A downtown road reopening to vehicle traffic has ignited a debate about the purpose of pedestrian streets in Edmonton.
The stretch of 102nd Avenue between 99th and 103rd Streets has been closed to cars since 2018 due to LRT construction, but a proposal to keep it car-free for a year-long pilot program was voted down last week.
Anand Pye, vice president of the Downtown Recovery Coalition and executive director of commercial real estate development association NAIOP Edmonton, says he wants to see pedestrian streets downtown, but 102nd Avenue is just not the place to make it happen.
“It needs to be built as a destination,” Pye says.
“There are still more things that could be done, that should be done, on that street, to make it a more pleasant experience. I thought that, if we were trying to do that without the LRT operational, and without the drive lane operational, we would have been starting from a standing start.”
The proposal was initially brought forward last June. While some residents spoke to council in favour of the pilot before last week’s vote, opponents included the Downtown Community League, the Downtown Business Association, the nearby YMCA and other property owners and managers on the street.
Council voted 8-4 against, with Anne Stevenson, Ashley Salvador, Aaron Paquette and Andrew Knack supporting the closure of 102nd Avenue to motor vehicles.
The City has toyed with pedestrian streets in the core but stopped short of making any of them permanent. In 2014, a proposal was put forward to close a portion of Whyte Avenue between midnight and 2:30 a.m. on busy nights. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the City closed traffic lanes and designated 28 kilometres of shared streets to help people socially distance outside.