Starting to Reimagine Whyte Avenue, after “Imagining” Jasper Avenue

Header photo source – Old Strathcona Business Association

Earlier in October, the City of Edmonton proudly announced the renewal of a section of Jasper Avenue. This project refurbished Jasper Avenue, with the intent of providing a safe experience that would attract people to the Downtown. 

Community members responded in droves, noting that we spent millions of dollars to redesign a street, but got a result that provides a similar experience to before. The road is still 6 lanes wide in many places. It’s still noisy, difficult to cross, and not an attractive place to be. The situation even attracted the attention of Brent Toderian, a global thought leader in city planning and urban design, who simply had this to say.

Paths for People and many other community advocates rang the alarm bells when this project was being developed. We clearly expressed in this letter to the City that we had concerns with the project. Community members insisted in this video that we were not prioritizing the experience of people walking or rolling along the street or community members who live in Oliver and Downtown enough.

We did not take advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity.

We cannot let this happen again, especially when the City’s financial capacity is perceived to be more limited. We cannot waste more of our limited resources on projects that simply re-establish what we already have.

We also must align this project with the big goals we have as a City. We aspire to get to “50% of trips being made by transit and active transportation” (Big City Move 3 in City Plan) We need to build our streets to support this. City Plan also calls for streets like Whyte to become:

  • places that support living, working and moving (page 102 of City Plan)
  • destinations in and of themselves with gathering spaces, parks, and plazas located along the corridors (page 102 of City Plan and Direction

To get ahead of the 8-ball, we worked with Community Leagues along Whyte Avenue west of the Mill Creek ravine in the Summer of 2021 to run a survey about the future of Whyte Avenue as a Main Street. This was done with the intent to develop a strong community front that can shape decisions regarding the future of Edmonton’s premiere Main Street.

Paths for People and Community League Survey

The survey was focused on the Public Realm. This term basically means everything between the private property lines. In other words,  everything that the public has a direct say in how we utilize, such as the roads, sidewalks, bus stops, trees, light posts, and more. 

Full results in this document here.

The survey ran from June 15, 2021 to July 31, 2021 and received 450 responses. In these responses, we received a spectrum of answers. They are summarized in this document. However, here’s some of the key points outlined below.

  • Respondents wanted to see expanded sidewalks and public space for people along the corridor. More space for people would support community and local businesses along the corridor.
  • Respondents strongly advocated to protect and enhance street features like street trees, lighting, and curb ramps. These are not just “nice-to-haves,” but “need-to-haves.”
  • Surprisingly, many respondents shared that there was too much parking and that traffic was moving too fast. It will be key to reassess what we assume Whyte needs prior to redesigning it.

From these findings, Paths for People has put forward two recommendations.

1. Prioritize the “people-places”

If Whyte Avenue is to experience increased success as a Main Street in the future, we need to ensure that sidewalks, patios, street trees, lighting, benches, and parklets are friendly to all users and integrated throughout the entire corridor.

2. Provide strong transportation options

We need to make it easier to not drive along Whyte Avenue by providing different transportation options (like Mass Transit) and compelling vehicle commuters to take different routes.

Stephen Avenue, Calgary (Source – Chuck Szmurlo)
16th Avenue, Denver (Source – Visit Denver)
Queen Street, Toronto (Source – 10best)

Respondents highlighted many existing streets across the world that they wanted to see Whyte become more like, including; Stephen Avenue in Calgary, 16th Avenue in Denver, and Queen Street in Toronto.

We’ve seen this occur already with temporary changes installed by the Old Strathcona Business Association. We’ve seen other advocacy efforts pay off in fundamentally re-allocating Main Streets in busy urban cores, such as with Yonge Street in Toronto. The organization yongeTOmorrow was pivotal in uniting community voices and advocating for those changes.

Source – yongeTOmorrow Website

Community members are excited to support too!

Ritchie community members care deeply for the spaces in which they live and work and the Ritchie Community League was excited to support the efforts of Paths for People as they designed and distributed this survey. Our neighbourhood, like others around Whyte Avenue, has grown and changed alongside its residents over the decades.”

Whyte Avenue acts as a central connector for all of the neighbourhoods in the region and this survey has provided a voice for community members to express their aspirations for Whyte Avenue in the face of ongoing redevelopment and renewal.

Wider sidewalks, vibrant blocks, and more equitable access to transit must be prioritized as Whyte Avenue and the communities around it continue to evolve.”

  • Seghan MacDonald, Ritchie Civics Director

“We see Whyte Avenue as a template for the City of Edmonton as it works to build and re-build main streets, shopping districts, and commercial nodes throughout Edmonton as part of planning for a city of two-million people.”

“With construction coming up for a renewal of the Whyte Avenue corridor, we hope to be able to showcase how important – and how easy – it is to focus on the experience of people walking and rolling along main streets and in neighbourhoods.”

  • Cherie Klassen, Old Strathcona Business Association Executive Director

We will be faced with tough choices in the coming years regarding Whyte Avenue.

With limited East-West connections in this part of the City, we will need to be innovative with how we prioritize people space. We encourage current candidates for council, future members of Council, City Administration, and community members to be bold in what we envision Whyte to be in the coming decade. We have an incredible opportunity to turn Whyte Avenue into a people-first place.