Pedestrians take over Edmonton’s Jasper Avenue in Open Streets event

Click to play video 'Jasper Avenue goes car-free' Jasper Avenue goes car-free
WATCH ABOVE: The first-ever Open Streets event took place on Jasper Avenue on Sunday. The event saw no vehicles from 103 to 109 Streets. Julia Wong reports – Aug 25, 2019

A major thoroughfare in downtown Edmonton was shut down for several hours on Sunday for a pedestrian-friendly event.

Jasper Avenue was closed to vehicle traffic from 103 Street to 109 Street for Open Streets. The event included musical performances, yoga, mural painting, dog shows and climbing walls for pedestrians, cyclists and those on e-scooters or other wheeled devices.

READ MORE: Councillor seeks car-free, open street event in Edmonton

Open Streets comes as the city grapples with how to encourage more people to get out of their vehicles and as residents debate whether that is worthwhile.

Sarah Hoyles, executive director for Paths for People, which organized Open Streets, said the goal is to get people out on the streets.

“It’s about… giving the street back to people,” she said.

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“So, not just focusing on motor vehicles, but focusing on all kinds of transportation.”

Hoyles said more pedestrian-friendly networks can bring health benefits, make streets safer and create environmental benefits.

Looking around at the people on Jasper Avenue, she called Sunday’s event a success.

“Having people out on the street — seeing one another, meeting them face-to-face — that’s a success,” Hoyles said. “But larger picture, we’re looking at [the] number of people that are going to be engaged in the event and really, it’s just about getting people out, meeting one another, engaging with local businesses and just reimagining what Jasper Avenue can be for the city.”

LISTEN BELOW: Sarah Hoyles with Paths for People joins the 630 CHED Afternoon News

Kathy Heit of Sherwood Park attended the event with her two children and husband. She said there were lots of activities for her children.

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“It’s such a great way to get downtown [and] into a neighbourhood we don’t normally get down into, and just to be a part of the community downtown,” Heit said.

She said that typically, the family would spend their Sunday at home, “not doing much.”

“But we decided to pack up and come down and enjoy the day,” Heit said. “Lots of great food, lots of nice things to do for kids and [a chance to] get on our bikes. It’s awesome.”

Phillippe Malouin heard about the event in the news and brought his wife and two children to experience Open Streets.

“It’s just a great way to spend the day with the family,” he said.

Malouin said the pedestrian-focused event made it easier for his family to come downtown.

“We don’t usually spend much time downtow,n but having stuff like this makes it really easy and worthwhile,” he said.

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“You get to know the area and get to enjoy the sights.”

The city conducted a pilot project on Jasper Avenue in the summer of 2017 when a number of temporary features were added to the stretch of road west of 109 Street to make Jasper Avenue more pedestrian-friendly.

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

The pilot brought criticism for park benches taking up the outside lanes of traffic, and how shoddy things looked after only a couple of weeks.

“I don’t think it’s actually car-versus-people on bikes or car-versus-pedestrians,” Hoyles said when asked about how to reconcile making Jasper Avenue pedestrian-friendly with vehicle demand.

“Right now, Jasper Avenue is majority given over to vehicles – 364 days of the year, this being 365th,” Hoyles said.

“The idea is actually having a better integrated transportation network where there’s space for vehicles of all kinds… making sure there’s infrastructure for everybody, not just one or the other. To us, it’s not black and white.”

Organizers said the event cost the city $58,000 to cover expenses such as transit bus rerouting, road closures and police personnel.

Hoyles said there’s hope Open Streets becomes an annual event in Edmonton, whether on Jasper Avenue or another street in the city.