City recommends removing cars on 83 Avenue near farmers' market

· The Pulse

The city is recommending making one block of 83 Avenue between Calgary Trail and Gateway Boulevard car free.

"The avenue is frequently utilized by pedestrians and cyclists, particularly during weekends and the spring to fall seasons," the city said in the recently released draft Old Strathcona Public Realm Strategy. "Additionally, 83 Avenue experiences periodic closures to vehicular traffic for events and festivals, averaging approximately 30 days annually."

The city said it will pilot closures on 83 Avenue outside of festivals and events in the future.

The Old Strathcona Public Realm Strategy is meant to be a guiding document for the redevelopment of Whyte Avenue, Gateway Boulevard, and surrounding areas over the next 10 years and beyond. The city is inviting public input on the plan's final phase until April 7.

In June 2022, city council approved piloting a pedestrian-only street on part of 102 Avenue downtown, but reversed course nine months later. Coun. Tim Cartmell, who voted to reopen the street to drivers, said during the council debate that the portion of 102 Avenue closed has no storefronts. "It is not an energetic place and not having cars there is not going to change that, not in the short term," he said.

In contrast, the block of 83 Avenue now under consideration includes two theatres, multiple restaurants, a park, a public plaza, a high-volume bike lane, and the Old Strathcona Farmers' Market.

The city also recommends turning what is currently a gravel parking lot it leases to the farmers' market into a district park. About half of surveyed Edmontonians said they did not support repurposing parking areas to create more open spaces.

Corinne Olson, manager of the farmers' market, told Taproot in an emailed statement that the proposed changes will affect how vendors load and unload but that the market already adjusts for this during the festival season when 83 Avenue is routinely closed.

"Changes to the market loading and unloading location to 103 Street will cause a few pain points," Olson said.

A portion of 83 Avenue in Old Strathcona.

The city is proposing to close this portion of 83 Avenue to vehicle traffic permanently. (City of Edmonton)

As part of the strategy, the city is also proposing changes to End of Steel Park and a parking lot that is located south of Saskatchewan Drive and between Gateway Boulevard and Tommy Banks Way. The city is suggesting a housing development with a mix of market and below-market units could be built and improvements made to the park.

The strategy also recommends turning several streets in the area into shared streets, where vehicles would be allowed at slow speeds and active transportation would be prioritized. The proposed shared streets include segments of 85 Avenue, 84 Avenue, 81 Avenue, and 102 Street.

The city proposes changes to Whyte Avenue between 99 Street and 109 Street. These include removing at least some on-street parking to make more room for pedestrians, businesses, and landscaping. This would involve removing up to 225 parking spaces from Whyte Avenue, the city said. The city's parking study found as of April 2023 that there are currently about 3,500 parking stalls in the area, about 80% of which do not require one to pay for use.

After this round of public engagement wraps, the strategy is scheduled to be presented to city council's urban planning committee in August.