12-year-old plan to rejig Edmonton's 105th Avenue back on the table

The plan to streetscape Edmonton's 105th Avenue is more than 12 years old, and despite a tight upcoming four-year budget the corridor known as Columbia Avenue may turn into the pedestrian hot spot some have been hoping for.

A revamped Columbia Avenue would create more room for bikes and pedestrians and less for vehicles

Grant MacEwan University is pushing for upgrades to 105th Avenue, which runs along some of the school's buildings. (CBC)

The vision to revitalize 105th Avenue in downtown Edmonton is more than 12 years old, but despite a tight upcoming four-year budget the project may be getting a new lease on life.

The city is dusting off plans to turn what's also known as Columbia Avenue into a more pedestrian and bike friendly stretch between 97th Street and 116th Street.

In 2006, council at the time approved design plans for the streetscaping but the project didn't go any further.

Jason Meliefste, branch manager for infrastructure, design and planning, told council's urban planning committee Tuesday that there are many reasons to rekindle the project. 

"The context around this area has changed considerably over the past 12 years — add in the Ice District, the EPCOR developments, Chinatown, the introduction of the downtown bike grid," he said. "What started off as an arterial road that is in poor condition still remains in poor condition." 
With the Ice District and related businesses in the area, some are pushing for upgrades to 105th Avenue. (CBC)

The project includes fixing the pavement, installing shared-use paths, restricting parking and providing more plaza space, a report to the committee said.

There would be no on-street parking on both sides of Columbia between 105th and 109th streets. The plan also calls for intermittent, interim parking between 109th and 116th Street.

Coun. Michael Walters admitted that past councils have been indecisive about the project, agreeing that it's time to move on it.

"We need to stop and get clear on the scope and decide — make a decision to proceed," he told the committee. "A lot of people have been waiting for this and a lot of people have been investing, even."

The plan includes reconfiguring the intersection at 108th Street to give MacEwan University more land for a future building.

Stuart MacLean, an associate vice-president with MacEwan, attended the committee meeting Tuesday to reinforce the university's support for the recommendation.

"It provides for us a very positive opportunity on our next building program, which is the School of Business, to be located in this site."

MacLean thinks it's important to create a walkable area around the university.

He called for the city to include a scramble crosswalk at 109th Street — where pedestrians in all directions walk at the same time while traffic is stopped at the lights.
Columbia Avenue has been in need of repairs for years, the local business association says. (CBC)

The plan also includes closing 105th Avenue between 112th Street and 113th Street to convert the area to a plaza space.

Laurene Viarobo, executive director of North Edge business association, said local businesses oppose that.

"The plaza itself is not park, it can never be set up as an amenity," she said. "It only would be a bricked over plaza with some plantings."

Viarobo said the North Edge board supports work to fix the deteriorating pavement and put in sidewalks.

"It's been in need of repairs for some time, so I think everybody agrees on that point."

The report shows business owners along the corridor support on-street parking and oppose closing the avenue for the street plaza while residents expressed the opposite viewpoints to parking and traffic.

The city estimates a detailed design, construction and utility relocations for the entire stretch may cost $39 million. 
During council's urban planning committee meeting Tuesday, Coun. Michael Walters questions staff about upgrades to 105th Avenue. (CBC)

Walters made it clear that he favours the plan, including the plaza space.

"I frankly was a little impatient, hearing about that, year after year after year, the promise of a new pedestrian-oriented street not coming to fruition."

Revamping Columbia Avenue is among hundreds of projects up for debate during council's upcoming budget talks.



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