An open letter to the City of Calgary, Council and Candidates
September 29, 2021
Ward 7 Candidates
Green Line Board of Directors
Green Line Team
Re: Crescent Heights Village Interim Plan: 2022-2032
To Whom it May Concern:
The recent postponement of Green Line work North of the Bow River is the latest in more than four decades of uncertainty on Centre Street North. From its first mention in 1980 through to the latest announcement that all work north of the river must stop immediately, Centre Street N has been kept in a sort of “will-they-won’t-they” limbo that has resulted in a neighbourhood left to deteriorate as developers, landowners and entrepreneurs “wait and see” what is to become of Centre Street.
Due to ongoing ambiguity around the future of our community, dozens of small business and property owners have no ability to plan for their futures. While no one has been willing to provide a time frame, we understand it could be five years before work begins again north of the Bow. Maybe 10. Some are unconvinced it will happen at all. This kind of uncertainty, particularly over a period of many years, is bad for business. And bad for business is bad for Calgary.
Given these circumstances, Crescent Heights Village BIA formally requests an interim plan for our community that address the following areas:
- The uncertain time frame for Green Line construction
- Traffic and Parking
- Streetscape and Public Realm
We have some concrete requests and suggestions we’d be happy to discuss with council, administration and candidates. By giving Crescent Heights some certainty and some tools to mitigate the decades of neglect, we’re confident we can create a thriving business district that not only has the strength to withstand eventual Green Line construction but also contributes to inner-city vibrancy (and tax base) while we wait.
Camie Leard, Executive Director
On behalf of the ratepayers and board of directors of Crescent Heights Village BIA
Crescent Heights Village BIA Feedback on Streetscape Mobility Plans
There are many things the BIA loves about what we’ve seen so far including the inclusion of trees, street furniture, separated walking/furniture zones, pedestrian level lighting, parklets, planters, varied textures, safer crosswalks for pedestrians and more – we thank the project team for taking our wishlist and integrating it into the plan wherever possible.
We’ve also identified some areas we believe require further clarification/development to help ensure the vitality of the businesses impacted by construction and the eventual arrival of the Green Line along Centre Street. They are as follows:
- Deliveries, loading/unloading zones: We’d like to see a comprehensive plan for dedicated loading/unloading zones on side streets and/or alleyways to ensure each property along Centre St. has safe, adequate space for these activities.
- Alleyway Improvements: We foresee the new streetscape plan/mobility suggestions resulting in an increased need for alleyway use for vehicular traffic and parking where available. The current alleyways in Crescent Heights Village, particularly on the East side, are in poor condition, poorly lit and are sometimes used for illicit activities. Improved pavement, lighting and signage would go a long way in making the spaces behind the buildings more useable. In addition, as a part of the Taking Care of Business plan, we’d like to see some supports for businesses who require upgrades to their back entrances to facilitate deliveries and customer parking that may currently be happening on Centre St.
- Integrated Parking Zones: Given that not just parking, but also deliveries currently happening on Centre St. will move to the side streets, we’d like to see a two-block integrated parking zone or another solution to ensure short-term parking is available for every business within a reasonable distance for seniors and those with mobility challenges. Other ideas include dedicated handicap street parking, integrated angled parking on 1st N.W. between 9th and 11th Avenues and finding a location for a surface lot. We very much respect the impact these changes could have on residents in the area and are committed to finding a solution that honours both the businesses and the residents that support them.
- Left-hand Turns North of 12th Avenue: While we acknowledge that maintaining left-hand turns north 12th Avenue may not be possible, we request that every effort is made to avoid this scenario. There are currently 18 businesses located on those blocks within the BIA whose access will be impacted. Our fear is that by the time a driver has realized they can’t turn left for their Pho, it will be too late and they’ll not make the effort to turn around. If nothing can be done, our request is that a special marketing/ communications/signage program is provided for these blocks to re-educate drivers on the new access points to these businesses.
- Incomplete Plan: While the streetscape plan is thorough in outlining the types of blocks we’ll see, it doesn’t tell us which style will be utilized where and those decisions may have impacts on BIA businesses.
- Public Art: We would like to see plans for public art and creative lighting built into the design for Centre Street.
