A proposal to build the new Edmonton Centre LRT line through Whyte Avenue or 76 Avenue could radically change Old Strathcona and surrounding neighbourhoods. Whether this looks like a pedestrian– and public–transit–friendly Whyte or a heavy investment into rapid light rail transit at the cost of reduced east-west driving lanes, Ritchie, Garneau, Bonnie Doon, and Old Strathcona residents could see major infrastructure changes in the next decade.
City administrators are confident that Whyte Ave is the logical route for a Centre LRT line. Some neighbours and city councillors echo the sentiment but others argue that decreased driving lanes could lead to a gridlocked Whyte and a lack of major arteries in the area.
Should the advent of self-driving cars mean a shift away from new mass transit pursuits? Traffic congestion could look very different in a world of automated vehicles, but will we ever overcome city gridlock without a shift in our transportation priorities? To truly curb our over-reliance on cars and the associated environmental impact, a focus on affordable long-term solutions to transportation-related pollution is necessary. Most major metropolitan areas offer central train lines to mobilize commuters en masse and enable urban residents to forgo personal vehicles and still be able to function in a city. In Edmonton’s case, the challenge of an underdeveloped light rail system means trying to expand existing infrastructure aboveground and through major roadways without exacerbating traffic congestion. Unfortunately, this means some road users will have to make concessions to accommodate those who take up less space as patrons of public transit.
What does a winter city look like? Realistically, a focus on accessible rapid transit should be a priority to city planners to sustain businesses in south central Edmonton. A lack of pedways and affordable parking spaces suggests the need for low-cost transport options, and a central LRT line down Whyte Avenue could be the logical solution for a forward-thinking urban footprint that prioritizes mass transit and pedestrian traffic. Connecting Old Strathcona and surrounding neighbourhoods would solve parking shortages and add walkability for extreme cold days. Achieving year-round access for low income and decreased mobility residents to schools, grocery stores, the university hospital, and other amenities would be greatly facilitated by a Centre LRT through Whyte Ave.
No matter the outcome of the Centre LRT, “driving cities” cannot sustain themselves past a certain population density that Edmonton may hit sooner rather than later. As well, moving forward with Vision Zero initiatives to reduce (and eventually eliminate) traffic fatalities should mean a less dangerous commute for local residents and visitors. Encouraging all road users to make safer, sustainable transportation choices will dedicate more spaces for commuters, families, tourists, and cyclists to safely enjoy the neighbourhoods where they live and work. A healthier urban community with better air quality and pedestrian safety is a win for all of Edmonton.
On its current timeline, project planners will be seeking out additional public feedback in the coming months, while a concept plan will be completed in October of this year. City council will vote on the project and proposed route in early 2019.