Polka Dots on First

A story from the Bridgeland-Riverside Community Association newsletter from October 2018. Find the full newsletter (and more!) here.


By now you’ve all likely seen the polka dots on First Avenue and hopefully walked across the street and no doubt wondered how this all came to be. This is an Activate YYC Project created by the Bridgeland-Riverside Transportation Planning Committee. The goal is to improve safety for people walking, driving, and cycling in our neighbourhood and increase vibrancy in the area of General Plaza. The ActivateYYC is a new, one-time microgrant program from the City and Federation of Calgary Communities that centers on local community projects that bring people together to walk, play, and be neighbourly. These projects employ tactical urbanism – quick, temporary, and low-cost initiatives.

The intersections at First Avenue and 8A and 9 Street have long been identified by community members as unsafe for both pedestrians and vehicles. Many years of background research and advocacy have gone into this pilot project. We continue to work with the City of Calgary Main Streets Team so that these temporary changes can inform final design for the main street revitalization of 1st Avenue NE.

Here’s some features of the design:

  • Narrowing of lanes through the entire block between 8a and 9 Streets reduces vehicle speed and increases driver attention.
  • Extending all 4 corners of 2 intersections brings people walking into the view of drivers before attempting to cross while allowing people walking to clearly see oncoming vehicle traffic.This shortens crossing distances for people walking so they spend less time exposed in the roadway and use of the intersection is seen as a more attractive option;
  • Extending corners permits drivers to move into better visibility of other vehicles before venturing into cross traffic;
  • Extending non-vehicle space into the roadway to produce novelty and uncertainty to generate higher
  • attention in all users; and
  • Painting of the roadway to generate more novelty (and increased awareness) from drivers while introducing a sense of playfulness to other users, encouraging all users to pay attention.

To evaluate the changes at these intersections, the behaviours of all participants in the interaction are being monitored by video to see how they compare to before the intervention. In the winter the white traffic markers will be coming out and replaced with curbs so that plows can deal with snow and keep the areas cleared.

This intervention was put in place by over 20 keen volunteers of all ages who donned their paint clothes on Sunday, August 19. The area had been outlined and crosswalks marked earlier in the week by city roads staff and paint and supplies had been purchased. Separate crews formed to do specific tasks – traffic safety, sweeping the road, outlining the circles, painting the blue, green, and pink colours and then cleanup.

They worked like an experienced team and the job was done in no time!

Thank you to Ali McMillan, BRCA Planning Director, Jason Kubke, and the Transportation Committee for your long term commitment to improving safety in our community.