When it comes to how Edmontonians get around the city, Emily Grisé says there will always be a need for compromise.
"There just isn't enough space on our streets to have it all," she told participants at Taproot's fourth People's Agenda listening session on April 1. "That means we have to start thinking about how we're allocating our street space."
Grisé is an associate professor at the University of Alberta's School of Urban and Regional Planning, where she researches and teaches issues of land use and transportation planning. She has also collaborated with a number of public and private transit agencies to help design transportation services across Canada.
Grisé was the featured speaker at the listening session, which asked more than 20 Edmonton residents to discuss concerns about transportation in the city. The event was prompted by Taproot's People's Agenda, a document that’s being compiled based on responses to this question: What key issue do you want the candidates to talk about as they compete for votes in the 2021 municipal election, and why?
Overall, participants said they want the next city's next municipal government to allocate space to many diverse forms of transit, which would allow people to choose the options that work best for them at any given moment.
Emily Grisé, who has a PhD in urban planning from McGill University, and shared her expertise with an audience of Edmontonians on April 1. (Taproot Edmonton)
Grisé's point about not having enough space is often the source of conflict between people who use different forms of transportation. The conflict over bike lanes is long-standing in Edmonton, and Grisé said that debate is about people fighting for space more than anything else.
One resident said the recently constructed bike lanes in downtown Edmonton have been “a godsend" for getting around without a car, but that people who are more likely to commute have sometimes been vocally opposed.
Other participants noted that transportation needs vary between neighbourhoods, and council decisions should reflect this. Bike lanes make more sense in dense areas, but it is understandable why those living on the outskirts of the city are less amenable to public funds going towards them, one resident said.
Grisé noted that a more convenient and efficient system overall would mean more space allocated to mass and active transit, in the forms of cycling, pedestrian, bus, and LRT infrastructure, at the expense of space allocated to cars, like parking spots. "Right now, (the transportation system) best serves car trips ... but the city is moving towards more diverse transit options," she said. "I hope this momentum can continue with the change of government."
She pointed to council's decision to remove mandatory parking space minimums for new residential and commercial construction, which she said is "a great move forward, and good for everyone."
Safety, especially when it comes to pedestrians, was one of the biggest concerns for participants.
One resident of the Queen Alexandra neighbourhood shared that the nearest elementary school is across two arterial roads, presenting a danger to kids walking to school, so many parents have resorted to driving. The resident wants to see the next council and school boards work more collaboratively to address these issues.
Others brought up traffic safety challenges on residential streets, saying the city should further reduce residential speed limits, and make crosswalks clearer by adding lights or better signage.
Others want to see council address safety issues of cyclists and drivers sharing the roads, and of pedestrians and cyclists sharing paths. Current city councillors recently passed a motion to clarify the rules around safe passing distances on roads, but some said the rules do not provide enough safety, or have not been enforced well enough.
Many participants said accessibility should be a primary goal of any transportation system, and some said this also means there needs to be less space for cars. They said cars can be cost-prohibitive, are not an option for people with some physical and mental disabilities, and are unappealing for those looking to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Buses and forms of active transportation can go a long way to solve those issues, participants noted.
Edmontonians also emphasized that Edmonton's mass transit network is prohibitive as well in its current form. Many noted how much longer it takes to commute or run errands via bus and LRT than in a car. Grisé said these times should be more even, and participants agreed that they want council to look into making the bus system faster.
The current city council passed a bus network redesign earlier this year, which will come into effect on April 25. Grisé said the redesign is exciting, and will make the system more efficient in both costs and service.
But some participants at the listening session were skeptical, particularly because the redesign cuts many routes and increases the distance between bus stops in some residential neighbourhoods.
Those who participated for the most part agreed that transportation in Edmonton requires compromise as Grisé said, rather than conflict. They said it should be viewed as one system, with different, interconnected modes of travel, rather than creating silos based on types of transportation.
As one Edmontonian put it: the government’s goal should be to “smooth the edges between the modes.”
Taproot’s People's Agenda listening sessions will take place weekly until the end of April. The next session on April 8 will be a discussion about funding for police. Those interested in participating can register online.