Construction Ahead. Somewhere. Maybe.

Okay, let’s pretend you’re driving along a pretty quiet road at 10:00 at night and you see an orange “Construction Ahead” sign at the side of the road.  It’s late at night, you don’t see any lights on, you don’t see any equipment moving, you don’t see any people about and the entire area appears entirely absent of any signs of work happening. 

Ask yourself honestly, do you slow down? 

I’d like to think that, being Canadian, we’re all really nice, fine folks who always do the right thing.  I know better.  Some of us will slow down for fear of a cop waiting on the other side of the road, some of us will slow down because there’s a sign asking us to, others will blow right on through with nary a care in the world. 

Me, I would slow down a little, but more out of fear of getting a ticket.  That is until one of the traffic reporters on one of the local radio stations put forward an actual sane argument.  It’s a construction zone.  There could be pipe lying around.  There could be pavement breaking up.  Some idiot may have dropped his hammer and left it in the middle of a lane all day.  You don’t know what’s out there.  Slow down so you can be ready for surprises.  It makes sense!  It’s a deal.  Always, always, always slow in construction zones.  No exceptions.

This doesn’t even count trying to protect the people out there working for us.  I’m immeasurably saddened when I drive past the Calf Robe Bridge - someone was killed there a few years back by some idiot who didn’t slow down.  There’s a reason fines are doubled when workers are out there.  If the drivers would smarten the hell up and make it safer for the people doing the work, things would go faster and be less of a headache for the drivers in the first place.  Short sightedness that costs us all.

In return there’s a bit of a code that comes with it.  When workers are out there, the first thing they do is put the signs up.  When they’re away, those signs should be down and we should at least have a fighting chance to know that the site is vacant of activity.  It’s safer for everyone.

I’ve been riding my bike all week for the joy of riding.  This is my holiday and it’s doing wonders for my soul.  The shine went off a little today.

One of my major routes that I end up taking is alongside the Bow River down Inglewood past the Alyth rail yards and then typically off at Heritage and then along Deerfoot Trail to Southland Drive. 

I took it Saturday when I attended the Calgary Ukrainian Festival - so that was for fun.  Sunday night I looped the Weaselhead and returned using that route.  Monday I ended up taking it so I could go get my handlebar replaced.  Otherwise it would have been out of my way.  Today, tomorrow and Thursday I have business in the south and I’ll have to find alternative routes each day.  It’s particularly annoying to me because it is now unavailable to me when I actually most need to take it.

I don’t want to appear ungrateful.  It needed work.  But part of the reason it needed work was because it’s a popular route that goes where there are few alternatives.  Yes, that means the detour is going to be cumbersome.  At least we sorta knew in advance, right?

I’m going to argue we didn’t have adequate notice, the signs are confusing and meaningless and while I understand there’s very limited opportunity to provide better detours we’ve done a pitiful job at guiding people towards where the detour route lies.

This details a whole pile of unacceptable mistakes regarding the pathway closure.  I’m going to have a very hard time believing the city is going to be serious about becoming a friendlier city towards alternative transportation when we show great difficulty managing the system we’ve got today.

The first problem is this sign announcing that the pathway is closed.  (I’m sorry, I tried to figure out how to put images inline, you’ll have to click and come back.)  Wonderful sign, very clear.  Unfortunately it’s been up every day I’ve been riding recently and it was up the last time I took that route which was probably two or maybe three weeks ago.

Aesop has a fable on this topic.  Even if I go back to last Saturday when I’m absolutely positive the sign was posted, how am I ever going to possibly know that today we’re actually serious and we’re closing the pathway.  Ignore the dates posted on the other sign (I’ll get to that one!), it’s not really May 24th we’re starting but June 7th.  Before when we said the pathway was closed and it really wasn’t, just forget it ever happened.

Signs have to be timely.  If the project is delayed because of weather, signs should be taken down or covered up.  No more signs that say the pathway is closed when it’s open and passable.

So today I rode up past the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and just as I reached the intersection I spotted an SUV and hit my brakes to stop.  So did the SUV.  The guy behind me did not stop and zipped right across the road.  Some guy in a fluorescent vest jumps out of a silver car and pulls the other bicyclist over.  “Hoo boy,” I’m thinking, “Bylaw?“  Happy to have not got his attention I proceed along my path.  I come to this pile of rubble and I’m thinking that’s a pretty unusual sight.  Not too much further down the path I’m greeted with a bobcat hauling an 8’ slab of asphalt.  He takes out his earplugs and starts exiting to talk to me when I yell out, “It’s not passable?” and he shakes his head no.  I flip a U-turn and pass the other cyclist that got pulled over.  I try to warn him off, but he goes by, later to return as I had.

He passes me when I’m taking a picture of this sign.  Laid face down on the ground, I certainly didn’t notice it while riding on the other side of the pathway.  I pick it up and look at the other side to see it’s a “Men At Work” sign.  What the hell do I do?  Do I put it up?  Do I leave it?  It should be erected but I don’t particularly feel like I have the authority to put it up in case it was down for a reason. 

