Making Edmonton more ‘walkable,’ one app at a time

Click to play video: 'University of Alberta researchers hope to help make city more walkable'
University of Alberta researchers hope to help make city more walkable
WATCH ABOVE: How pedestrian-friendly is Edmonton? Researchers at the University of Alberta hope to track walkers in Edmonton and eventually help city-builders make it more walkable. Emily Mertz has the details – Aug 3, 2017

Edmonton is known for being more car-focused than pedestrian-focused. Recent city initiatives are trying to turn the tide but as they say: it’s an uphill climb.

READ MORE: Pedestrian-friendly transformation being tested along Edmonton’s Jasper Ave 

Two researchers at the University of Alberta’s City-Region Studies Centre hope an app will improve Edmonton’s “walkability.”

The pilot project has a few goals: to help pedestrians choose the best route for their walk and to help the city make urban design decisions with pedestrians in mind.

“The biggest objective of this project is to increase importance of pedestrian experience in urban design,” associate researcher Nathalia Osorio said.

“It’s mostly for the city. It’s to tell the city: this is what people like, this is what people don’t like, this is how they’re perceiving the space that you’re building or that you built a long time ago and that needs to be renewed.”

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READ MORE: Edmonton councillor sees need for close monitoring of bike grid pinch points 

The app will include a feature that allows users to lodge complaints, issue compliments as well as rank the walking route they took.

“People described their experience of walking as inconsistent,” Osorio explained. “They know that each sidewalk has its own character and they’re OK with that, but they would like to flow more when they are walking. They don’t want to feel that they are confused, that they are lost, that they have to wait a lot at one intersection and then the other one is fast.”

Osorio and her colleague Rob Shields found that Edmonton pedestrians encounter quite a few quirks: timed lights that vary from one corner to another, slow crossing lights, sidewalks that suddenly peter out or are closed and lack of streetlights.

Crosswalk in downtown Edmonton on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. Global News
Crosswalk in downtown Edmonton on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. Global News
Crosswalk in downtown Edmonton on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. File/Global News
Crosswalk in downtown Edmonton on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. Global News

The team hopes to work with partners to have the app completed in 2018.

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While most of their data has come from the university and downtown areas, researchers are hoping more people in other communities will share their input too.

“Either they can walk around the downtown and give us their information and their input… or they can make the same exercise that we did in the downtown but for their neighbourhood,” Osorio said.

READ MORE: See a parking infraction? Report it through City of Edmonton’s 311 app 

They hope all this data will help build an app that improves the pedestrian experience in Edmonton.

“If you want to go from one place to another, you should be able to go to the app and tell the app: ‘I want to go there, what is the best route?’

“The app should be able to interact with you in terms of asking: ‘What is most important for you right now? To get [there] fast? Or you want to see something specific on your walk? Do you want to shop?'”

Ideally, it’s a win-win for walkers and city planners.

“We want to give cities and citizens a tool that allows them to open up conversations about the pedestrian experience and we want cities to be able to market themselves on the quality of that experience,” Shields said.


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