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