The Pulse: March 21, 2022

Here's what you need to know about Edmonton today.

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  • 8°C: A mix of sun and cloud. Wind becoming northwest 20 km/h near noon. High 8. Wind chill minus 6 in the morning. UV index 3 or moderate. (forecast)
  • 966: There were 966 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19 as of March 19, including 62 in intensive care. Alberta reported four new deaths on Friday. (details)
  • 7:30pm: The Oilers (35-23-4) will play the Avalanche (44-13-5) in Colorado. (details)

Passengers sitting inside an Edmonton LRT car

Transit head celebrates recovering ridership, calls for sheltering solutions

By Karen Unland

Edmonton's transit ridership has reached 69% of pre-pandemic levels, a recovery that is outpacing Toronto's and is on par with Vancouver's, says Carrie Hotton-MacDonald, branch manager for the Edmonton Transit Service.

"I did assume that urban, dense environments would recover much more quickly than we would, but it hasn't been the case," she told Episode 170 of Speaking Municipally, Taproot's civic affairs podcast.

She noted that even during the pandemic, ridership was around 50% of normal, indicating perhaps that a significant number of Edmontonians could not work remotely and continued to ride the bus or take the train.

Rebuilding and then growing ridership relates in part to how safe people feel when taking transit. The number of security incidents per 100,000 boardings has been decreasing since October, Hotton-MacDonald said, but she acknowledged that "doesn't bring a lot of comfort for those that feel like maybe it's not as safe as it could be."

Homelessness and the drug poisoning crisis contribute to social disorder in transit stations. City council approved $3.9 million at the end of February to add more staff to the Community Outreach Transit Team, where members of the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society and transit peace officers connect people seeking shelter in the transit system with the supports they need.

But ultimately, it's the root causes that need addressing, Hotton-MacDonald said.

"We need to find sheltering solutions for people, because to think of a cold concrete floor in a pedway or transit centre as being appropriate shelters, it's really heartbreaking," she said. "They deserve better, and they need more support than that. That's what's keeping me up at night, to be honest with you."

The Edmonton Police Association has not hesitated to draw attention to violent crime in the transit system. Hotton-MacDonald said she has a good working relationship with the Edmonton Police Service on this file. "But I will say that when we hear about those stories, the first thing that comes to my mind is, 'Well, what is your plan for addressing the crime that's happening in those spaces then?'"

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By Mack Male

  • A spring snowstorm caused problems on the roads but resulted in less than five centimetres of accumulated snow. Edmonton police said 52 collisions were reported yesterday between 10am and 5:30pm. The city typically receives about 20 cm of snow in March, with an average of 28 cm between March 15 and June 30.
  • Before it snowed, EPCOR said it responded to more than 100 calls all across the city over the weekend to deal with covered drains and flooding following recent warm temperatures. There are more than 65,000 catch basins or drains in Edmonton, and residents are advised to call 311 if theirs is covered or clogged.
  • Leduc fire chief George Clancy has resigned following the filing of a civil suit against the City of Leduc alleging harassment, bullying, discrimination, abuse, and sexual assault in the fire department. "It is with a heavy heart that I must share with you my decision to leave our services following 31 years of service to this great community," Clancy wrote in an email to staff. "This is a very difficult decision for me to make and one that I need to do out of respect for my health." The suit does not identify alleged abusers by name, and Clancy has not been accused of assault, abuse, or harassment. He took over the department in 2014, reports Global News.
  • A report on steps Edmonton could take to decriminalize minor drug possession will be considered by city council's community and public services committee this week. Coun. Michael Janz asked for the information as a way to help reduce the number of drug poisoning deaths in the city. "It's an entirely preventable drug crisis," Janz told CTV News Edmonton. "We need to look at any measure we can."
  • Spring break camps at the TELUS World of Science are already at capacity as demand surges for in-person camps with minimal restrictions. "We sold out much quicker than usual," said spokesperson Ursula Pattloch.
  • An electrical generator that is almost as long as a CFL football field and as tall as a traffic light pole left the Scotford refinery area on March 19. The heavy load, which could cause traffic delays along Edmonton-area highways, is expected to arrive near Edson on March 23.
A light rail vehicle running along 102 Avenue downtown

Coming up at council: March 21-25, 2022

By Mack Male

Last week's city council meeting will continue on March 22. Among the items remaining are the two potential mask bylaws.

There are three committee meetings scheduled for this week: community and public services committee on March 21, executive committee on March 23, and utility committee on March 25. Here are some of the key items on the agenda:

  • The Edmonton Transit Service continues to tweak the new bus network and on-demand transit service as ridership has recovered to more than 60% of pre-pandemic levels, with several initiatives and service changes planned for 2022. The planned completion of the Valley Line Southeast LRT this year will provide an opportunity to repurpose bus routes that currently provide parallel service, which could allow for expansion into new years, support improved frequency along busy corridors, or support the initial stage of bus rapid transit service along Terwillegar Drive.
  • The aerial mosquito program, which was eliminated in fall 2020 to help achieve a 0% tax increase that year, was reinstated for one year in May 2021. Council will now determine whether to provide ongoing funding for the program, at a projected cost of $507,000 per year.
  • A draft financial assistance policy — intended to support businesses affected during major construction and modelled after a similar program in Montreal — is available for review. Administration anticipates that such a program would cost $200,000 per year to operate and $15,000 per business experiencing an eligible loss, and cautions that there could be "significant risks" in providing appropriate oversight and governance.
  • Administration's recommendation made in June 2021 that the mandatory three-stream communal collection program be city-managed has not changed following the evaluation of alternative business models. Communal collection — which serves approximately 167,000 homes across nearly 3,400 multi-unit properties — is set to adopt the third stream for organics beginning in late 2023. The program is expected to cost $29 million in capital and $93.5 million in operating and maintenance expenditures over the next 24 years.
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Side-by-side portraits of Sen. Paula Simons and Mack Male

Coming up this week: March 21-25, 2022

By Karen Unland

This week's calendar includes talks by Sen. Paula Simons and Taproot's own Mack Male, as well as a reconciliation roundtable, award announcements, and a cinematic fundraiser for Ukraine.

Photo: Sen. Paula Simons will give a talk called "An Amateur Gardener's Guide to the Living Tree," and Mack Male will give the keynote at Rainforest Summit Edmonton 2022.

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