Should downtown Edmonton’s 102 Avenue be pedestrian only?

Click to play video: 'Edmonton takes step towards making 102 Avenue pedestrian-only'
Edmonton takes step towards making 102 Avenue pedestrian-only
While the final decision will be left up to council, a city committee has approved a motion that would see a handful of blocks in downtown Edmonton made car-free alongside the Valley Line LRT route. Sarah Ryan explains – May 31, 2022

For the last three-and-a-half years, 102 Avenue has been closed for Valley Line LRT construction. But now, as it’s set to reopen, last-minute changes could mean it won’t reopen for everyone.

Staff and members of the Don Wheaton YMCA have been dealing with traffic congestion ever since 102 Avenue closed.

Pre-COVID, the YMCA served 3,500 members and also ran a parking garage.

“It’s quite frustrating for our members and our parking customers,” explained Kent Bittorf, vice president of fitness, health and aquatics.

At the time, the YMCA was told it would take two years to complete, but the project ran almost twice as long as forecast.

The rec facility has also faced safety concerns, locking some doors for security.

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in social disorder in and around our facility with the closure of 102 Ave.,” Bittorf said.

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READ MORE: Exploring a car-free avenue in Edmonton

The YMCA and other area business were finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel when construction fences were removed.

City administration planned to open the corridor with sidewalks, bike lanes, LRT tracks and a single eastbound lane for drivers.

“(A) balanced approach to accommodate the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, while also maintaining access for businesses, maintenance and emergency crews,” explained the city’s branch manager of LRT expansion and renewal, Bruce Ferguson.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton downtown street closed for LRT construction'
Edmonton downtown street closed for LRT construction

Suddenly though, a potential pivot was announced by committee, with some councillors calling for 102 Avenue to remain closed to vehicles.

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“There’s been, I would say, considerable interest from a lot of Edmontonians to sort of reimagine what this street could be — turn it into more of a vibrant, walkable area,” explained Ward Metis councillor Ashley Salvador.

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READ MORE: Could 104 Street become a pedestrian promenade in downtown Edmonton?

She put forward a motion for a one-year pilot project that would see pedestrians and cyclists rule the downtown corridor between 99 Street and 103 Street when it reopens — not drivers.

“Folks have adjusted their travel patterns. They’ve been used to this portion being closed for quite a while. I think this is a real opportunity to test out this idea, see if it works,” she said.

“I think there’s also opportunities for activation with events — maybe markets, having patios set up or food carts, for example — to get people out, enjoying the space, connecting with one another as well.”

The YMCA said a change in the final hour, after so much community consultation, is disappointing.

“We were in meetings years ago around what was to be, at the end. And now, at the end, it’s being proposed to change again. So I just don’t think that was fair,” explained Ken Muggeridge, vice president of assets and capital projects.

Click to play video: 'Could 104 Street become a pedestrian promenade in downtown Edmonton?'
Could 104 Street become a pedestrian promenade in downtown Edmonton?

Despite reluctance from administration and concerns raised by the YMCA, the motion squeaked by committee by a vote of 3-2.

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The pilot project proposal will now go before the whole of city council on June 7.

“The idea is to get this up and going as soon as possible. I think it would be a shame to have it open up to car traffic only to just close again,” Salvador said.

She added there are no additional funds required for the pilot outside of the existing budget.

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