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Wider sidewalks, LRT tracks and shared-use paths on Edmonton’s High Level Bridge to be studied

Edmonton seeks solution to cycling issue on High Level Bridge
WATCH ABOVE: Changes made to the High Level Bridge last summer continue to be a source of headaches for cyclists in Edmonton. Now, city council is taking another step to try and figure out a solution. Julia Wong explains.

Several months after the introduction of suicide barriers on the High Level Bridge created an uproar with cyclists due to narrow paths, the City of Edmonton is now looking for a consultant to examine different options for the busy thoroughfare.

WATCH: Suicide barriers on High Level Bridge make span harder to navigate

The consultant will be tasked with doing a structural feasibility assessment of the bridge and providing a feasibility study and conceptual bridge modification strategy report for four scenarios.

Each would include maintaining the current vehicle lanes on the lower deck of the bridge.

WATCH: ‘We hope this ends what’s been a fairly dark chapter’: City on High Level Bridge suicide barriers

The four options include:

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  • Widening the sidewalks on the lower deck to 4.2 metres wide;
  • Adding two LRT tracks and two 4.2 metre wide shared-use paths on the upper deck;
  • A combination of the two scenarios;
  • Review the feasibility of the south approach sidewalks widening.

A safety audit last September showed the pathways on the bridge should be at least three to four metres to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians on both sides. However, after the suicide barriers were installed, the west side was narrowed to 2.8 metres wide and the east side to 2.3 metres wide.

“The east side of the High Level Bridge… isn’t a very safe place for either people on bikes or people walking just because it is so narrow,” said Conrad Nobert, vice-chair for Paths for People.

Nobert is supportive of the 4.2-metre-wide sidewalks on the lower deck, however, he said the ideal solution is to have segregated bike paths.

He is in support of a shared-use path on the top deck of the High Level Bridge.

“[It] has the real potential to be a destination, a place, so we see potential not only for connecting our two cultural hubs – downtown and Old Strathcona – but also… if they do it right, even as a tourist destination,” Nobert said.

However, the Edmonton Radial Railway Society, which operates the High Level Streetcar, does not agree.

President Chris Ashdown said he would prefer bikes to stay on the lower deck of the bridge and would not support a shared-use path on the upper deck, which is where the streetcar operates.

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“The right of way on the top of the bridge is quite narrow. The safety [concern] would be keeping people from being able to come off the bridge on the outer part of it, and also safety from the streetcar that operates on the bridge right now,” he said.
“It was never built or designed for [cyclists on the upper deck]. It is a railway bridge and that’s what the top is designed for.”

Nobert disputes that, saying streetcars “all over the world” mix with other forms of transportation.

“The most benefit would go to the most people [with a shared-use path on the upper deck]… instead of having such a specialized use, which is also seasonal,” he said.

Ashdown does have a concern though; the study will look at an upper deck with two LRT tracks and a shared-use path – there is no mention of the streetcar.

“The bridge was built for three sets of tracks on the top so it is wide enough for [LRT tracks]. If they were to go with a concept like that, that would probably be the end of the High Level Streetcar,” Ashdown said.

The city said it is still early on in the process to decide anything.

“At this point, we don’t know what impacts, if any, there may be on the streetcar, as the feasibility study has not yet been undertaken. It is too early in the process to speak to possible outcomes,” said city spokesperson Kelly FitzGibbon.

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One thing both Ashdown and Nobert agree on – it is unclear whether the top deck would accommodate a shared-use path, LRT tracks as well as a streetcar.

“That sounds like a lot,” Nobert said.

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It is a sentiment shared by area councillor Scott McKeen.

“I think that is the question. The question is… is it even reasonable that you could do that?” he said as he mused about an upper deck of the bridge with the LRT, streetcar and shared-use paths.

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“There’s a lot to do on that bridge. We have the inner circulator as part of the long-term LRT plans. So what I think they’re probably saying there is, given that we have the rail car going over there now, long-term we would have one or two tracks for LRT – is there even room for shared-use paths up top?”

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The city is planning to rehabilitate the High Level Bridge in the next five to 10 years. The report from the consultant is slated to start May 1 and end by July 31. Information from the report will be included in a report to the Urban Planning Committee “on the next steps for the High Level Bridge bicycle and pedestrian corridor improvements, as well as the LRT concept planning study for the downtown circulator.”