The City of Edmonton has completed their second phase of community feedback for the Old Strathcona Public Realm Strategy (OSPRS). The OSPRS for the Whyte Ave corridor provides a future vision for the public lands in the area. These public lands include the road right of way and sidewalks on Whyte Ave between 99 St and 109 St as well as public lands north of Whyte Ave and east of Gateway Blvd. This project aims to guide the future vision for public lands in the area, in order to support the vibrancy of the Whyte Ave Area!
Throughout the second round of engagement, some questions and concerns about the concepts in the strategy emerged. As big believers in complete streets and reimagining our most vital corridors, we want to explore some of these concerns, answer some questions, and unpack some common misconceptions. There are two major myths we want to take a look at: Whyte Ave’s value as an arterial corridor, and the impact of reducing parking on business. But, first, some required context.
One of the foundational concepts of the OSPRS is Modal Shift. As the name suggests, modal shift describes how some commuters will switch the mode they use based on improving different modes of transportation. In this case, Whyte Ave holds potential to shift some people from private personal vehicles to public transit (e.g. buses) and active transportation (e.g. walking and wheeling).
This foundational concept has shaped the proposed designs in the OSPRS, and all of the options presented in Phase 2 engagement have a strong focus on transit and active transportation connectivity in the area. Infrastructure changes are essential to modal shift; creating more bus-able and walkable communities enables residents and visitors to choose the mode that best suits their needs, and prioritizes more efficient ways of moving people.
These modes are made less effective when they have to share space with car traffic. Buses get caught in rush hour traffic jams, and cars can be dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists. Therefore, making significant infrastructure changes is essential to enabling modal shift. We’re excited to see that the proposed designs recognize this and are making major strides towards prioritizing active transportation and transit users.
Whyte Ave: Arterial?
During the second round of engagement, we heard some concerns and questions about how more space for pedestrians and commercial activities and less space for car traffic would work. Participants in public engagement noted that Whyte Ave is a major east-west arterial connection within the city and that these designs could increase congestion and reduce parking options.
While Whyte Ave is currently used and designated as an arterial road, its effectiveness as a route for vehicles already suffers as the street tries to be both an arterial route and a major commercial and community node. Using 98 Ave (James MacDonald Bridge) to the north and 63 Ave to the south often provides smoother (sometimes even faster) routes between major nodes east and west of the project area, with fewer traffic lights and faster flows of traffic.
For example, let’s look at driving west from Bonnie Doon Mall to the University of Alberta North Campus. Google Maps suggests three different routes between 14-15 minutes.
If you were to instead grab a scoop or two of ice cream from Kind Ice Cream before heading to campus, taking 63rd Ave would require the same amount of travel time and provide a much smoother journey.
Many commutes in Edmonton already have a similarly-timed alternative route along 98 Ave or 63 Ave, since Whyte Ave is already such a high volume area with lights or pedestrian crossings at most intersections. At peak times, traffic volumes and congestion are high, with vehicles often only moving a block at a time before stopping at each traffic light. A 2km journey can easily take over 20 minutes. Routing car traffic away from Whyte Ave will not only improve the experience for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users, but drivers too as 98 Ave and 63 Ave are already more car-focused. Additionally, improving mass transit is a major assumption in the plan, so plan implementation would make both of these trips even more easily achievable by transit!
Parking and Business
While the proposed designs do reduce the space designated for private vehicle traffic and reduce on-street parking options on Whyte Ave, they do not eliminate all reasonable parking in the area. With ample parking lot and back street parking remaining available, parking will still be feasible and accessible within the area. Removing on-street parking options located on Whyte Ave allows for space to be allocated to all the activities and services that make Edmonton vibrant, such as festivals, patios, walking tours, and more. Additional wayfinding (e.g. signage, maps) for parking will guide people who need to drive to available parking more easily, making for a smoother experience for all visitors.
While reduced parking may seem like a deterrent to drivers looking to spend time in the area, research has shown that Whyte Ave’s most productive shoppers are the ones that don’t park on the street at all. Motorists make up less than 2% of the total customer value in the area, according to a study by OBSA that analyzed how customers got to Whyte Ave businesses, how often they visited, and how much they spent on average. In a follow up 2021 study, survey data demonstrated that people come to Whyte Ave to spend time in a walkable area, that offers a specific experience and allows them to easily engage with restaurants and businesses in the area.. This means that improving the transit and pedestrian experience on Whyte Ave is good for business. Reducing on-street parking in favour of more sidewalk space prioritizes the customers that support businesses along Whyte Ave the most.
What can you do now?
Sign up here to be added to a mailing list to inform you about future events and engagement opportunities. Later this summer, the project will enter Phase 3 of engagement which will invite specific feedback on detailed designs for the area. Make sure your voice is heard to steward the development of a beautiful and engaging central area that is accessible and beneficial to all Edmontonians.