Downtown organizations came together on Rice Howard Way on Wednesday to launch their new “walk and roll” plan to improve the experiences of Edmontonians when it comes to accessibility and commuting in the core.
Dubbed the “Downtown Pedestrianization Plan,” it includes nine actions and was co-created by the Urban Development Institute (UDI) — Edmonton Metro and Paths for People. It includes plans to allow for temporary street closures, fix and upgrade cycling infrastructure and implement shared and open streets in the Downtown neighbourhood.
Jason Syvixay, the director of metro strategy and advocacy with the UDI, presented the plan to members of the public on Wednesday afternoon. He said the plan is coming at an important time, saying that later this year Edmonton’s urban planning committee will discuss a report from staff on opportunities to temporarily close streets in Downtown.
“While that conversation is important, we want to be able to activate the street temporarily with permits that are quick, easy and addressing those processes with costs and potentially waiving them,” said Syvixay.
The plan comes after debates around the future of 102 Avenue where some argued that closing the street to vehicles would change the area into a “people-oriented place,” while others said that specific radius within the Downtown was designed with all modes of transportation in mind but did not meet the conditions for any sort of “pedestrian mall.”
In 2022 city council floated the idea of closing the one-way street to cars completely but ultimately voted to not move forward with the idea.
“It’s important to acknowledge that a lot of this work is being done by the city, but we would like to see some metrics, some accountability,” said Syvixay.
“One important lesson from the 102 Avenue debate is that if we focus only on a small stretch of the Downtown, we lose sight of the bigger picture.”
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Consultation with developers, residents, businesses and other community members share a common interest in providing a positive pedestrian experience year-round, connectivity to routes and places of interest and thoughtfully accommodating all transportation. However, opinions diverged on pedways with some arguing that they enhanced connectivity while others said cost was a concern as well as accessibility.
Street closures was another remaining issue with developers, citing their concern about the impact of moving straight to permanent closures whereas the community survey indicated a strong support for the action.
Endorsements from organizations such as the Edmonton Downtown Business Association, Downtown Edmonton Community League and Downtown Recovery Coalition has aided with creating a more fulsome plan which includes discussions around community safety.
Cheryl Probert, president of the Downtown Edmonton Community League, said they’ve heard from residents in the Downtown core who’ve raised concerns about the need for sidewalk improvements but also the feeling of safety and security.
“Foot traffic is a big component of that feeling of safety and security. It helps to address both the perception of safety and the reality that the more people that are on the street moving around, the more vibrant things are, the less likely we are to have unfortunate incidences of crime,” said Probert.
“I’ve already been quite vocal about my support for the re-implementation of the beats team through the Edmonton Police Service. We’re seeing a significant improvement with their foot traffic and their vehicles in Downtown.”