Whyte Avenue, spanning from Bonnie Doon to the University of Alberta, is one of the busiest stretches of road in Edmonton and now there’s talk of putting an LRT there.
The Centre LRT is being touted as a way to connect the south side of the river from east to west. It would specifically connect downtown, the University of Alberta, Old Strathcona and Bonnie Doon. The city says the line would be a low-floor LRT, meaning stops would be located at street-level, operate at posted speeds and use traffic signals; this is the same type of style being used for the Valley Line LRT.
The route is being studied but city administration has already identified what it believes to be the most sensible route going east to west.
“Administration is confident the preferred east/west connection of the route will be located on Whyte Avenue and not 76 Avenue,” reads a pamphlet distributed to residents who live along Whyte Avenue.
Councillor Ben Henderson, whose ward’s south edge is along Whyte Avenue, said that route makes the most sense.
“I’m not sure there is another connection that would work,” he said.
“It’s certainly where the businesses [are], where the most need and demand is for transit. It’s the natural straight route to get from Bonnie Doon through to the hospital.”
The city explored 76 Avenue but Henderson said that would have been very disruptive to those neighbourhoods.
He dispels concerns over traffic and the long wait times that have plagued other LRT lines in the city, adding there is the possibility for the line to run underground or above ground at intersections.
“It’s really hard to know until the planning is done or, you know, if it’s really running as the low floor is expected to do with traffic and not getting full priority at the traffic lights. You may actually see very little change in the intersections,” Henderson said.
“There’s no way to retrofit something like the LRT without there being impacts. Absolutely I think there will be.”
Henderson tried to stem concerns about congestion on Whyte Avenue as a result of an LRT.
“I think most of the congestion on Whyte Avenue happens not in terms of the width of the road but where Whyte Avenue meets with other major intersections that come across it – 103, 104, 99 and 109 Streets,” he said.
Kim Clegg, the planning and development co-chair for the Queen Alexandra Community League, said an LRT on Whyte Avenue is “a good idea.”
“I think it’s a brave choice because it makes sense. We’re a growing up city. We [have to] put on the big boy pants and say what is the best place for the LRT – it’s obviously Whyte Avenue,” he said.
“A lot of people are going to be upset. It’s going to change the way Whyte Avenue looks to people. If it’s done right, I think it’ll ultimately be a real boon to the area.”
Clegg acknowledges his neighbourhood will likely feel the impact, both positive and negative, of a nearby LRT.
“Our neighbourhood is right there. Will it be cutting off access to our neighbourhood? Maybe that’s a good thing in some ways. But in terms of getting out and about, into the city in our cars, it will make it harder for sure,” he said.
“But I think the convenience in having that central line pass our neighbourhood will offset the lack of access in our vehicles somewhat.”
Edmontonian Wanda Fawcett does not want the city to use Whyte Avenue as part of an LRT route.
“I think that it’s going to congest the whole neighbourhood up and it’s going to be an issue for traffic and pedestrians,” she said.
“It’s too busy of a place. I think it should stay a walking neighbourhood. That’s why people like it here – they like to come down and walk.”
Fawcett lives in the Pleasantview neighbourhood and sees the impact the nearby LRT has on her life.
“Driving out of my neighbourhood takes a while sometimes when the trains start coming through. It can back up traffic on 51 Avenue and you can sit at the lights… for five minutes at a time,” she said.
“For a congested area like this already, it’s, I think, going to make it worse.”
Fawcett said Edmonton is a driving city and does not believe an LRT would bring more people to Old Strathcona.
“I think enough people come down here that already walk and take transit and bike that I don’t think they need the LRT to bring more people to this area,” she said.
While Whyte Avenue is seen as the preferred route, at this point, the city has not yet decided what street the LRT will be on or whether the tracks will run in the middle or along one side of the roadway. Henderson said the project is roughly a decade away from fruition.
City administration will solicit public feedback before taking the official recommendation to council for approval in the New Year. There is currently no funding or timeline for construction.