Funicular jaywalking points to bigger pedestrian problems, walkability expert says

Rampant jaywalking, caused by poor pedestrian planning, is taking all the fun out of Edmonton’s only funicular, says a walkability expert.

'We have new attractions, we're inviting and getting people downtown, but we're not quite ready for them'

Jaywalkers can often be seen darting across the street adjacent to the river valley funicular. (CBC )

Rampant jaywalking, caused by poor pedestrian planning, is taking the fun out of Edmonton's only funicular and creating hazards on local streets, says a walkability expert.

The city isn't adequately planning for foot traffic, and the site of the newly constructed outdoor elevator is a prime example, said Rob Shields, a University of Alberta sociology professor who specializes in architecture and urban planning.

"We haven't allowed for people who want to get places," Shields said in an interview Tuesday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.  "We have new attractions, we're inviting and getting people downtown, but we're not quite ready for them.

"And that's a shame because we end up not talking about the about these wonderful new things, but we talk about the problems."

The outdoor elevator was promoted as a way to make the river valley more accessible, but access to the funicular itself remains a challenge.

The funicular takes visitors from the area around the Low Level Bridge, up the steep riverbank to 100th Street by the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald.

Every day, people dart across 100th Street — and jaywalk — rather than walk up to the nearest crosswalk at Jasper Avenue.

Streets should belong to people, not cars.- Rob Shields

Crossing 100th Street is dangerous, said Derek Logan, spokesperson with the city's road services department. 

"Drivers going up McDougall Hill Road have a hard time seeing what's ahead of them because of the slope and bend in the road. Because of this, it's a very unsafe place for pedestrians to cross."

Logan encourages pedestrians to walk to the crosswalk at Jasper Avenue. 

"You are worth those extra few seconds," he said.

'People get impatient'

But Shields said jaywalking will continue in downtown Edmonton unless the city launches a major redesign of its downtown core.

"Streets should belong to people, not cars," Shields said.

Edmonton's approach to traffic design is "antiquated" and ignores a big shift in commuting culture, Shields said. Fewer people are driving and the city needs to make for space for pedestrians.

For instance, the city has some of the longest crosswalk light wait times in the country.

"You can wait at an Edmonton crosswalk, push the button, and wait three times longer than in another Canadian city," Shields said.

"People get impatient. And it's not just anybody, it's your kids, it's your neighbours. It makes downtown Edmonton a hair-raising place to come as a family."

Several traffic improvements could make downtown streets safer and more accessible for pedestrians, Shields said.

Slower speed limits, expanded sidewalks, speed bumps and scramble intersections and pedways are all viable options, he said.

According to an annual report from Edmonton's traffic safety section, there were 270 collisions involving pedestrians in 2017.

As a result, 275 people were injured and nine were killed with more than a third of collisions outside of a crosswalk. 

The year before, 10 people died in 292 pedestrian collisions.