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Edmonton playgrounds and zoo to reopen, paid parking coming back as relaunch continues

Click to play video 'City of Edmonton taking balanced approach to reopening services like playgrounds' City of Edmonton taking balanced approach to reopening services like playgrounds
WATCH ABOVE: Interim city manager Adam Laughlin said all COVID-19 reopening decisions made are a balance between stability and future prosperity with resident's need for relief from restrictions. Laughlin revealed more shared-use paths that are being created, and what outdoor spaces are being reopened such as playgrounds – May 21, 2020

The City of Edmonton has announced more amenities and facilities will be open to the public as it continues to relaunch the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, paid parking will be reinstated in the coming weeks in the downtown core.

Playgrounds, skate parks

Interim city manager Adam Laughlin announced city playgrounds and skate parks will reopen on Friday. Playgrounds have been closed since the end of March.

Laughlin stressed that city playgrounds will not be sanitized, so users are encouraged to bring their own sanitization products. Physical distancing must also be followed, and Edmontonians are asked to only use the playgrounds and parks in their own neighbourhoods.

Signage will be posted at all city parks to ensure people know the guidelines.

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“Our expectation is that the guidelines provided by Alberta Health are the rules that Edmontonians should be following,” Laughlin said.

“Play safe, stay safe.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: St. Albert, Strathcona County reopen playgrounds

When it comes to the city’s 11 skate parks, Laughlin said enforcement will be increased due to the challenges of keeping a safe distance from others. If physical distancing rules are not followed, Laughlin said the city will not hesitate to close them again.

Edmonton playgrounds, like this one in the Duggan neighbourhood, reopened to the public on Friday, May 22, 2020. Morris Gamblin, Global News

Outdoor courses, courts

Outdoor courts — including pickleball, volleyball, basketball and disc golf — will also reopen beginning Friday. Tennis courts will take a bit longer to reopen, Laughlin said, due to the efforts needed to clean the surfaces and install nets.

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The city encourages people to bring their own equipment and once again stressed the amenities will not be sanitized by city officials.

Open spaces, such as picnic areas as well as drinking fountains, will not be opened just yet. The funicular will remain closed, and rentals for paddleboards, kayaks and other water equipment will not be offered at Rundle and Hawrelak parks.

Booking of premier sports fields and facilities also remain closed until at least June 14, Laughlin said.

READ MORE: Don Iveson shuts down rumors that Edmonton Transit could be cancelled

Increased services at Animal Care and Control

While Animal Care and Control has remained open through the pandemic, the intake of healthy stray animals was cut off. Beginning May 25, the facility in northwest Edmonton will begin accepting healthy dogs again.

Intake numbers will depend on how successful the agency is in getting those animals out to other rescue groups. Animal Care and Control will not be accepting health cats just yet — city officials said they will see how the intake of health dogs goes first.

In addition, Animal Care and Control will also offer increased microchip scanning for dogs that are found.

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Reinstating paid parking in the downtown core

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Traffic and parking congestion in the downtown core has steadily increased in the past few weeks, according to the city. As such, the city plans to reinstate paid parking in the downtown core on June 8.

Parking rates will be reduced in some locations where congestion isn’t as high, Laughlin said, and a 30-minute grace period for expired parking will be honoured.

Payment machines will be cleaned more often and education regarding the safe use of the machines will be offered. The city’s My EPark mobile app for Apple and Android also offers contactless options to pay for parking.

READ MORE: Edmonton declares local state of emergency over COVID-19, suspends some fees for citizens

Edmonton Valley Zoo

Laughlin announced the city is aiming to reopen the Edmonton Valley Zoo on June 15, with some restrictions.

Capacity at the zoo will be limited to 50 per cent. Tickets will be sold online only and only 90 tickets will be issued for every 30-minute window. Tickets are expected to go on sale in early June.

One-way flow through the zoo grounds will be established to support physical distancing rules and all visitors will be encouraged to wear a mask.

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Rides at the zoo will remain closed.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Non-medical masks now recommended for Canadians, officials say

E-scooters still under discussion

While the City of Calgary announced Thursday that e-scooters will return to city streets, the City of Edmonton said it is still having discussions on whether they will be back on Edmonton streets this summer.

