Edmonton’s Pedway: The Beginning

This is the first part in a series of posts looking at the past, present, and future of Edmonton’s pedway network.

For nearly 40 years Edmonton’s pedway system has been a fixture downtown. The maze of pedestrian walkways built above streets, through parkades, and under buildings has hosted parades, buskers, and even a pop-up restaurant over the years. It has kept office workers from having to step into the rain or snow, and it has served as an emergency shelter for our city’s most vulnerable during cold spells. Thousands of Edmontonians use the system each and every day, and while not universally loved, most Edmontonians can’t imagine our downtown without it.

Elevated walkways and other pedestrian-oriented urban planning concepts were becoming increasingly common in the 1960s in North America. Cities such as Chicago had started a pedway network as early as 1951. In Canada, Toronto led the way with PATH in 1959, followed just three years later by Underground City in Montreal. Eventually the idea moved west, and both Edmonton and Calgary started exploring the concept of a pedestrian circulation network in the late 1960s.

City Council paved the way for the pedway in Edmonton by approving the following recommendation on April 8, 1968:

“Council accepts the principle of a Downtown Pedestrian Circulation System as a guide to the future planning of pedestrian circulation in this area.”

Increasing concern about pedestrian safety played a key role in the recommendation, though it would be six years before the plan to separate pedestrians from vehicles became real. A working paper on the Downtown Pedestrian Circulation System published in 1980 offered this explanation: “Unlike streets, pedways cannot be laid out, constructed, and await development to occur around them.” The pedway has never had a master plan because no one owns it. Passages cannot be built until there are developments to connect, which makes the pedway a cooperative effort between a variety of developers, including the City.

Edmonton Centre opened in early 1974, and with it came Edmonton’s first pedway connections. It was the city’s first full-block development, and it featured both above-grade and below-grade pedways. The first above-grade pedway connected Edmonton Centre with the 14-level parkade across 102A Avenue. Connections were later added to Eaton’s (now City Centre West) and the Four Seasons Hotel (now Sutton Place).

Brand new Edmonton Centre 1974
Pictured top-left is Edmonton’s first above-ground pedway, photo of microfilm by Darrell

Over the summer of 1974, Council approved the City of Edmonton Transportation Plan Part 1. The document proposed “an enclosed walkway system” for the downtown and was an important step in the development of the pedway network.

That same year construction began on the LRT. Council had first endorsed the concept of a rapid rail transit system in 1968, and through a series of reports and debates the decision to go underground was made. That presented the challenge of ensuring smooth access from the street to the trains. To tackle it, the City approved a series of development agreements with nearby properties, and started building “climate-controlled linkages” which quickly became known as pedways.

In July of 1977, Council adopted the Pedway Concept Plan with the following motion:

“That the policy guidelines contained in the Pedway Concept Plan be adopted for future planning, design, security, maintenance, financing, operation, and implementation of a pedway network for Downtown Edmonton.”

According to the plan, the City had made “substantial investments to encourage construction of the pedway system” throughout the 1970s. However it also signaled that as acceptance of pedways increased and the network was built out, the City would no longer contribute financially. The pedway would have to evolve without the direct backing of the City.

The LRT began regular service on April 22, 1978, with Central and Churchill Stations all but guaranteeing the pedway would play a key role in moving people throughout Edmonton’s downtown for years to come.

  • City Hall School

    Thanks Mack for doing all this research for me. I look forward to hearing more.