News / Edmonton

Edmonton's pedway grows, but not all are supportive

“A downtown is a very complicated machine with many, many moving parts. If one of those wheels goes out of alignment it affects all the others,” says planner Duncan Fraser.

Edmonton's pedway network of tunnels, overpasses, LRT stations, public spaces and private, retail spaces is set to grow over the next years as downtown construction sees several buildings build links to the existing system.

Kevin Tuong/For Metro

Edmonton's pedway network of tunnels, overpasses, LRT stations, public spaces and private, retail spaces is set to grow over the next years as downtown construction sees several buildings build links to the existing system.

Edmonton’s pedway network is about to grow and where it stops, Duncan Fraser will know.

Fraser, a senior planner with the city, said the pedway’s growth is a “delicate balance” between the interests of developers and the city, which seeks to build a vibrant downtown and public spaces.

“If we develop too many pedways, that takes away from the street life,” he said.

Edmonton started building pedway tunnels, along with the LRT network that forms the system’s backbone, in the 1970s.

Though the system has remained constant for many years, connecting 39 mostly privately-owned buildings, and covering 13 kilometres, it’s set to grow by five buildings and several overpasses (most notably Rogers Place’s ‘Winter Garden’), mostly north of 104 Avenue.

The first expansion, the Kelly Ramsey Building, is set to start construction in the next couple of weeks, when the city will close 101 Street to start an elevated-pedway connecting that building to Manulife Place.

Future connections will be installed in several parts of Rogers Place, linking the pedway system to the existing MacEwan LRT station, and a connection overlooking the community rink in the new arena.

Another connection is rumoured to be in the works for the Royal Alberta Museum, but so far there are no other development permits pending approval for it, according to Fraser.

With Ice District and other new attractions, the city is projecting around three million new visitors to the downtown over the next four to five years. Its own research shows many of these visitors will likely arrive by LRT or use a parkade, and encounter a pedway.

Fraser is looking at pedway growth as both inevitable and necessary to keep it a viable option for circulating downtown foot traffic.

He expects that will change soon, and the balance he wants to protect will be pivotal with downtown growth expected in the coming years

“A downtown is a very complicated machine with many, many moving parts. If one of those wheels goes out of alignment it affects all the others,” he said, adding that pedways are a part that machine.

Fraser said the pedway network is part of Edmonton’s winter city identity.

“Since we are a winter city and showing greater respect for the pedestrian, we try to provide as many ways for pedestrians to go from A to B in as many ways as possible,” he said.

COUNTERPOINT: File under 'anti-pedway'

Coun. Scott McKeen is a downtown resident, downtown councillor and downtown vibrancy advocate. If there’s one thing that stirs up McKeen’s downtown broth, it’s pedways.

So Metro asked him for his thoughts on the matter in light of the system growing.

Metro: We’re getting more pedways. Is that a good thing?

McKeen: I know there are some going into Ice District and I complained to them about it, and the assurance I got was the design was to get people outside easily, because they will have hospitality at the sidewalk level. So, I’ll take them at their word.

My fundamental issue has always been with the malls we have downtown, and the pedways feeding into those malls from office towers and hotels, creates sidewalks that are far less vibrant than they could be.

We all judge vibrancy by what it looks like in the public realm (outside) rather than the private realm (inside).

Metro: If pedways are so disliked by you and other councillors, why are we getting more of them?

McKeen: In the case of one of the pedways between Kelly Ramsey and HSBC … Enbridge is moving into both buildings [and] they wanted a pedway to link their two buildings. It’s hard to argue against that.

My fear, however, and I don’t know if people think about it, is the importance of the public realm when they’re designing buildings.

Metro: Do you use pedways?

McKeen: Do I ever take pedways, sure I do. I’m not ideological, but I feel as a downtown guy and lived here since 1986 and has always wanted to see those sidewalks bustle … a bustling public realm – lots of people outside – is going to make the place safe. People on the streets make the streets safer.

Metro: Are some pedways different than others?

McKeen: We have large malls in our downtown and combining that with the pedway … we undermined the street vibrancy. It’s not as bad as it used to be. There was a point when you could shoot a cannon down Jasper Avenue and no one would get bruised.

In some cases [a pedway] is about capturing an audience. There are business interests in having a pedway. In the case of [City Centre Mall], they want you inside and want to keep you inside. I don’t think that’s been well thought out.

FACTBOX: Edmonton's pedway system

Current number of pedway-connected buildings: 39

Projected number, post downtown construction: 45

Ownership: Mixed — private, semi-private and public

With files from Tim Querengesser

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