Time to speed up intersection upgrades, Edmonton councillors urge

City councillors want to expedite upgrades to 659 Edmonton intersections and have asked city staff for a new plan of action by the fall.

'We’re not going to wait 30 years to do this because we can’t,' Coun. Andrew Knack says

A six-lane artery on 118th Avenue at 125th Street has no marked crosswalk and is ranked number 32 on the top-70 priority list. (CBC)

City councillors want to expedite upgrades to 659 intersections in Edmonton.

They passed a motion Wednesday asking city staff for a new action plan by the fall. 

The city estimates it could take nearly 30 years to complete work at all of the 659 intersections.

The city currently has a list of 70 priority intersections where work is slated to be done this year and in 2019. 

Coun. Andrew Knack wants to see the construction done in 10 years, not 30. 

 He's confident the motion will speed up the progress.

"We're not going to wait 30 years to do this because we can't," he said Wednesday. "In fact, it's creating significant safety concerns."

A recent report shows many interchanges are in need of traffic lights, stop signs, pedestrian signals or flashing beacons. 

Some intersections, such as 118th Avenue and 125th Street, are busy six-lane arteries with no crosswalks at all. 
Thirty years for necessary upgrades at Edmonton intersections is far too long, Coun. Andrew Knack says. (CBC)

Knack said there's also a need for changes to pedestrian signals around the city. 

"I'm hoping that this is the last year that people will have to wait two minutes or more at a particular crosswalk," Knack said. "They're often not synchronized together and so we're hurting everyone with that."

Edmond Chui, an advocate for safe walking paths and bike lanes, is pleased with councillors' move to speed up safety initiatives. He said it's been a long time coming.

"We are seeing baby steps," he told CBC News Wednesday.

He said the demand from the public is there. More people are attending public meetings saying they want slower speed limits, he pointed out.

"They want to be comfortable when they walk and bike in their neighbourhoods," he said. "I believe council has gotten that message."

Edmond Chui, an avid cyclist, said there are inexpensive ways to upgrade some of the city's intersections. (Edmond Chui)

Councillors want staff to include lower-cost and temporary measures for intersection upgrades in their report later this year.

Chui said there's plenty of inexpensive options for intersection upgrades.

Measures like roundabouts and curb extensions, usually installed to counter short–cutting on neighbourhood roads, could be used on main streets like Jasper and Whyte Avenue.

"They could use more creativity with encouragement from council and the public," he said of the city initiatives.

"Those options are used all around the world."

Knack said even something as simple as paint is an inexpensive option "to at least start us in the right direction."

​Vision Zero

Councillors also asked for a report outlining a more ambitious timeline for the city's Vision Zero program, which aims for zero traffic-related fatalities.

The city has a goal of zero deaths related to traffic collisions by 2032.

Edmonton was the first Canadian city to adopt Vision Zero, yet it still lacks concrete action plans like those found in other cities with similar programs, Knack argued.

"We had some fairly light targets without a clear vision on how we were going to achieve that."

In 2017, the second year of the program failed to reach its goal of fewer than 20 road-related deaths. Last year, 27 people died from traffic collisions.

A Vision Zero report shows fewer pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists were injured in 2017. Pedestrian collision injuries fell 7.4 per cent while bicycle collision injuries fell 17.2 per cent from the year before.

Gord Cebryk, Edmonton's deputy manager of city operations, said results won't happen overnight. 
Gord Cebryk, deputy city manager of city operations, said watching the long-term trends is important to gauge progress on Vision Zero. (CBC)

"I think Vision Zero is as realistic as we want it to be," Cebryk said after the meeting. "I think citizens and the city both have a role in this so it's how much all put that effort in."

He also suggested the overall trend is more indicative of progress than the annual fluctuation in numbers.

"Year over year, there can be ups and downs but over a longer period of time, what's that trend, and that's what we're seeing as positive," he said.

The costs

Councillors want to see the reports ahead of the 2019-2022 budget deliberations beginning in the late fall.

In 2017, traffic safety initiatives, including the cost of police and administration, cost $72.8 million. Vision Zero initiatives took up $47.6 million of that. 

A lot of those revenues are generated from photo radar tickets. Those have dropped over the past two years, a positive sign that people are slowing down.

Knack said the city will have to figure out where to get the money to fund traffic safety programs in the future if photo radar continues to drop. 

Fewer tickets were issued from photo radar, or automated enforcement program, in 2017 than previous two years, providing less revenue for traffic safety initiatives. (City of Edmonton)



Natasha Riebe


Natasha Riebe landed at CBC News in Edmonton after radio, TV and print journalism gigs in Halifax, Seoul, Yellowknife and on Vancouver Island. Please send tips in confidence to natasha.riebe@cbc.ca.