Edmonton's hottest civic issues of 2014
Mayor Don Iveson and six new councillors were elected to city council in October 2013, but 2014 was when they started to coalesce and take on some new issues.
Iveson started to come into his own as mayor, with strong statements on topics such as photo radar, the delay in opening the LRT line to NAIT, and the city's relationship with the provincial government.
Controversies that preoccupied past councils, such as the downtown arena and closure of the city centre airport, were resolved, so Iveson and his council faced a new slate of issues, many related to the pressures of managing a rapidly growing city.
1. LRT funding and delays
Council made a big push in transit expansion this year. In March, the province finally came through with the $515 million needed to start the southeast LRT expansion. Council voted in favour of a pilot project to expand late night bus service starting next September.
It wasn’t all great. Council has been infuriated and embarrassed by the failure to launch the new expansion line to NAIT. The stations and tracks were completed earlier this year but problems with the signalling system have pushed the opening well into 2015.
2. Construction finally starts on the downtown arena
After years of debate, ground was broken on Rogers Place in March. Scheduled to open in fall 2016, the arena will replace Rexall Place as the home of the Edmonton Oilers. Other developments have followed since then. In August, Stantec, WAM Developments and the Katz Group announced a new 62-storey tower will be built on a parking lot across from the Greyhound bus station. Once constructed, the tower will be the tallest in Edmonton.
3. Downtown Sobeys store closes
4. Crosswalk safety questions
Questions about crosswalk safety heated up when a 19-year-old restaurant employee was critically injured in June after she was struck in a marked crosswalk at 119th Street and Jasper Avenue. The crosswalk was the focus of many earlier complaints but nothing changed because the existing markings complied with national standards. The issue is now under review.
5. Uber launches in Edmonton
In September, the controversial ride-share smartphone app announced plans to start operating in Edmonton. Cars finally hit the road in December. Drivers first offered free rides. Then in the last week of December, Uber defied the city’s Vehicle for Hire rules by charging customers. The city says it will start issuing tickets and taxi companies vowed to fight the tech upstart. City council plans to discuss the issue in January. But will customers get the final word?
6. Photo radar
City councillors were furious when administration announced that it cost $47 million more than previously revealed to take over the photo radar program in 2007.
The public was angry, too. A petition was started to get the city to drop the program. But Iveson dug in his heels, People can avoid tickets by obeying the speed limits, he said.
“I'm just tired of this sense that some people have that they're better than the law,” he said.
7. Edmonton’s relationship with the province
Both Iveson and his Calgary counterpart Naheed Nenshi said they wanted a new relationship with the province that acknowledges the needs of big cities. Iveson said he was tired of the province treating them “like children.” Shortly after Jim Prentice became premier-designate, he met with the two mayors. A month later, he signed a new framework agreement to relaunch work on a city charter agreement.
8. Infill debate
Building new multi-unit housing in mature neighbourhoods is a hot topic, especially as Edmonton expands. Advocates argue infill is needed because the city can’t afford the additional infrastructure necessary to keep building new homes on the outskirts. But people in mature neighbourhoods worry about the effects on their neighbourhoods. The issue is far from settled. Although executive committee voted to allow narrower lots and garage and garden suites, the changes go to a public hearing in February.