre wide road had the same design if it was located next to houses or industrial buildings. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, the Complete Streets Guidelines provides criteria to adapt the design of the street to its specific location. The recommended street design depends on what the main purpose of the route is – for example an industrial heavy goods route or a local residential street – and what the surrounding buildings are – houses or businesses. This dynamic approach ensures that we don’t end up with sidewalks on the side of Whitemud Drive, or an eight lane road passing through a local neighbourhood. Instead, the Guidelines help ensure that sidewalks near schools or libraries are wider to accommodate more pedestrians and tree planting, or to ensure enough on-street parking is available in busy commercial areas.  

A related movement to Complete Streets is the 8-80 City. This non-profit organization suggests based off their research that when designing roads, we should think about an 8 year old and an 80 year old to create streets that work for everyone. So think about an 8 or 80 year old you know in your life. What kind of street would work for them? You might want a wider sidewalk, maybe with street parking or a treed boulevard to separate pedestrians from the main traffic flow. Shorter crossing distances with easy curb cuts might also help them get across the street safely. Narrower lanes might also help slow traffic down, reducing the number and severity of any accidents between cars and pedestrians.  

I’ve had an opportunity to see the diversity that exists in streets and infrastructure planning across the neighbourhoods in Ward 5. What excites me about the Complete Street Guidelines is the opportunity it offers to make the most of the investment we put in our city’s streets. The Guidelines also encourage street design that is welcoming for all, making sure that there is a place for everyone in our community. Most importantly, by considering all users, we are able to create safer, more efficient streets for everyone in our city. Whether you’re a driver, pedestrian, cyclist or transit rider, Complete Streets help us all journey faster and safer.

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