- Crossings: We’d like to see creative crosswalks on Centre Street and a multi-use crossing and bike-activated signal should be added to the new bike route.
- Pedestrian Safety: Curb extensions should be added for people walking north and south on Centre Street to improve safety by reducing crossing distance. Curb extensions provide an opportunity to introduce greenery and beauty into the project. A buffer space between the walking zone and moving vehicle traffic should be prioritized over space allocated to medians between vehicle traffic and the train where possible.
- Speed Limit: The design speed for vehicles travelling on Centre Street should be 40 km/h or less. This will help to support businesses by slowing drivers to a speed that they can perceive and recognize the businesses they are travelling past, and maneuver safely to stop and support those businesses. It would also allow curb corner radii and lane widths to be tightened. Tight corner radii are an important feature for creating a village feel and ensuring the safety of people travelling on foot.
- Vehicle Lane Widths: Tighter vehicle lane widths (3.3 m) will also reallocate some much-needed space to the pedestrian realm, particularly in constrained areas where pedestrian space is limited (more info: https://nacto.org/publication/urban-street-design-guide/street-design-elements/lane-width/).
- 9th Avenue Station Design: While we acknowledge that the station design doesn’t necessarily fall within the scope of the streetscape plan, we are excited about the opportunity to make this unique neighbourhood-scale station an example of community/BIA brand integration. We are looking for ways to keep the station interesting, approachable, human-centric and integrated with the BIA brand and the natural setting/bluff passengers will have just seen coming from the south. Also acknowledging station naming is outside of the scope of this conversation, as always, we’re noting our wish that this station be called Crescent Heights Village station.
- Property/Business Appropriation: As the Green Line may be appropriating two of our members’ properties and businesses, our request is that the business and property owners are offered fair and equitable value for their properties and businesses as well as any support the City can provide by way of relocation if desired.
Crescent Heights Village BIA Position: May 2020 Green Line Alignment
Centre Street lies at the heart of Calgary’s north and is one of our beloved (and designated) Main Streets. Described by the City as places where citizens come together, Main Streets are places where we want to go, we enjoy, and we coalesce as a community. Main Streets are resilient, adaptable, and attractive public spaces that, celebrate the character of the community, encourage diversity of local business and create a vibrant destination.
Centre Street has been left to languish for years of uncertainty as the City addressed other concerns in other areas.
Take a walk down Centre Street in 2020 and it’s abundantly clear that this historic and important mainstreet has been left behind. Crumbling sidewalks lined with neglected buildings are sparsely populated with nervous pedestrians – scared to cross four lanes of commuter traffic. Cars and busses full of Calgarans from all over the city (85% of whom are not local to the area) rush through the neighbourhood twice a day, leaving behind a desolate road intended to be the heart of a village community, but left to languish for years of uncertainty as the City addressed other concerns in other areas.
Today’s Centre Street is home to an eclectic mix of diverse business owners from all over the world.
At the same time, intrepid small business owners have managed to eke out a living despite parking woes and dwindling pedestrian traffic – some have been here for decades. Founded as a village in 1901, Crescent Heights is Calgary’s first community outside the valley. Annexed in 1911 and established as a neighbourhood in 1914, Crescent Heights is steeped in the history (and built on the hard work) of Calgary’s Chinese community. Today’s Centre Street is home to an eclectic mix of diverse business owners from all over the world. It’s for these hard working, risk-taking, job-creating Calgary business owners that the new Crescent Heights Village BIA was formed in 2020 and on behalf of whom we offer this position on the proposed Green Line LRT alignment released on May 12, 2020.
The Crescent Heights Village Board of Directors believe Centre Street’s time has come. Our community (and, indeed, all of North Calgary) has waited long enough for the City’s attention and investment. It’s time to shift the role of Centre Street from an unplanned and haphazard commuter traffic thoroughfare to a vibrant and colourful, people-focused local business hub where Calgarians from all over the city come to eat, shop, work and play – by foot, by bike, by car and, of course, by transit.
