Advocacy groups collaborate on downtown pedestrianization

· The Pulse

After being on opposite sides of the debate on whether to close 102 Avenue to traffic, two Edmonton advocacy groups are working together to look at ways to improve walkability in the downtown core.

Urban Development Institute-Edmonton Metro, an organization representing real estate developers, and Paths for People, a group advocating for active transportation, are surveying people who spend time downtown about where they would like to see improvements. They released preliminary results on July 20. The survey will close in mid-August.

The project came about after the two organizations disagreed about turning part of 102 Avenue into a pedestrian corridor. While Paths for People supported the idea, UDI opposed it. Ultimately, city council decided to reopen the avenue to traffic.

"We wanted to really show that we can disagree on different topics and approaches and still move forward," said Jason Syvixay, director of metropolitan strategy and advocacy for the institute. "That conversation really revealed that all stakeholders, whether it's Paths for People or UDI-Edmonton Metro, we really want one thing and that's a vibrant downtown."

When Paths for People's push to turn 102 Avenue into a pedestrian corridor was unsuccessful, chair Stephen Raitz wanted to explore other opportunities to improve the pedestrian experience.

"Everybody wants like a really great pedestrian-friendly downtown," Raitz told Taproot. "We can't agree on where right now, but we can agree to things in that larger vision. So this project is all about trying to sort out what that larger vision could tangibly look like."

The survey asks people to rank options that could improve walking or rolling downtown, such as improving sidewalks, crosswalks, or the pedway system. It also asks which streets respondents think could be improved.

Preliminary results show that while there is a large focus on Jasper Avenue, several corridors have been identified for improvement, Raitz said. The early results also show an interest in improvements to sidewalk infrastructure.

"Right now, it's very much a patchwork of different standards of sidewalks downtown," Raitz said. "Some of them are (of) a higher quality, like around Rice Howard Way and some parts of 104 Street. While on portions of 102 Ave., the sidewalks, especially at the western end, are not as hot. So some uniformity around the standard of sidewalks is a strong interest."

Portraits of Jason Syvixay and Stephen Raitz beside a slide that reads "Downtown Pedestrianization Preliminary Survey Results" over a map of downtown that shows roadways of various thicknesses.

Jason Syvixay of UDI-Edmonton Metro and Stephen Raitz of Paths for People are gathering information on what would make downtown more pedestrian-friendly. (Supplied)

So far, the survey indicates less interest in improvements to the pedway system.

"From the public at least, there was a strong interest in 'Let's improve these public spaces that are outdoors, let's make them work in all seasons and for all levels of mobility,' as opposed to trying to further build out the pedway system," Raitz said.

The team behind the survey is also meeting with stakeholders such as the Edmonton Downtown Business Association, the Downtown Edmonton Community League, and the Downtown Recovery Coalition.

Once the survey closes in mid-August, the two groups hope to submit their findings to city council's urban planning committee in November.

"We're really trying to think bigger and to think a little a bit more about new options for downtown as opposed to just the temporary street closures that administration might be considering through their report come November," Syvixay said.

Ultimately, Raitz and Syvixay said they hope to bring practical suggestions to the city.

"I'd like to see coming out of this more organizations within downtown singing the same tune on what we could do," Raitz said. "Because we weren't able to do that before, but I know it's possible because we all have that similar vision."