By Karen Unland
Making 102 Avenue a pedestrian corridor, which city council narrowly voted to do last week amid significant opposition, is not a new idea — city planners saw the potential at least as far back as 1988.
Both 102 and 103 Avenues should be "upgraded to major pedestrian routes from the proposed neighbourhoods in the CP Lands and the Warehouse District to the Downtown Core and the Civic Centre," says the Edmonton Downtown Design Improvement Manual, released during Laurence Decore's time as mayor.
"Thirty-four years ago, planners were thinking about turning this into a pedestrian corridor," Speaking Municipally co-host Mack Male said on Episode 183 of the podcast. "We finally did it."
That 1988 vision continued on through subsequent downtown plans, such as the 1997 Capital City Downtown Plan, which sees the avenue as a "major residential and commercial pedestrian route," and the 2010 Capital City Downtown Plan, which refers to it as "a major pedestrian-oriented shopping street" connecting Oliver to the city's cultural core.
The difference is that none of those previous plans seems to have imagined making part of the avenue utterly car-free, as does the motion passed June 13. It instructs administration to draft a bylaw to close the traffic lane from 99 Street to 103 Street for a one-year pilot project once TransEd finishes that stretch of the Valley Line LRT.
In a city whose planning has been so car-oriented, it is perhaps not surprising that previous plans took it for granted that motor vehicle traffic would still be part of the mix, nor that current opponents of the closure would find the change radical.
"Most people can't imagine what it could be without cars," said podcast co-host Troy Pavlek, who was part of the effort to get councillors to reserve the avenue for pedestrians and cyclists. "They imagine that a street without cars is like the street in front of your house when no one's driving by. But when you fully remove traffic, you open up so many more possibilities. And in Edmonton, if people haven't gone outside of North America, it's very possible they have never experienced a city or an urban area like that. They simply cannot imagine how great this place could be."