Edmonton residents grapple with the future of Old Strathcona as the city explores changes to Whyte Avenue
Barista Sare Eastly wants to see a Whyte Avenue that puts people first.
“I care a lot about its development because right now it’s kind of sad, very few companies [open]’ the resident said on Sunday.
Eastly may grant her wish as the City of Edmonton considers possible changes along the avenue, including wider sidewalks, dedicated bus lanes and converting parking lots to parks. It challenges residents to share their vision for revitalizing Old Strathcona.
“I love the idea of a walk-through Whyte… because it’s a human-centric layout, it’s not car-based,” Eastly said.
The proposed designs would include work between 99th and 109th Streets.
Gateway Boulevard and adjacent streets in the area are another section where the city is seeking changes with more plazas and shared streets.
The two areas are part of the city of Old Strathcona’s public realm strategy, which was launched in August 2022. It has already gone through a round of public engagement in which nearly 900 residents have contributed.
Participants expressed broad support for public transit vehicles having priority over cars at intersections. Support has also been shown in potentially reducing on-street parking to add transit lanes.
“When we asked people in the summer what they wanted for public space, we heard a lot about improving connectivity, adding or improving the existing parks, creating more space for festivals or meeting places,” says Marco Melfi, a project manager for the city said in an interview with CBC News.
“The council gave us direction with the city plan and some of their priorities that we want to promote [is] other types of travel,” he said of offering Edmontonians more options beyond using a car to travel around the city.
“It’s not necessary to say stop using one mode, just encourage other modes… we’re looking at how we’re supporting people who love to walk, or people who love to ride bikes, or people who love to go public.” Decide on the means of transport.”
This move would also be in line with the city’s climate change goals and address concerns about noise pollution and public safety, Melfi said.
Based on the input from residents last summer, the city has put together blueprints for another round of public engagement. The three designs for Whyte Avenue include dedicated transit lanes in both directions, an expanded sidewalk, a “flexible space” that could have terraces, and a left-turn lane.
David Cooper, founder of transit planning firm Leading Mobility, has worked on street designs for cities across Canada and says the City of Edmonton needs to have a good understanding of potential trade-offs with some designs.
“We have plenty of room on the streets for an avenue. There is an opportunity to expand the space for other purposes, especially for local businesses, especially for transit traffic.”
Lincoln Ho, an Edmonton blogger interested in urban planning, questions the extent to which the proposed designs actually achieve what the city is promoting.
“They have bus lanes in the middle of the road and there’s a question of how to get on the buses,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s a good design — especially for the foot traffic that they’re trying to increase here — because that actually encourages jaywalking.”
But he thinks the redesign of Whyte Avenue could be a good opportunity to explore the benefits of something like a streetcar system.
“Definitely when the track is hidden … it doesn’t do much for the streetscape and it doesn’t add much to the liveliness,” he said.
Ho criticizes the consultation process as he believes the options presented by the city are limiting.
The project is currently in phase two. The city will present their design ideas at a public drop-in session on March 2nd at the Strathcona Community League.