Edmonton transit fares, plea for federal support

There is no word yet on when fares for Edmonton Transit Service riders will be reinstated. The city has said ETS is experiencing approximately $10 million per month in lost revenue due to reduced ridership during the pandemic.

Mayor Don Iveson said he would like to see fares reinstated as soon as it’s safe to do so, but admits there are challenges.

The reason fares were eliminated was, in part, due to health and safety concerns for both the public and transit operators, as fare collection would require people entering the bus through the front door.

“If we can find a different way to collect fares, then I’m all for that and administration has said they’d prioritize that analysis and we’ll hear more soon,” Iveson said.

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“Unless you’ve got turnstiles and a tap-and-go smart-card system in place, it’s very hard to enforce fare collection the way we normally would in a way that is safe for our operators.”

Click to play video 'Edmonton mayor outlines obstacles to reintroducing transit fares' Edmonton mayor outlines obstacles to reintroducing transit fares
Edmonton mayor outlines obstacles to reintroducing transit fares – May 21, 2020

READ MORE: Don Iveson shuts down rumors that Edmonton Transit could be cancelled

Iveson said while some cities, like Calgary, have not eliminated fares, they’re essentially operating on an honour system.

“If we can find a safe way to do it, even on an honour system basis, I think that will be one of the options we look at because we do need some revenue but it does not solve the long-term, nine-figure problem that we have with the sustainability of public transit in this city like every other Canadian city.”

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Iveson said another challenge is the fact that as more riders return to the system, more buses will be needed to comply with physical distancing regulations.

“We might have half as many riders but still need just as many buses as we were running before,” he said.

“So that’s full cost, half revenue — even if we’re recovering the revenue — and two to five years for ridership to recover and fare box revenues to recover to the full amount.”

Click to play video 'Canadian cities massive transit debt prompts Edmonton mayor to ask for long-term analysis' Canadian cities massive transit debt prompts Edmonton mayor to ask for long-term analysis
Canadian cities massive transit debt prompts Edmonton mayor to ask for long-term analysis – May 21, 2020

Iveson said he, as well as many mayors across Canada, have been “perhaps too soft” about the financial hardships cities continue to face due to COVID-19. Last week, Iveson and other Alberta mayors wrote a letter to the province asking for help in securing federal funding due to financial instability amid the COVID-19 crisis.

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“The message doesn’t change and the situation is no better. In fact, it continues to deteriorate,” he stressed.

READ MORE: Edmonton-area mayors ask Alberta government to lobby feds for COVID-19 recovery funds

He said Edmontonians know what’s at stake should provincial and federal partners fall short on support for struggling municipalities.

“I mentioned transit offhand last week because it’s such a visible, municipal essential service, but I could have easily mentioned a number of other essential services the city provides that are that are also fundamentally at risk — essential services we all rely on such as transit, fire, police, garbage collection.

“I’m not trying to be deliberately, overly alarmist. I am, however, pushing an early panic button and trying to make tangible what’s at stake.

“Provincial governments as well as the federal government need to be part of this conversation, urgently,” he said. “Inaction is simply not an acceptable option.”

Click to play video 'City of Edmonton needs COVID-19 financial relief from province, Ottawa: Iveson' City of Edmonton needs COVID-19 financial relief from province, Ottawa: Iveson
City of Edmonton needs COVID-19 financial relief from province, Ottawa: Iveson – May 21, 2020

The mayor said the prime minister is meeting with premiers Thursday and he hopes to hear more as soon as Friday about where they stand on helping municipalities.

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Iveson reiterated that cutting public transit would be a last resort.

“We heard loud and clear from Edmontonians yesterday that they, like me, see transit as an essential service and we should not be cutting back on it, we should be enhancing it,” he said.

“I continue to be one of the strongest public transit advocates you will find and would only as a last resort contemplate cuts to public transit.”

Click to play video 'Edmonton playgrounds and zoo to reopen, paid parking coming back as relaunch continues' Edmonton playgrounds and zoo to reopen, paid parking coming back as relaunch continues
Edmonton playgrounds and zoo to reopen, paid parking coming back as relaunch continues – May 21, 2020

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