Letter to the Herald Editor re: Bow River Flow

In response to this editorial in August 25’s Calgary Herald.  All I can think about right now is, “I didn’t run it through my editing process.“  I won’t fix the “where cars were cars were” below.

I began as a detractor to the Bow River Flow.  I saw no purpose to it and thought it only an inconvenience on a Sunday afternoon.  I am, however, a huge fan of the festivals and the amazing spirit formed within Calgary through them.

Three years ago, I had started riding my bike again for the first time in many years.  There were two purposes, the first to save money on gas and the get exercise to strengthen my chest muscles after a terrible lung infection.  I did like the prospect of a festival for alternative transportation in Calgary, but I also questioned the value of holding the event on Memorial Drive.

My children demanded to attend the Bow River Flow the first year it was held and I had no better excuse to dodge out of it, so I grudgingly went.  I observed a very interesting festival and changed my opinion towards it.  I did not have children pestering me to buy something every five minutes.  Instead my children ran from booth to booth actively seeking out what each had to offer.  We reconnected with organizations we participated with in the past and formed relationships with organizations new to us.  It created a bonding experience between us as a family and also with Calgary as a city.

The other observation I made that first year was that people almost appeared to be afraid to walk on the street itself.  I encroached the road when my children played a game or walked the chalk maze, then scurried off to the side again wary of a car swerving across Memorial to plough into a crowd of pedestrians.  It never happened, of course, and it took a second year for people to appear confident enough to celebrate on the street.  It reminded me of my childhood where we played road hockey and rode our bikes up and down the streets without fear.  Is it wrong to wish the same for my children?

Granted, none of those streets were Memorial Drive.  A “necessary east-west thoroughfare” according to the Herald’s editorial on Thursday, which suffered from day-long traffic snarls.  Such trite obstinacy to neglect to mention the newly revamped Trans-Canada Highway along 16th Avenue a few blocks north.  An inconvenience, yes, but Memorial Drive is hardly the sole link from the northwest part of the city to the northeast.  Memorial Drive has undergone much more severe and long lasting closures during it’s reconstruction just a few years ago.

Does the Herald also decry the closure of Memorial Drive to traffic from 4 Street NE to Crowchild Trail for the Caglary Marathon?  Of course not, nor should they.  The closure of Memorial Drive is a disingenuous excuse to disparage this particular festival and nothing more.

The Bow River Flow is contrasted with Lilac Festival.  The closure of 4 Street and 17 Avenue SE is dreadfully disruptive when I was forced to drive around it a few years back when I forgot it was Lilac Festival weekend.  I had every bit as much warning then as drivers receive for the Bow River Flow.  If we as drivers make the mistake to not pay attention to the warnings, then the fault lies with us and not the event.  The editorial utterly fails to mention the parking problems on either side of 4 Street SE where cars were cars were parked wherever they could.  I had absolutely no problem finding a place to park my bike at Bow River Flow, and I certainly did not create a parking problem for community members in Sunnyside.  I must certainly call into question to characterization of Cliff Bungalow and Mission as pedestrian friendly while Hillhurst and Sunnyside are not counted as pedestrian friendly.  Both areas have substantial pedestrian traffic in different ways, why are we not taking the best of each area and trying to improve the city at large for pedestrians?

Since I attended the first Bow River Flow, my preferred means of commuting has shifted more and more towards my bicycle.  I still have to pay the cost of vehicle infrastructure through my taxes, even though I now commute four of every five days by bicycle.  I would like to see bicycle infrastructure improve significantly so that when I ride my bike I am safe from traffic and also so that when I drive my car I am free from worry of hitting a cyclist.  I would like others, such as my children, who would cycle more frequently if there was better infrastructure to have an opportunity to travel in whichever manner is appropriate to them at any given time.  That may mean car, bicycle, bus, taxi, pedicab, skateboard, segway or some other fashion I haven’t even come up with.  Choice is good, the Bow River Flow exists to promote choice.

I continue to call for a better balance of vendors at the Bow River Flow.  The expansion into Chinatown allowed my family to have lunch at one of our favourite places, but I wish more was available throughout the festival.  Balance is the operative word.  I don’t want Bow River Flow to become just another outdoor market and lose it’s status as a unique festival in Calgary.

The Herald has clearly carried the worst of the special-interest agenda.  The agenda that says, “Transportation must always be vehicular.  Festivals must always be the same.  It has always been thus and thusly shall it always be.“  Calgary is a city of youth, of vitality and, most importantly, a city of innovation and growth where options are available to us as citizens.  It’s time to declare a singular mode of transportation planning an expensive flop and move on in the effort to give Calgarians more options to make our own city more sustainable.

Mark Zaugg