Expanded sidewalks could return to Whyte Avenue next year, business association says

EDMONTON — The Old Strathcona Business Association is calling the expansion of its sidewalks during the pandemic a “really successful project” it will look at bringing back in 2021.

According to the association’s executive director, the “overwhelming majority” of patrons and businesses who participated in a recent survey said they wanted the pilot to return next year either seasonally or permanently.

Two-thirds of about 115 participants voted to have pedestrian space expanded year round, Cherie Klassen told CTV News Edmonton.

“They felt they had a little more reason to visit, they had a space to kind of hang out. We hear that a lot: that people would come for an ice cream or a coffee, a bite to eat, but there’s no place to sit down,” she commented.

“We quickly learned that just having extra space wasn’t sufficient for pedestrians to understand that it was their space… Within minutes of putting down picnic tables and a parklet and some flowers, people asked us, can we use this? Can we sit down here?”

It’s one of the lessons the association is keeping in mind as it plans for next year.

According to Klassen, businesses overall supported the pilot – though hospitality businesses saw the most benefit – but reported a need of improved accessibility and clean-up services.

As well, she said the group would need to coordinate with the City of Edmonton and engineering experts on traffic planning, to balance pedestrian and commuter needs.

“We need maybe more than pylons on the roadway,” Klassen said, explaining that cones weren’t enough to deter some drivers from entering a closed lane.

“So we need the city’s support to do a little bit better infrastructure if we are going to do this seasonally and support from our businesses to continue to do it.”

The business association is also discussing with city administration the possibility of keeping the changes through the winter, too.

Klassen called that conversation more complex, given foot traffic is less in Edmonton’s cold months and curbside or pick-up service is greater, and there would be more demand for street services like snow clearing.

“So I would say: Pay attention to other areas in Old Strathcona and Whyte Avenue that will have some activations along the avenue and off the avenue and in side streets where we’re really going to embrace outdoors and interesting spaces for people in the winter.”

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