'Sidewalk closed': Busy construction steers pedestrians on multiple detours

With all the building demolition, LRT construction and utility work in the city’s core, pedestrians can encounter multiple sidewalk closures — sometimes within the span of one or two blocks.

'It's definitely a chore to get around'

A stretch of sidewalk on 101st Street, just south of 103rd Avenue, has been closed due to a major renovation of the HSBC building. (CBC)

Pity the pedestrian in downtown Edmonton who feels like they're trapped in a game of Frogger.

Between building demolitions, LRT construction, and utility work in the city's core, those travelling on foot can encounter multiple sidewalk closures — sometimes within the span of one or two blocks.

While some construction sites have carved out part of the street for safe pedestrian passage, others have erected signs that stop walkers in their paths: "Sidewalk closed," "Pedestrian Detour," or "Use other side of street."
Navigating downtown Edmonton by foot can be exasperating as construction projects close sidewalks. 0:44

One of the busiest corridors through downtown, 101st Street, had a major stretch of sidewalk closed on the west side of the BMO building demolition site. A couple of blocks north, the renovation of the HSBC building closed another stretch of sidewalk.

If faced with multiple street crossings to move a couple of blocks, some people just step onto the road, said Dave Sutherland, who works downtown.

"The people who I see just step out on the road and cross, it's because it's fairly onerous for them to go the long way around ... They're willing to risk their safety to take the shorter path.

"Maybe if the city is serious about reducing injuries and death from vehicular collisions, then they need to take that into account and say people aren't just going to take the long way around. We need to give them a path that's shorter and makes sense."

This week the city hosted its 10th annual International Conference on Urban Traffic Safety, with part of the discussions focused on Vision Zero, a project to bring the city's pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries to zero.

Other pedestrians manoeuvring through downtown sidewalks, and sidewalk closures, seemed less bothered by the interruptions.

"There's construction everywhere, so I guess you've got to live with it," said Estelle Guay, who was running errands downtown on Thursday afternoon.

"It's definitely a chore to get around but I understand it's got to get done," said Aaron Parlee, who just happened to be downtown for work on Thursday afternoon.

On Thursday, the stretch of closed sidewalk on the east side of 101st Street, near the BMO construction site, had been opened with a crude barrier to create a sidewalk for pedestrians.

Closures sometimes inevitable

Sidewalk closures have become a political issue in the city over the past several years. In 2016, Mayor Don Iveson asked administration to describe its policies on how it determines the appropriate hoarding and closures on sidewalks.

On Wednesday, the city's planning director, Kalen Anderson, tweeted a view looking south on 101st Street, near 103 Avenue.

The city issues more than 10,000 on-street construction and maintenance permits every year for projects that affect movement on roads and sidewalks, said Janice Schroeder, communications manager for city operations, in an email.

"When reviewing permit applications, the city looks at how much space needs to be set aside to ensure a safe zone around a work site, whether there is a risk of falling materials, whether there are open holes in the ground, where heavy equipment will be located, whether there are other projects nearby or special events in the area, and more," said Schroeder.

In some cases, contractors must erect covered walkways or create separate paths for pedestrians and cyclists. If there is overhead work, the contractor must close the road or sidewalk below. 

Chris Buyze, president of the Downtown Edmonton community league, said good hoarding practices and pedestrian access seem to be maintained at some construction sites but not at others.

"It affects everything from businesses downtown, to people's quality of life, and the desirability for the average Edmontonian to come downtown," he said.

"There is so much construction and if we're not careful about accommodating pedestrians it just makes it more frustrating for everyone."