Jasper Avenue to slim down for summer in move to attract pedestrians

Edmonton city staff plan to temporarily turn the curb lanes on both sides of Jasper between 109th Street and 115th Street into extensions of the sidewalk.

'I don't think that it's anything that people have to be scared of or afraid of,' says councillor

An image from Edmonton's main street guidelines document depicts what large thoroughfares, such as Jasper Avenue, are expected to look like once revamped. (City of Edmonton)

Edmontonians can expect fewer traffic lanes and more space for pedestrians along Jasper Avenue this summer. 

For July and August, city staff plan to turn the curb lanes on both sides of Jasper between 109th Street and 115th Street into extensions of the sidewalk. 

A report going to city council's executive committee on Tuesday explains that the purpose of the pilot project is to show people what the city's main drag would be like if redesigned.

For the past two years, city staff have been gathering feedback about permanently reducing a stretch of Jasper Avenue between 109th Street and 124th Street from seven lanes of traffic to five, including turning lanes.

The sidewalks would be built out and adorned with trees and more lighting. Restaurant owners could potentially take advantage of the space to create patios.

Of the 4,650 responses received, 78 per cent expressed support for the $19-million project, city staff said. 

While the additional budget for the project has not yet been approved by council, construction is tentatively scheduled to take place between 2019 and 2021. 

The proposed redesign of Jasper Avenue includes wider sidewalks with more space for pedestrians. (City of Edmonton)

Coun. Scott McKeen, who represents the ward, said it's about striking a balance between downtown residents and commuters.

People who live downtown, particularly in the Oliver neighbourhood just north of Jasper Avenue, want to be able to walk to the store, to work, to where they need to go, he said. But people who commute, particularly from the west end, don't want to be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. 

"Do we want to do what we can here to ensure that it's not gridlocked during rush hour? Absolutely," said McKeen, adding that traffic along Jasper Avenue is "relatively light" most of the day.

"It would be a shame to lose the opportunity to make this a great street with trees and lights and wider sidewalks and that sort of thing for two to three hours of the day."

Guidelines for main streets

The recommended changes to Jasper Avenue fall under the city's main streets program, which provides guidelines for refurbishing arterial roads as urban streets.  

Coun. Ben Henderson — representing the ward in which Edmonton's other major street, Whyte Avenue, runs — said this isn't the first time the city has had to balance urban and suburban needs. 

But he noted that the city's urban demography is changing.

As the downtown core of the city becomes more populated, Henderson said there's an increased recognition that pedestrians come first. 

"If you're driving through someone's community and those are heavily pedestrianized communities, we have to make space for them and we've been really bad at doing that for the last 20, 30, 40, 50 years because we thought the car was the answer to all of our transportation needs," Henderson said.   

Henderson questions whether traffic will move much slower since the curb lanes are currently used for parking or bus stops.

"I think some people would like it to go further," Henderson said of the redesign. "I think they know that they run the risk of getting in a fight with people in the west end that use that as a commuter route. Somehow or another, we have to work that one out.

"There's a lot of other cities that are way out ahead of us on this. I don't think that it's anything that people have to be scared of or afraid of, but I think it will be different."