News / Edmonton

New walkability app to address 'very inconsistent' sidewalks in downtown Edmonton

Researchers at U of A pinpoint central issues for future app

Nathalia Osorio talks about the walkability of Downtown Edmonton

Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

Nathalia Osorio talks about the walkability of Downtown Edmonton

Consistency is the biggest problem with walking through Edmonton’s downtown, according to researchers developing a Google Maps-like walkability app.

Nathalia Osorio and Rob Shields at the University of Alberta’s City-Region Studies Centre gathered input from pedestrians walking through the city’s core this summer to gauge the overall experience.

“The conclusion of most of the people that we went walking with was that the downtown was very inconsistent,” Osorio said after walking Metro through some of downtown’s best and worst streets on Wednesday.

People walked mapped routes and rated each street on various factors as part of the researchers’ “companion walkability app” project.

Participants noted inconsistencies in the width of sidewalks, the timing of traffic lights and seemingly random closures.

“They don’t want to see all the downtown look the same, but they would like the experience to be more fluent, not to have so many interruptions in their experience walking,” Osorio said.

Osorio and Shields launched the project in January to address concerns from Edmontonians who said it was impossible for them to go on hour-long lunch breaks because it took too long to walk through downtown.

Their research found streets widely varied in quality in the core, when ranked for connectivity, comfort, accessibility, safety and security.

Among the highest ranked were the walkways around city hall and Churchill Square, where people appreciated the greenery and closed streets — as well as the space on the south side of 104 Avenue in front of the new Edmonton Tower.

Among the worst was the stretch of 103 Avenue from 103 Street to 105 Street, where people reported feeling unsafe and claustrophobic due to aging parkade buildings, excessive sidewalk closures and narrow spaces.

Amenities that made walks more enjoyable included flower beds, glass facades, and doors facing the sidewalks to make pedestrians feel more connected.

Osorio said people were generally understanding of construction closures, but were frustrated by their seemingly random nature and a lack of helpful detour notifications.

She said the project is putting pedestrian experiences first to get a perception of safety and security, and not just technical measurements.

“It’s not just about defining, ‘This is the correct width of the sidewalk, this is the correct design for facades, this is the correct colour, this is the correct material.’ Because all of them can be correct,” she said, hoping the research is useful to city planners.

“They have just to listen to what people like and dislike about the space and try to correct those aspects.”

Ultimately, the researchers hope to develop an app with real-time closure updates from other users, in partnership with the city and developing partners.

Osorio is seeking contributors for the project. Anyone interested in walking and rating a route in Edmonton to provide input can e-mail osorioor@ualberta.ca

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