Updated plan for Whyte Avenue calls for more pedestrian-friendly development

Elm trees on Whyte Avenue are being removed after 70 years on one of Edmonton's most popular streets, May 11, 2015.
Elm trees on Whyte Avenue are being removed after 70 years on one of Edmonton's most popular streets, May 11, 2015. Morris Gamblin, Global News

An updated plan for Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue aims to lay the groundwork for encouraging more investment in Old Strathcona while keeping the historic feel of the area.

The proposed plan was discussed by the city’s urban planning committee on Tuesday.

Among the plan’s suggestions is to have better sidewalks and improved walkability, continued redevelopment of the area’s alleys while also proposing higher-density apartment buildings south of Whyte Avenue.

Some of that is already happening, with city council giving approval to two controversial projects that dramatically increased density in the area: the Mezzo and Southpark.

Ben Henderson, the councillor for the area, has long argued that those two projects were ad hoc, and they “derailed and interfered” with the larger job of working on the Strathcona Redevelopment Plan.

READ MORE: City council gives green light to Southpark on Whyte proposal

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“I think we’ve seen that there is a lot of interest in investment on Whyte Avenue,” Mayor Don Iveson said. “There’s a need to turn over and redevelop some of the older sites that are no longer relevant in their old form, either as parking lots or car dealerships.

“But it’s better to have a coherent plan for that, so I’m glad we’ll have a framework for that going forward.”

LISTEN BELOW: Councillor Ben Hendersen speaks with the 630 CHED Afternoon News

Making things safer for pedestrians is a big part of the plan. Henderson argues what is there now is overcrowded. Pedestrian counts range from 2,300 to 2,900 a day according to “planWhyte.”

“Late at night, those sidewalks get overwhelmed,” Henderson said. “When you talk about congestion, you’re not talking about the automobiles. We have sidewalks that are just not big enough for the number of people who are trying to use them.”

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READ MORE: Pedestrian taken to hospital after being struck by vehicle near Whyte Avenue

Henderson and Iveson want to see changes to a north-south parking lot that sits immediately off Gateway Boulevard that serves the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market.

“That parking lot is exactly one of the areas that I think is recognized that we need to do more work on,” Henderson said, adding he also wants planners to find space to squeeze a linear park in there as well.

“The farmers’ market is really, really important to the area,” he said. “But it’s time that they looked at operating more than half a day a week. To take a huge parking lot like that and a huge building like that and only use it for half a day a week I don’t think is good enough.

“I’ve had that conversation with them, they keep on promising they’re looking into it and nothing’s been happening,” Henderson added.

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“I would never suggest we want to push them out of there, but I think it’s really time for that facility to step up in a bigger way.”

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The document also recommends increasing housing density south of Whyte Avenue over the next 20 to 25 years. Henderson sees that happening with new infill projects, looking at more six-storey buildings as opposed to four-storey buildings.

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“That is a slight shift but we were already seeing it happen and I think outside of the historic core, I think people had already recognized if you’re going to get people into the area — if you’re going to keep it vibrant — it made some sense, but that you wanted to protect that street wall as well and make sure it didn’t go much beyond that.”

Another major change that was discussed two weeks ago involves LRT. Councillors opted to run a future south Edmonton LRT route, one that would connect to the Valley Line, to the University of Alberta’s North Campus area. However, that plan is expected to take about 20 years to come to fruition and to date, no funding has been secured to see it built. Council will reset LRT priorities later this year.

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