Whyte Avenue in Edmonton may look very different in the coming years as the city plans to convert one lane each way to a dedicated bus lane and remove some parking to widen sidewalks.
The city released draft plans for public feedback Monday for the Old Strathcona Public Realm Strategy (OSPRS).
The previous round of feedback saw Edmontonians broadly supportive of turning space dedicated to cars into space dedicated to pedestrians: 70 per cent of respondents were supportive of reducing parking to add transit lanes and 63 per cent supported removing traffic lines for transit.
On-street parking and vehicular travel lanes would be removed to widen the sidewalks. The city says that would create more space for people to walk or wheel on Whyte Avenue and more space for businesses to add signs and patios next to buildings.
In some areas, the sidewalks would be narrower to allow for drop-off and pickups as well as left-turn lanes near intersections, according to the strategy.
Two lanes in each direction could be dedicated to bus-based mass transit, which the city says would support area businesses and contribute to reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
According to an August 2022 survey on the area, only about one in five people get to Whyte Avenue by driving. Sixty-five per cent get there by walking and about 50 per cent of respondents use either cycling or transit.
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Mark Wilson, co-owner of Vivid Print on Whyte Avenue, said he is in support of narrowing the street in favour of pedestrian space.
Wilson said a previous pilot project during early phases of COVID-19 lockdowns saw a lane of car traffic turned into pedestrian space and it was an opportunity to experiment.
“Initially there was some pushback from my neighbours with loss of parking, but what we did find was … people were lingering, they were enjoying the avenue more and it did calm down traffic on Whyte Avenue,” he said.
Stephen Raitz, chair of the active transportation advocacy group Paths For People, agreed that the expansion of “people-oriented spaces” will make hanging out on Whyte Avenue more comfortable and quiet.
“Whyte Avenue is already a destination just because it has that nice granularity of local businesses and little places to visit, and that kind of thing, but this creates that experience of going between the little places to visit so much better,” he said.
Lincoln Ho is a full-time content creator based in Edmonton who posts about different urban areas in Edmonton and around the world.
While he supports making the area more walkable, he said the transportation system of the whole city needs to be taken into account.
“In this case here, if you’re removing lanes from one part of the city where are you putting alternatives in another part of the city?” he said.
Ho said that Whyte Avenue is the only east-west corridor between 63 Avenue and Saskatchewan Drive, and reducing lanes may bottleneck the route.
Raitz said reducing traffic lanes on Whyte is bound to happen as the city turns Whyte Avenue into more of a pedestrian-focused corridor, as laid out in high-level city policy.
“This is just a natural part of the process of building towards that more people-oriented corridor that’s going to create that destination within our city and a destination that’s probably going to be pretty renowned around Canada and the world,” he said.
A historic streetcar should be placed down the middle of the street instead of bus lanes, said Ho.
“Wherever the streetcar flows in Toronto, that’s where all of the communities are thriving,” he said.
Some parking spots are on the chopping block if this plan ends up getting approved, but Ward papastew Coun. Michael Janz — whose ward includes Whyte Avenue — said there is actually a lot of parking in the area but drivers don’t know where to find it.
“There’s lots of lots that are empty. There’s lots of stalls and street parking that are empty, maybe a block off of Whyte Avenue, north or south,” he said.
The city could lose revenue from city-owned parking spots along the avenue if the spots are removed. Janz said expanded patio space would help businesses thrive and therefore raise tax revenue.
“We need to think about as a city what is our goal? If we want vibrant businesses in these areas … taking in the parking stalls and putting in the patios — doing things that actually bring people and keep people in the area — pay way more dividends in terms of business vibrancy,” he said.
Janz said he lives on the street and is excited for the changes.
“Whyte Avenue could be the kind of street where people really come as tourists, come take part in festivals, go to patios,” he said.
“I think there’s a really exciting opportunity here to make Whyte Avenue more vibrant for everyone.”
Also in the works is a plan to turn the parking lot for the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market (OSFM) into a park or plaza.
The land is owned by the city but is leased to the OSFM at market rates. The OSFM collects parking revenue and is fully responsible for the operation and maintenance of the lot. The lease agreement is for a 10-year term, expiring in April 2025. The current lot provides free 2-hour parking for market customers on Saturdays when the market is operating.
Keith Persaud, market manager for the OSFM, said he will continue to lobby for parking to be allowed on the lot.
Persaud said up to 6,000 customers come to the market one day a week. A picture of the lot on the market’s website shows about 200 spots.
“I think smart people will prevail to know that this market is a part of the community and it brings some vibrancy to the neighborhood, and it is a destination place for Albertans, Canadians and international travellers,” he said.
The three design ideas the city has presented for review all eliminate at least some parking in the lands between Gateway Boulevard and 102 Street, north of Whyte Avenue and south of Saskatchewan Drive.
One of the options is to create a “central park” with naturalized spaces in the north part of the park, recreation spaces in the area and plaza-like spaces adjacent to Whyte Avenue.
The other two options include residential development that the city says would include affordable housing and may have underground parking for the commercial and entertainment uses in the neighbourhood.
The survey on the changes to Whyte Avenue, area alleys and the public land east of Gateway is open until March 5.