The City of Edmonton drifted off course for decades when it came to maintaining and building great transportation networks (remember the pothole outbreak of a few years past?) . This term, city council invested $1 billion in repairing, rebuilding and expanding its road network. At the same time, the City is investing in LRT, taking a serious look at improving bus service, creating vibrant “main streets” and designing cycling and walking links so people who can’t or don’t want to purchase cars can safely navigate the city.

It is a fine balance. In Canada’s fastest-growing and youngest city, change means upsetting people like me, who loved driving from any Point A to Point B in Edmonton in 20 minutes or less.

But, balance is complex and difficult to achieve. Cycling advocates want the City to go further. Transit fans worry council will mess things up. Car commuters grumble about congestion. Pedestrians complain about sidewalks in the greater downtown that are cracked and patched with asphalt. It’s a long road ahead. The City must plan a transportation route into the future, knowing that in the “now,” we’re unable to make everyone happy.

Let’s talk Jasper Ave

Jasper Avenue is Edmonton’s historic main street. Main streets reflect a city’s history, values, prosperity and aspirations. For several decades now, Jasper Avenue has left the wrong impression. Our main street needed a makeover. What’s more, the 19,000 residents of Oliver want a lovely and vibrant, strolling mainstreet along Jasper Avenue. They want to set the stage for culture and business: cafes, restaurants, galleries, boutiques and bodegas.

So, this summer, after more than a year of open houses, City administration kicked off its finest public engagement initiative to date. It’s working exactly as it should. Stay with me here.

Instead of using schematics and renderings, the City administration erected a real-life example of what a revitalized Jasper Avenue in Oliver will ‘feel’ like for residents, visitors and drivers. These in-situation mock-ups of broader sidewalks, on-street patios, even a ping-pong table filled some of the space removed from the seven-lane stretch of Jasper in Oliver. Note that only four lanes enter/leave Jasper Avenue from the west at 124 and only five lanes continue east from 109th, so the Oliver stretch was, uh, spacious for drivers and like crossing the Nile for pedestrians.

My office and 311 is hearing feedback (both pro and con) to prove that this in-situation method is a great way for Edmontonians to feel, experience, and imagine how a Jasper Ave mainstreet could work.

Coming back to balance

With any test-run, we will discover what works and what doesn’t. Jasper Ave is an important transportation route into and out of downtown.

At the end of the pilot program, City council will get hard data on how the installation impacts traffic. I’m convinced that the City can engineer solutions for commuters on a narrower Jasper Avenue in Oliver. Perhaps we use a centre lane or lanes to create three incoming lanes during the morning rush; three outgoing lanes during the afternoon rush.
Perhaps we return right-turn lanes on major north/south arterial roads like 109th Street to prevent clogging and back-up of traffic.

Imagine a road that flushes traffic well during rush hour, but then settles into a pedestrian street with great urban experiences the other 20-22 hours of the day.

I live in Oliver. I can see what’s happening to traffic. I don’t want to frustrate commuters or deter businesses from establishing downtown because of fears they can’t easily move goods and workers in and out.
But we neglected our downtown for decades. We’re finally investing in the place that says to outside visitors and investors that we are prosperous, creative and dynamic. We can create a win for everyone.

I believe we all want great urban experiences downtown to attract tourists, visitors and residents to shop, dine and stroll the streets of the greater downtown.

By Scott McKeen, City Councillor Ward 6