The Pulse: March 28, 2022

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  • 0°C: Periods of snow. Amount 5 cm. Wind up to 15 km/h. High zero. Wind chill minus 8 in the morning. UV index 1 or low. (forecast)
  • 7:30pm: The Oilers (36-25-5) will play the Arizona Coyotes (20-40-5) at Rogers Place following a 5-9 loss to the Calgary Flames on Saturday night. (details)

A sign on a door reading "Public Washroom Closed: Temporarily Out of Service until further notice

Closing washrooms regrettable but necessary for now, says transit boss

By Karen Unland

Frustration with the closure of public washrooms in transit stations is understandable, but it's a necessary and temporary measure in light of the number of overdoses in these spaces, says the head of Edmonton Transit.

"Washrooms are not well-equipped for the drug poisoning crisis — they are not supervised nor do they have proper tools to assist in these circumstances. As a result, our teams are investigating options to make them safer," said branch manager Carrie Hotton-MacDonald in an email responding to Episode 171 of Speaking Municipally, Taproot's civic affairs podcast.

Co-hosts Mack Male and Troy Pavlek had criticized the decision, which was noted in the transit safety and security report in February but flew under the radar until CTV Edmonton published a story saying most of the 30 public washrooms in transit stations had been closed. The report said the Community Outreach Transit Team (COTT) would direct people to nearby facilities while the washrooms remained closed, but that struck Male as an inadequate solution.

"'Go somewhere else' assumes a) that you are able to go somewhere else, and b) that there's somewhere else to go. And as I've complained about loudly many times, so many of the public washrooms that we already have are still inaccessible," he said. "I don't know where they expect people are going to go if they can't use these public washrooms."

Male asked why the city couldn't fund better monitoring of the washrooms instead of closing them. Hotton-MacDonald said her team is researching all options.

"This might mean, as examples, equipment changes, communications and signage, and more training," she wrote. "I've seen, as another example, motion detector technology utilized to signal when there hasn't been any movement from a person in the space, which could be a sign that someone is in distress."

She emphasized that washrooms will reopen "when it's safe and after we've made improvements." But the bigger issue is an unsafe supply of illegal drugs and the lack of support for people with addictions. "What we're seeing in transit is bigger than ETS and bigger than just the City," she said, echoing her comments in Episode 170 on the need to address the root causes of disorder in transit stations.

In light of the worsening drug poisoning crisis, we need to do more than make transit washrooms safer, said Pavlek. "I don't think our transit centres should become supervised consumption sites. But I think it makes pretty dire and stark the need for supervised consumption sites."

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By Mack Male

  • Firefighter Aid Ukraine, an Edmonton-based organization that has sent firefighting equipment to Ukraine for years, found itself in the middle of an online misinformation campaign after a photo of a Ukrainian firefighter with "Edmonton" emblazoned on the back appeared on CNN. "A simple Google search shows that Edmonton firefighters have donated suits to Ukrainian colleagues for years," tweeted CNN reporter Daniel Dale, addressing claims that the photo suggested explosions were staged. "Lviv was one of the very first communities we supported, and they've received some support continuously," Kevin Royle, founder of the project and a serving Edmonton firefighter, told CTV News.
  • The Edmonton International Airport said passenger traffic in January and February was up 220% compared to the same period in 2021. The airport recorded nearly 2.8 million passengers in 2021, compared to 2.6 million in 2020 and 8.15 million in 2019. "The recovery has started and I see a positive year ahead," said president and CEO Tom Ruth.
  • The Edmonton Heritage Festival is still without a suitable location for the next three years when Hawrelak Park is closed for rehabilitation. City council approved the project's environmental impact assessment last week. "Next year is our 50th year. We can't not have a 50th festival," said executive director Jim Gibbon. Coun. Michael Janz has suggested the city negotiate a deal with the Royal Mayfair Golf Club to use some of its 150 acres of land. "When you think the Mayfair Golf Course only has 350 members and that's not a representation of Edmontonians, I think it doesn't align with the best use goals that we have for the ribbon of green and for the river valley," he said.
  • A survey regarding a Vision Zero Street Lab for Victoria Promenade is being criticized for putting forward "unacceptable options" for the project's design. "This council won a strong mandate on a bike-friendly city," tweeted Conrad Nobert. "And admin proposes a bike lane in a popular location that is clearly dangerous." Daniel Morin, civics director for the Oliver Community League, said the league was approached for input and "emphasized the importance of protected lanes for this temporary street lab" but wasn't involved in drafting the options presented in the survey.
  • The Edmonton Oilers and several associated companies are suing four insurance companies for $174 million alleging "massive business losses" over a two-year period during the COVID-19 pandemic. The plaintiffs argue that COVID-19 physically altered the interior air and surfaces of Rogers Place and should therefore be covered by the all risks policy they purchased.
  • Mayor Amarjeet Sohi announced on Saturday that the City of Edmonton will commission a COVID-19 memorial. "The pandemic is still ongoing, and although we cannot control it, we can control how we move forward," he tweeted. "The grounding nature of public art will memorialize this difficult and trying chapter of our story.⁣⁣⁣⁣" The memorial will be commissioned by the Edmonton Arts Council and is expected to be unveiled this summer.
Violinist Vasyl Popadiuk in front of a spiral of lights and a group of musicians

Coming up this week: March 28-April 1, 2022

By Karen Unland

This week's calendar includes a benefit for Ukraine, the start of Downtown Dining Week, a couple of meetups, and events about place-keeping in Chinatown and anti-racism in education:

Photo: Kyiv-born, Ottawa-based violinist Vasyl Popadiuk is touring Western Canada to raise money for Ukrainian relief. (Vasyl Popadiuk)