The proposed alignment of May 12, 2020 provides an unprecedented opportunity to rethink, reinvent and revitalize Centre Street by:
- Reducing out-of-area commuter traffic while improving access to local businesses
- Slowing car traffic down with narrowed lanes
- Creating opportunities for city-funded sidewalk improvements, pageantry, trees, infrastructure and lighting we may not otherwise see
- Creation of a 9th Avenue (Crescent Heights Village) station bringing foot traffic to area businesses
Of course, with this exceptional opportunity comes exceptional risk, including:
- Three to five seasons (or more) of construction disruption to small business owners who have already experienced the unprecedented and devastating effects of COVID-19.
- The loss of a great deal of precious parking along Centre Street that business owners rely on for their customers, for pick-up/delivery services and for loading – parking that is already inadequate.
Our job as the Business Improvement Area is to assess the needs of the businesses in our area in the short, medium and long term. Often, these are in opposition to one another – as is the case with the Green Line alignment. While there’s no doubt the long-term benefits of the development will be transformative for Centre Street Village, getting there will be difficult at best, calamitous at worst. Given the recent economic downturn, challenges seen in other BIAs under construction (17th Avenue S.W.) and now the impact of the pandemic – the risk to many of these small business owners is substantial.
Trying to balance the opportunity and the risk results in our position of conditional support of the proposed Green Line alignment, contingent on:
1. A robust and material business support program which might include but is not limited to:
Grants, tax freezes and other financial support measures through construction and for a period following its completion.
Additional consideration of:
- A policy of using local businesses for construction needs throughout the project (office rental, business services, insurance, food and beverage, etc.)
- Marketing and advertising support (both financial and City communications channels) throughout construction (beyond on-site signage).
- Strict protocols on maintaining access to businesses including pedestrian escorts, flagging, etc.
- Managing parking of site workers and others.
2. Replacing lost parking in its entirety and adding additional parking capacity, potentially by:
- Building a CPA parkade
- Buying existing surplus parking from landowners
- Expanding two-hour parking into the residential streets
- Finding areas for angled parking/parking nodes (1st Street W)
Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. Never before has the City asked small businesses to make the sacrifice of enduring a long construction period after five years of recession and a global pandemic that put them out of business for months.
Likewise, there isn’t another BIA in the city that offers zero parking along the BIA’s main street with the possible exception of International Avenue, which enjoys ample opportunity on residential side streets and large parking lots.
But the Crescent Heights Village Board believes moving forward is more important than waiting for the perfect circumstances — this far along in the process, standing still is as good as stepping backwards. We want to step forward and create an exceptional future for Centre Street.
It’s important to note that our ratepayer community does not unanimously support this alignment, nor does our board. The project team has asked the business owners of Crescent Heights to take a major leap of faith with many unanswered questions. Given the long term potential benefits to the area, it’s a leap we’re willing to take with an understanding the Green Line project team and Council will continue to work with us to support the businesses in our area. In the spirit of that collaboration, we also request consideration of the following:Consultation and funding of public realm improvements including:
- Public art
- Trees and Greenery
- Alley lighting/beautification
- Interim traffic calming and parking measures such as a 4-to-3 lane conversion and permanent parking on both sides
- Improved sidewalks and crosswalks
- Pedestrian scale lighting
- Use of character materials
- Multi-use pathway on the train bridge
- Bike parking (re-installation of existing CH branded racks)
- Installation of benches and other streetscape enhancements that can be removed and replaced during and after construction
- Maintaining permeability of centre street with no fences or arms dividing the street
Station Naming: It is our request that the 9th Avenue station be called Crescent Heights Village to give it a sense of place that celebrates Calgary’s history, to recognize it as a destination, and to give back to businesses in our area by promoting economic development once the project is complete. Input on the 16th Avenue station naming, design and public realm is also requested.
- Lower posted and street design speed of Centre Street to 40 km/hour between 7th and 16th Avenues for both trains and motor vehicles to provide a “Main Street” feel, improve safety, and promote economic development (speeding vehicles don’t stop for coffee)
- Dedicated left-turn lanes
- Busses share LRT lane versus using the car lanes
The business owners in the Crescent Heights Village BIA have shown a tremendous amount of grit over the last decades as Centre Street sat in limbo. Dangling in the winds of politics, economics and public opinion, these restaurateurs, accountants, pharmacists, herbalists, retailers, dentists, barbers and grocers have continued to create jobs and serve their community with pride and resilience. Let’s reward their perseverance by giving them a Centre Street that works – during construction and for decades to come.