City to bring back shared-use streets for physical distancing outdoors

The City of Edmonton is putting the finishing touches on a plan to turn some of its streets into shared-use spaces like it did in 2020 at the onset of the pandemic.

Edmonton's lead urban strategist said a "set of locations similar to 2020 will be implemented with some changes based on previous observed activities" beginning in the spring.

According to Charity Dyke, her team is finishing consulting with stakeholders to finalize the list.

In 2020, 28 kilometres of shared space was found through lane and street closures, like on Saskatchewan Drive and Victoria Promenade.

"Feedback received included appreciation of the extra space provided to Edmontonians to get outside for both recreation and essential trips and desire from some groups for space to be provided on a larger number of roadways," Dyke said.

"I think it's a great idea, especially in high-traffic areas," Summit Drive resident Val Guiltner told CTV News Edmonton. "It does make space for people to ride their bikes and have their strollers out and go for runs in groups, go for bike rides in groups."

But a resident of a neighbouring community, Scott Mather, found only some of the 2020 shared-space accommodations useful.

Of the hill going past the Victoria Golf Course he said, "That gets a ton of human traffic, so that one totally made sense."

But if the city were to consider turning Summit Drive into a shared-use path, Mather commented, "We use this street a ton and quite honestly, this sidewalk's probably sufficient. Our goal is just to get into the river valley and there's no traffic there."

LOOKING FOR FEEDBACK

Ward 1 Coun. Andrew Knack asked city administration earlier in the week about expanding the 2020 project.

He considers last year's experiment mostly successful, noting there were challenges on arterial roads where a lane was taken away.

It's being left to communities to approach the city if they feel there is a need for a shared-use path there.

"If we have a community that says, 'Hey, here's a roadway that gets a lot of foot traffic, gets a lot of bike traffic and it's a local road,'" Knack said, "why not give them the opportunity to say, 'Hey, we could designate this a shared street?''"

He expects consultations and planning to take another month before any announcements are made.

But, he said there may be potential for the idea to become permanent.

"I think it's a great opportunity for a long-term way to help with getting people active. I actually think they also have the opportunity to help with traffic safety concerns."

In 2020, the shared-use paths were active from April to the end of October at a cost of about $119,500 to the city.

That price, Dyke noted, related to putting up signs, was another concern the city was looking to address in 2021.

She also said traffic levels had returned to near pre-pandemic volumes by the end of the fall, when they started to decrease as the province introduced more restrictions. Currently, traffic volumes sit about 19 per cent lower than normal.

According to a University of Alberta study of the effectiveness and safety of the expanded path system, there was a 52 per cent reduction in the number of physical-distancing violations for Saskatchewan Drive, and a 25 per cent reduction on Victoria Promenade. 

Also like last year, the city will continue allowing businesses to expand their patio or storefront onto public street or sidewalk space in 2021.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson