Views / Edmonton / Urban Compass

Column

Metro News globe

Footnotes

Danielle Paradis explores what makes Edmonton a great city.

Revitalizing Jasper Ave. will require sacrificing some efficiencies

Are we willing to give up high speed limits (for a road shared with pedestrians, Jasper is fast), abundant parking and six traffic lanes in exchange for, say, a canal, or less ridiculously, bike lanes?

Pedestrians shuffle down a snowy Jasper Ave.

Kevin Tuong/ For Metro

Pedestrians shuffle down a snowy Jasper Ave.

From the intensity of the room, you’d think the 65 people hunched over big white sheets with scented markers were plotting something more complicated than a road.
Imagine Jasper Avenue was the most sophisticated design charrette I’d ever attended.

Held in Christ Church in Oliver last Wednesday, the city’s public engagement event for downtown’s main street (west of 109 Street) had its own hashtag and logo.

A couple of the 100 or so adults who packed the gymnasium during two evening sessions envisioned, among other things, a canal and skating lane down the thoroughfare.

Every soul in the room had experienced a more pleasant and more pride-worthy street than Jasper, so the majority of their wants were obvious: Expanded sidewalks, pretty streetlights and public art, trees and flowers, maybe — gasp! — a bike lane.

Imagine Jasper Avenue is a grand gesture to show the city won’t repeat the fiasco of 99 Street. You may know it as “Scona Road,” but some within the transportation department call the car-centric, poorly consulted, accidental speed-trap “the Beginning of the End.”

To prove it, administrators asking the simple question: What do you want?

But is it the right question?

In reimagining our struggling main street, it may serve us better to ask what we are  willing to sacrifice.

Are we willing to give up high speed limits (for a road shared with pedestrians, Jasper is fast), abundant parking and six traffic lanes in exchange for, say, a canal, or less ridiculously, bike lanes?

We better be, because cosmetics can only accomplish so much, as exemplified for makeovers along Stony Plain Road and Fort Road, noble and expensive efforts that’ve done nothing to spur small business or encourage density.

This is a question that needs to be asked of businesses, too.The Oliver side of Jasper Avenue gets off to a rough start for pedestrians, on 109 St., where the majority of stores in the abutting strip mall purposely lock their front doors and close the blinds to send foot traffic around the back. The walker or cyclist’s experience degrades further west as businesses cover their windows with black tint, posters and garage shutters.
Will they lose these impervious touches alongside Jasper’s changes?
But most of all, it’s a question for the transportation department.

When I posed it to traffic engineer Satya Gadidasu, Imagine’s project manager, he was agnostic.

“We don’t know that yet.”

He said the visioning session was “stage one” and emphasized the need to balance the wishes of central Edmonton with the need to efficiently feed car commuters through the “corridor.”

“Corridor” suggests Jasper’s sole purpose to those at the top will always be to move people, mostly in vehicles, through a neighbourhood.

The best main streets make you stop — to drink coffee,  buy groceries, flip a coin to a busker, pet a pooch. The worst try to hide their true purpose to disguise their dedication to efficiency. As long as we fixate on efficiencies, our reimagining of Jasper will be limited in actual imagination.

Omar Mouallem (@omar_aok) lives in Edmonton and edits the Yards magazine.

More on Metronews.ca