Welcome To Downtown Edmonton

Mayor and the conventional media
I am, perhaps, reading way too much into four simple, oft-heard, even clichéd words, but when Mayor Don Iveson got up on the stage this morning and welcomed a few hundred charity bicycle riders to a charity bicycle ride before the Tour of Alberta race with "welcome to downtown Edmonton," I think he was doing more than greeting and indicating location.

 I didn't reach that perhapsed conclusion as he spoke. As he spoke, it was, honestly, just more of the usual usual.

But then something happened. Or, a few other people happened.

First, there was the guy who walked up to us as we watched from a City Centre pedway as, below,  the cyclists streamed by.

"What's happening here?" he grumbled.

Alex explained the Tour of Alberta to him. He listened and then offered this profundity: "And they
have to shut down the whole city for this?" He then shuffled away. Content.
What is happening here?

Then, there was the woman on the street below who was unloading on a police officer who would not let her scale two barricades and cross the street as the cyclists were bearing down at 50 kilometres an hour because she was now late for work. A baffling decision by the officer, to be sure. How do the train cops these days? The siren swore and yelled and hollered her way west down 103 Ave. The officer's waxed ears helped.

And then there was this mild driveby hit on the evening television news:

Anchor: "Edmonton's downtown has been virtually shut down to traffic as the Tour of Alberta winds though the city centre. It's the final day for the cycling competition involving more than one hundred athletes today. While some drivers were frustrated, many support the temporary traffic pain to make room for the huge event."

Those three sentences could be unpacked from many perspectives, but let's, for now, just make the point that, to be precise, traffic was not shut down, virtually or in fact. There was a lot of traffic. I was there. I saw pedestrians and bicycles moving easily along the corridors closed temporarily to automobile traffic. It was automobile traffic that was temporarily delayed.

Then there is the question of whether the story that followed that news lead from the anchor backed up what he had said. Viewers saw an Obstruction Ahead sign, and heard some horn honking backed-up cars. One understanding motorist was seen and heard to say: "Pretty slow. Really slow, but, you know..." and we didn't hear the rest of his thought. The next motorist asked: "Cycling? Yeah. It's the second time we got caught in it today." Asked if it was worth it, as if the "it" was somehow so well understood that it acquired vague it status, he said; "Definitely not." Two other motorists burned by the virtual shutdown were either amazed by the spectacle or understood that the barricades opened the city to other kinds of traffic.

Or, as viewers heard the mayor then say in that same television story: "The riders go away, the organizers go away and go, 'those guys are really good at this.' And that is positive word of mouth for our city."

What the two critics without microphones (the shuffler, the screamer) have in common with the critics with microphones is this: if anything dares to compete with the automobile for use of Sunday Edmonton streets, if heating engines on idle face a forewarned barricade, then we are dealing with a major news story.

Full disclosure: I work for the financial institution that sponsored the Tour of Alberta. I am a bicycle commuter.

Fuller disclosure: That doesn't matter. I also drive a car. This is not an economic booster argument, either. It's an argument in favour of a wider understanding of what common space is for. As my classics-trained son pointed out after hearing the woman v. cop tirade, streets have existed for about 3,000 years before the invention of the automobile. (Love the bachelor of arts degree. But that's another blog.)

Unconventional intersection
In a small way, Edmonton gets this. One of my favourite intersections is 104 St and 102 Ave during the weekend market. It has chairs and tables on the pavement as the traffic lights above idiotically go through their green-amber-red routine.

And, so, when the mayor says welcome to downtown Edmonton, I like to think he is saying, or saying a bit, that you are somewhere special, or somewhere that's becoming somewhere special. Not because cars are shut out, but because a balance might return. That downtown Edmonton is where some neat things about Edmonton are happening


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