City unveils pedestrian-friendly Jasper Avenue redesign plans

Edmontonians no longer need to imagine the future of Jasper Avenue. They can see it.

Proposed plans show wider sidewalks and patio space will decrease number of traffic lanes

The Jasper Avenue redesign plans foreground pedestrian access at the expense of traffic lanes. (City of Edmonton)

Edmontonians no longer need to imagine the future of Jasper Avenue. They can see it.

The city unveiled its block-by-block plans for the Imagine Jasper Avenue project on Thursday. The 15-block redesign of one of Edmonton's major thoroughfares foregrounds pedestrian access in a bid to turn Jasper Avenue into the city's "premier main street," as described on the city's website.

The design includes wider sidewalks lined with plant beds and canopy trees, as well as seating areas and shelters at every bus stop.

Athea Volpe mingled among dozens of other people who came to Oliver School to see plans firsthand Thursday evening. Volpe, a second year student in the urban planning program at the University of Alberta, said the plans would make Jasper Avenue more accessible.

"Jasper Avenue can be pretty busy, especially high-traffic, so having these buffer zones and trees between the road and sidewalk would be awesome," she said, noting that she doesn't drive in Edmonton.

"I think for a city to thrive, especially when it's quite nice outside, you need to have that public realm be busy with people interacting."

A rendering of the future Jasper Avenue offers an example of the "flex space" in a patio arrangement. The flex spaces will also be used as 24-hour parking spaces along other stretches of the avenue. (City of Edmonton)

The plans also call for on-street "flex space" that can be tailored to different uses, from patios for adjacent businesses to 24-hour parking spaces.

The flex spaces were showcased this past summer along Jasper Avenue.

Traffic delays of up to 8 minutes: report

Prioritizing pedestrians means narrower roadways along the well-used thoroughfare, according to the city's designs.

Traffic will be reduced to two lanes in each direction, along with a centre left turn lane from 109th Street to 117th Street. The left turn lane becomes a planted median for the next four blocks heading westbound.

A report given to councillors last year suggested travel time for west Edmonton commuters could increase by up to eight minutes in 2027, compared to 2015. The redesign could also overlap with other major infrastructure projects, including the Valley Line West LRT.

William Mustard, 90, said he spent his entire life in Edmonton and lives close to Jasper Avenue. He called the city's demonstration of the redesign last summer "an absolute disaster."

"I think this whole thing is misconstrued," he said. "There's no difficulty with people walking up and down that avenue now. Why do we have to spend all that money to enlarge it?"

City officials say the redesign of Jasper Avenue will accommodate the growing number of downtown residents.  The city expects 49,000 people to live in downtown neighbourhoods, a 45 per cent rise over 2016. A further 95,500 people, a 23 per cent increase from 2016, are expected to work in the core.

"So what we're proposing today is not only just meeting the requirements of current needs, but how the avenue can accommodate the future needs and how the next 30-year transformation will adapt to the plan," said Satya Gadidasu, project manager.

Gadidasu said buses, which currently have a dedicated lane during rush hour along parts of the avenue, would share the outside lane with other vehicles under the new plan. He said the bus stops would be cut down to every third block to ease congestion.

The city said the addition of more lights and bus shelters along Jasper Avenue will improve the pedestrian experience during the winter months. (City of Edmonton)

The new traffic plans were also tested in the summer. Gadidasu said vehicles travelling from 109th Street to 124th Street experienced a two minute average delay during peak hours.

"But for 24 hours, you're gaining that additional public space," he said.

Tricky intersections and missed opportunities

The city also plans to make changes to the intersection at 110th Street and Jasper Avenue. The stop sign for vehicles travelling northbound will be replaced with a traffic signal with a light for cyclists as well.

The multi-use trail that runs along the streetcar corridor ends in a parking lot and back alley just south of the intersection. The redesign will build a separated cycle track from the path across Jasper Avenue and into Railtown Park.

A rendering of what the intersection of Jasper Avenue and 110th Street facing north into a main shopping plaza. (City of Edmonton)

"No matter what mode of transportation you're using, it's always a bit of a tricky situation to navigate," said Dustin Martin, an urban planner specializing in walking and cycling who was at the public meeting. "It gives it a bit more certainty to where people should be and maybe makes vulnerable users a bit more comfortable."

Martin said he would have liked to see bike lanes included in the Jasper Avenue redesign.

"Global best practices is always to have bikes on main streets because that's where the amenities are and that's where people want to be," he said. "I think that was a lost opportunity."   

Council approved $20 million in December for the first phase of the plan, from 109th Street to 114th Street. Funding for the rest of the project, from 114th Street to 124th Street, is estimated to cost $40 million in future budget cycles.

Drainage work is expected to begin this fall, with the redesign construction to start in 2020.

The construction work is projected to last into 2022.