So I head back up to the Bird Sanctuary and I find that the guy in the silver car has actually pulled forward onto the path, blocking it properly.  Aha.  This was supposed to be my clue they were actually starting to work.

Someone needs more training.  If you’re performing traffic control, you have to stand out there and be authoritative.  I might be miffed if you stop me from going where I want to go, but I’m going to be seriously pissed off if you let me go past you and I have to come back to where I should have been stopped in the first place.

“I’m really upset about this,” I say to him.

“Yeah, I know,” as he walks away from me to talk to two women who have turned out of the Bird Sanctuary onto the pathway going south.  I’m trying really hard to not complain for the sake of complaining, I’m trying hard that when I have a complaint I make sure I do something positive to make it better.  I’m not sure the words, “I’m really upset about this” constitute strong enough language that you need to walk away from me and avoid having a conversation.  I didn’t even get to ask him about whether the Men At Work sign should be up or down.

This is ultimately about me getting a better pathway!  Stand up there, take a little bit of heat if you have to, direct people to the best alternative and provide good information.  I’m definitely not the person to be avoiding, I’m specifically the person who needs to be addressed over stuff like this.  I apologize if being really upset came across as too intimidating.

The other side of this is that we need to take the amount of complaints the poor guy heard today as a indication that work on the pathway has not been communicated well and that we absolutely have to do a better job.  That communication needs to come in a notice of what’s going on, but also with an indication of what’s happening now.

The signs we passed just at the entrance of the Bird Sanctuary are seen here.  I like to think of it as the, “No really, we mean it today sign” and the “Public Notice spew of illegibility” sign.  To me, “Public Notice” means the neighbour has a building permit to put another bathroom in his house.  This needs say something much more meaningful.  “Notice of Construction” or “Planned Closure of Pathway” are both better choices.

In fact, I’d love a half hour meeting with whoever designed the entire sign in the first place.  No joke, I’m completely serious.  I’ll completely make myself available if someone from the city can schedule that.  Email me with my first name at my vanity domain.

I’ll promise the meeting will start off rough.  The first words out of my mouth are going to be, “What, are you STUPID?“  This is a ridiculous amount of pointless information packed into a sign.  Motorists would never accept such a thing.

Signs need to be simple and clear.  “DANGER - Construction ahead.  No admittance.“  Put on a simple map of the detour, not that abomination that labels every neighbourhood in proximity.  Unless, of course, you need to know the names of every neighbourhood that you’ll be riding by instead of passing through.  A good sign is going to be inviting to read.  It doesn’t need to be wordy - I only want to get to where I have to go as quickly and safely as possible.  Tell me why I can’t go that way, show me my best alternative.  If anyone wants more information than that, send them to 3-1-1 or the city’s website.  We’ve got that part right.

Think, for a moment, about who your audience is supposed to be.  We have pedestrians, dog walkers, cyclists, skateboards, wheelchairs - everyone who gets out and uses the pathways.  A pedestrian may stop to look at the sign.  The dog is probably pulling at the leash so the owner won’t have a lot of time to read it.  The cyclists are supposedly moving at 20 km/h.  How are we possibly going to absorb what’s on that sign?

Closing that section of pathway is a huge inconvenience.  I fully understand that there’s not a lot of great options.  It’s like closing Deerfoot trail at Southland Drive and directing people onto Blackfoot Trail – only we don’t actually tell drivers until you get to Glenmore Trail!

We have a huge problem with signs leading up to the detour!  Hey, everyone!  We’re on a detour!  But we don’t really know where the pathway is closed unless you’re willing to read the “Spew of Illegibility” in great detail.

Equally a problem is all the “Spew of Illegibility” signs are identical.  There are no “You Are Here” markers on any of them letting you know which direction you need to go to find the best route.  I’m going to try to remember to bring a Sharpie tomorrow and I’ll happily deface the signs I come across to at least try to help someone else.  I know the paths and I was getting confused trying to figure out which way to go!

Worse, the sign that I took a picture of is located on Ogden Road just coming out of Old Refinery Park.  It’s got the detour pointing in both directions!  Helpful hint, going north on Ogden Road leads you straight to Alyth Bridge and is most definitely not the direction you want to be going.  Unless you need a few extra kilometers on your exercise routine and have the time to double back.  I made the mistake and was shaking my head all the way back because I knew it was the wrong direction but I followed the sign and took it anyways.  Clarity is necessary.

This photo is a bit sarcastic, I generally don’t ride on stairs and I know very well that there is a ramp just a little past the stairs for wheeled vehicles.  If you don’t know that and you’re following the sign, you’re hauling your bike up the stairs until you get to the top and look at the lovely pathway down and to your left.  It may be the detour if you’re walking, but there ought to be a detour sign for wheeled traffic as well.

Signs are up there to communicate!  Signs are supposed to let us know what to do.  Signs need to be clear on when a change in rules is in effect.  Signs need to be simple and clear.  Traffic control that actually controls traffic. 

Timely.  Better.  Meaningful.  Legible.

We’ve really flubbed this.  There’s lots of time to make it better and put some dedication towards alternative transportation.