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Urban Compass Calgary

Metro keeps a finger on the pulse of our city.

The arms race on Calgary's roads is hurting pedestrians

Large 'safe' vehicles take precedent over healthier forms of transportation like cycling and walking

Cycle Tracks provide some protection, but Calgary's car-focused culture needs to change if we want real gains in safety and health.

Metro File

Cycle Tracks provide some protection, but Calgary's car-focused culture needs to change if we want real gains in safety and health.

There’s a war on Calgary streets, but it’s not against the car, as is often claimed. Our streets have become a full-on vehicle arms race.

Worse still, this competition isn’t only blessed by the auto industry that profits by selling bigger, “safer” trucks and SUVs that better protect those inside even as they threaten those outside with greater injury.

This arms race is also implicitly sanctioned by the health system tasked with mopping up the resulting human carnage.

Given the toll in both life and money—more than $2-billion annually in Canada, according to a 2015 study—you’d think the health system would send a strong message in favour of vehicular disarmament.

Lay down your weapons. Walk. Ride a bike. Teach your kids, from an early age, to do the same.

By choosing active transportation, you can also reduce inactivity-related health problems, such as hypertension and heart disease, that are killing us and costing Canadians billions more each year.

Instead, as Metro reported last week, a heath-related Alberta government website encourages parents not to bike with toddlers in tow, because little ones are “at risk for serious injury” from uneven road surfaces and—you guessed it—cars.

“If you are really set on biking with a baby or young child,” the site continues, “the following suggestions can help you…”

Like all arms races, this one is a cycle of lunacy: Cars are dangerous, so it’s best to transport your kid in a car. After all, what’s another 2,000-kg weapon among the hundreds of thousands that are already on our streets?
Somehow, we’ve come to understand “child safety” as strapping a kid into a hulking machine of steel and glass (the bigger the better!), and hurtling along at speeds of 50 and 70 and 110 km/h.

Do that, and no one asks any questions. But soon as you start moving kids around in a slower, healthier way, outside of cars, you’re somehow suspect.

Elsewhere, the same website (myhealth.alberta.ca) unsubtly warns against teaching young children to ride on a sidewalk: “Children should ride tricycles in a fenced area such as a back yard or a park.”

In fairness, these are throwaway lines on a website, not official utterances from the top. The reference to tricycles, which have been mostly replaced by two-wheeled balance bikes nowadays, suggests that this is dated messaging.

Still, these admonitions are indicative of a systemic bias that is still very present.

If you think “arms race” is hyperbolic, recall that in 2013, trauma surgeons from Foothills hospital actually advocated for urban cyclists to wear body armour.

But streets shouldn’t be war zones. Cities like Calgary are making streets safer for all by building dedicated bike infrastructure—separated lanes that, yes, even children can use.

Time for the health system to catch up, instead of regurgitating the follies of car culture.

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