Strange things can happen on the Red Willow Trail.
On one hand, spending a sunny afternoon gingerly cycling along the Sturgeon River without a helmet risks a $100 blow to the pocketbook. But once a rider dons headgear, look out. There's nothing stopping them from racing at warp speed like a caffeinated character from a Mountain Dew commercial.
That's just par for the course with St. Albert's wacky traffic bylaw, which features a nanny helmet rule but is oddly silent on something as basic as speed limits. While some municipalities cap speeds at 20 kilometres per hour, often with posted signs, cyclists in St. Albert only have to retain full control of their ride.
There's also nothing in the city's traffic bylaw preventing electric scooters from throttling down trails or sidewalks. The machines are allowed since they're powered by human muscles and considered power bicycles. Interesting interpretation. No pedals are required, but I suppose you do need core muscles to sit upright on the machine while humming along at 30 clicks.
The loophole has generated quite a bit of flap from trail users who don't want to share with the faster moving machines, to the point where council might be forced to have another look at the rules. But instead of banning scooters, perhaps the bike helmet rules should be expanded to include walkers, cyclists, inline skaters, skateboarders, strollers and even pets. The city has, after all, done stranger things, like building a $150,000 dog park when current bylaws allow pooches to roam off-leash throughout the city (except trails and tot lots, of course).
Perhaps what council really needs to do is create another task force to study the problem over the next year. There's no sense in taking swift, decisive action.
Another idea generating some debate came from fellow columnist John Kennair, who raised the question about whether St. Albert is ready for a ward system for local elections.
As Kennair mentioned, the idea has obvious benefits for hyperlocal neighbourhood issues. The rezoning of 70 Arlington Dr. is the most recent example, one that generated considerable debate in Akinsdale. I'm sure neighbourhood residents also would have liked an elected official to go to bat for them on issues like the Anthony Henday Drive alignment. That's not to say council was negligent in fighting to push the road further away from homes, but sometimes it's a comfort just to know your elected official is facing the same predicament since he or she lives down the street.
There is one distinct problem with a ward system for a smaller city with a part-time council: quality. No disrespect intended to our current elected officials or even some of the better challengers from 2007, but a part-time council does make it difficult to attract top-notch candidates, even across the entire city. Limiting voters to candidates from their neighbourhood — or even two or three areas combined into one ward — could result in a shallow pool of choices. It's hard to believe Akinsdale, Inglewood or Erin Ridge residents would be better off with a choice of one or two ward candidates versus the 20-some that invariably vie for six councillor seats.
And what happens if no candidate materializes in one of the, presumably six wards? Just as an example, the current council has representatives from Deer Ridge (Mayor Nolan Crouse), Heritage Lakes (Len Bracko), Grandin (James Burrows and Carol Watamaniuk), Forest Lawn (Gareth Jones), Pineview (Roger Lemieux) and Braeside (Lorie Garritty). That leaves out neighbourhoods like Oakmont, North Ridge, Erin Ridge, Inglewood, downtown, Mission, Woodlands, Akinsdale and Lacombe Park. A ward system would be a dream come true for an otherwise unelectable fringe candidate from those parts, but it's probably not the best choice for the greater good.
Bryan Alary is co-editor of the Gazette. Read his blog at www.stalbertgazette.com.