Improve LRT stations by adding retail services, says Edmonton engineer

An Edmonton engineer says more services and businesses should be added to the city’s LRT stations.
Urban engineer Matt Brassard visited the Edmonton AM studio Tuesday to talk about his ideas for transit development. (CBC)

An Edmonton engineer says more services and businesses should be added to the city’s LRT stations.

Matt Brassard is an environmental engineer with Urban Systems Ltd. He says LRT stations could be made more neighbourhood-friendly by adding features like grocery stores, coffee shops and yoga studios, which could also help increase ridership while integrating with the surrounding community.

“Just imagine a station where the biggest challenge is actually finding it,” Brassard said. “There’s so many things happening around it there’s large amounts of retail, there’s residential towers vertically above the station and employment nodes. Just an amazing opportunity that we have in front of us.”

Brassard said cities like Vancouver have had success building developments right next to transit stations in order to take advantage of commuter traffic.

“Right on the platform, you walk out of the train you take 15 steps and you walk through the grocery store doors to pick up your dinner for the evening,” Brassard said.

“I think the city of Edmonton has a fantastic opportunity to learn from those examples.”

Listen to Brassard's full interview from Edmonton AM

Plans in place to explore transit development

Years ago, the city talked about putting more businesses in and around LRT stops in Edmonton.

Now, a new coffee and sandwich shop run by Elm Cafe is expected to appear in the downtown Central station in mid-September. It will be called Burrow Cafe, and will offer breakfast and lunch fare to commuters.

Brassard says he’s pleased with the current plans, but noted it took four years for the project to reach the go-ahead stage.

“If we want transit to be successful in Edmonton, we need high density right at the station, and that’s key for their success,” he said.

Looking forward, Brassard said there will also be some potential commercial space opening up on the new LRT line to NAIT, and at least one potential commercial site on the southeast LRT extension.

However, he doesn’t think the idea should be limited to new stations. Older stations could also be upgraded to include retail and service space.

Brassard says community leagues could also get in on the action by acting as stewards or landlords for the transit stations in their neighbourhoods.

“Absolutely it’s a bit of a leap,” Brassard admits, “but there’s this groundswell, this grassroots movement … [happening] and we’re out exploring possibilities, what we’d like to see in our neighbourhoods.”

The community leagues could partner with existing developers with more experience and larger financial backing, Brassard said. Any profits from managing or leasing out space could then be invested back into the community, he added.

Brassard said he’s spoken to several community leagues already.

“The Bonnie Doon Community League is actually quite excited about this opportunity. You don’t have to go grand scale right away, but there are smaller redevelopment opportunities within the community.”


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