Pathway 12 of the Cochrane Sustainability Plan is that, by 2029, “there are diverse options for getting around” in Cochrane and region. That’s 17 years from now.
Our current reality reflects car-oriented sprawl that land speculators brought to what was once a close and connected community. Instead of buying land on the immediate fringes of the town, developers bought land wherever they could get it. Some speculators then persuaded the council of the day to annex the land so it could be built to higher densities than in rural Rocky View.
Over the 32 years I have lived here, I have noticed that developers control land use planning: they decide what goes where, when and how. Developers want to make money, and there is nothing wrong with that. Developers are not necessarily interested in building community. They construct and sell houses: as many as they can pack into their parcels, no matter how steep the terrain, or that the land is in a floodplain or contains irreplaceable wetlands, or that lacustrine clay lies beneath.
Cochrane did not grow logically, outward from the river valley with carefully planned trails, roads and bridges to accommodate new citizens and commerce. New residential developments still do not reflect respect for the local ecology and landscape, the local economy, required infrastructure and water, and certainly they do not ensure that new citizens are close and connected to what they need.
It is not coincidence that the only way to safely get around in the sprawl is by car or truck. When you drive into new subdivisions, the built forms that greet you are not a doorway with welcome mat: the first things you see are a garage and driveway. We do have a marvellous pathway system. But, it is fragmented and in some places the terrain is so steep that an average citizen can’t walk or cycle without gasping. A pedestrian or cyclist can’t get to the pathway without risking his/her life because many main throughways, like Railway and Griffin Roads and George Fox Trail, have no sidewalks let alone bike lanes, and motorists don’t care to share the road.
According to councillors Brooker and Davies, the town can’t require bike lanes to be built on major roads because developers don’t want to pay for them, and besides, truck and car drivers may be upset if they can’t use that lane to park. Imagine that.
According to some members of council, like Brooker, and some members of the media, like Mary Lou Davis, we can’t have a public bus service internally or to Calgary LRT because it may be “nice-to-have” but would be “too expensive.” But, we can pump millions of federal, provincial, and municipal tax dollars into more roads, more bridges, more infrastructure for more and more single occupant cars and trucks, and no media person or council member blinks.
Given council’s support for leap-frogging residential sprawl that shows no sign of letting up, and council’s bafflegab about bike lanes, I say good luck with that target. I may be dead before a public bus service for getting around is available, or run over by a truck or car trying to walk or cycle. My great, great grandchildren might be able to commute by train. I better not hold my breath.