Hopes ride high for Edmonton's proposed High Level Line ahead of city meeting

A lofty project aimed at developing the rail corridor between Old Strathcona and MacEwan University on 104th Avenue as a multi-modal path may not be out of reach in the coming years. 

Society hopes city will provide funding to allow it to do a design study, hire staff

High Level Line Society envisions an expanded platform on the upper deck of the High Level Bridge as part of the four-kilometre multi-modal corridor. (High Level Line Society)

A lofty project aimed at developing the rail corridor between Old Strathcona and MacEwan University as a multi-modal path may not be out of reach in the coming years, despite ongoing financial struggles at the City of Edmonton. 

The High Level Line Society, which has pitched the project before, plans to ask the city for a modest amount of money which would allow them to hire an employee to keep the society running and do a design study. 

The four-kilometre corridor would connect downtown to the south-side, with walkers, joggers, cyclists and the like sharing the space with streetcars moving at a leisurely pace. On the way, users would find pockets of parks and track shacks containing sports equipment to be used year-round. 

The society's president and landscape architect, Kevin Dieterman, said the goal is to make the active corridor more inviting.

"How can you make moving throughout the city a great experience — and it's not just about getting from A to B as quickly as possible, but kind of enjoying the journey in different ways?" 

The High Level Line Society was going to ask the city for $500,000 but plans to reduce that amount in light of current budget restrictions. Dieterman wouldn't provide a specific number. 

The city's urban planning committee is expected to discuss the request at a meeting Tuesday. 

The envisioned High Level Line would run from MacEwan University on 104th Avenue to the historic railway station just south of Whyte Avenue at Gateway Boulevard. (High Level Line Society)

The project needs partners, Dieterman said. 

They'll be talking to business owners with properties adjacent to the path and the Radial Railway Society, which operates the High Level Bridge Streetcar between May and September. 

Chris Ashdown, president of the streetcar society, has doubts about the way the project has been expressed so far. 

"They did not consult us at all with any of their plans," he said, "and they're showing things that would appear that we're committed to these things or that we agree with them."

He pointed to the renderings that show people walking on the High Level Bridge on the tracks and in the Garneau tunnel.

"There are major safety issues where you don't mix streetcars — or rail in general — with pedestrians," Ashdown said. 

Ashdown said the Radial Railway Society plans to expand the High Level Bridge streetcar from its current endpoint behind the Arts Barn near 83rd Avenue, crossing Gateway Boulevard to end just north of Whyte Avenue. 

The High Level Line pitch has its share of supporters.

Kevin Dieterman, chair of the High Level Line Society, said they will seek business partners along the four-kilometre path. (David Bajer/CBC)

Ian O'Donnell, executive director of the Downtown Business Association, thinks it would be a great way to link the original two cities of Edmonton and Old Strathcona.

"It has a bit of a cool factor, certainly a little bit of a nostalgic factor with some history and some wayfinding opportunities," O'Donnell told CBC News last week. 

It's a creative way to give people more choices of getting around and rediscovering these neighbourhoods, O'Donnell suggested.

"We need to make sure that Old Strathcona and downtown and everywhere in between including Rossdale is well connected and better connected."

Coun. Scott McKeen, whose Ward 6 is in the space north of the river, also supports the idea but said it's unlikely the society will get much money from the city, pointing to a balance between public and private investment. 

"I'm certainly not against corporations or individuals stepping up to help fund amenities like that," McKeen said. "Creatively, we can fund this over time." 

McKeen noted that the project would bring in tourists.

"It would be — done well — the kind of park, linear park that would have people talking across North America."

Dieterman hopes the vision can get traction by 2023 and coincide with the city's plans to rehabilitate the High Level Bridge. 

"There's a lot of will to make it happen, we're closer than we ever thought we would get but there's still a lot of work to be done." 

The society is run by volunteers. It was formed three years ago and this year held its first annual general meeting and a High Level Line Day.



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