EPark has replaced coin parking meters in Edmonton

Edmonton’s last coin parking meter was converted into a new EPark spot on Rice Howard Way today. Councillor Scott McKeen, the City’s GM Operations Dorian Wandzura, and Downtown Business Association Executive Director Jim Taylor were all on hand for a brief ceremony that saw the old meter replaced with a new EPark post cap. Councillor McKeen said he was not sad to see the old parking meters go, nor were the City parking staff who had gathered for the spectacle as they recalled the challenges of carrying money around. The move to the digital EPark system is a sign of the times, and it’s not the first time that parking meters have helped to illustrate Edmonton’s progress.

Councillor Scott McKeen with the last parking meter
Councillor McKeen cradles the last coin parking meter

Our city’s first parking meters, 854 manual winding meters, were installed downtown on July 26, 1948. It cost a nickel to park for an hour, or a penny for 12 minutes. Fines were $1. A few days later, the first parking meter theft in Canada took place in Edmonton as a meter from 101A Avenue near 100 Street was stolen. “The meter contained no more than a few dollars,” the Journal recalled in a piece recognizing the 50th anniversary of parking meters in the city. “In the first week meters operated, the city collected $598.98 in coins, plus ‘a king’s ransom in slugs, plugs and buttons,’ according to newspaper reports.” The City took in about $50,000 in revenue from the parking meters that year.

Toronto became the first Canadian city to install meters accepting dimes in 1952, but Edmonton was doing its share of experimentation at that time too. A Globe and Mail article on the news reported:

“The latest thing in parking meters is being tried in Edmonton. Installed in municipally operated parking lots are meters which during the day take money for parking but at night take 25 cents to keep a car’s motor warm. A coin in the machine sends current through wires which are attached to the motor.”

That story was published on February 6, 1952 so that’s no April Fool’s joke! By 1954, Edmonton’s parking meter tally had grown to about 2,000.

Parking Meter

At some point Edmonton’s parking meters were upgraded to the now more familiar self-winding or electric style. And in 1991, they were upgraded to stop accepting dimes and to start accepting loonies. The Journal reported at the time:

“Before the increase, quarters and dimes covered the 60- to 80-cent-per-hour parking fees but the goods and services tax and the city’s desire to add an extra $300,000 to its $1.8-million yearly parking coffers has changed that.”

There was no shortage of complaints about high parking costs and parking meter enforcement over the years. For instance in 1987, about 30 motocyclists protested against parking meter enforcement by using up almost every spot along a block of Whyte Avenue. Not everyone was so peaceful though. Ray Morin was in charge of the city crew that looked after parking meters, and reflecting on the 50th anniversary in 1998 he told the Journal that about three or so meters were stolen each month. “They take the cement, the works,” he said. Vandalism and abuse of parking officers were also problems for as along as we’ve had parking meters.

City Staff pose with Edmonton's last parking meter
They won’t miss the coin parking meter’s problems

Not everything stayed the same though. When parking meters were first installed downtown, the response from the public was pretty negative. People were upset about having to pay for something they previously got for free. But 50 years later, parking meters were being hailed as convenient, less expensive than parkades, and a way to bring some vibrancy back downtown. “There’s a lot of parking out there, but people want convenience,” Ray Morin told the Journal in 1998. “So we brought in the meters.” Now we’re looking to strike a balance, promoting active transportation options while ensuring downtown is accessible for visitors.

The City did experiment with getting rid of parking meters back in 1995. The small stretch of 103 Avenue between 100 Street and 101 Street had 13 angled parking spots and instead of meters the City installed two ticket dispensing machines at a cost of $10,000 each. The machines were expected to be cheaper to operate than parking meters, but they didn’t last and eventually parking meters were installed.

The new EPark cap is screwed onto the parking meter post
Michael May installs the EPark cap

Ten years later, Impark brought pay-by-cellphone to parking lots in Edmonton. They had a transaction fee of 35 cents, but for many it was worth the convenience. Calgary was developing their parking system at that time and made the switch in 2007. Edmonton borrowed some machines from Calgary for a trial in June 2013, and after Council approval the following year, installed the first 16 EPark machines in October 2015.

EPark

Edmonton used to operate about 3,300 parking meters (159 of which were in the garage under City Hall) and collected nearly $15 million per year. The new EPark system was budgeted at $12 million to implement and is expected to increase revenues to about $22 million a year by 2018. More than 375 EPark machines now located in Edmonton, mostly around downtown, Old Strathcona, and 124 Street. The new system means there’s actually more space for parking (thanks to the removal of the lines) and will be more efficient for the City to operate and enforce. Prices can also be adjusted in response to demand.

Edmonton's last coin parking meter
Edmonton’s last coin parking meter

The final parking meter will be taken to the City Archives for safe keeping. If you want to keep a bit of parking history for yourself, you can buy one of the old meters:

“Citizens wanting to buy an existing parking meter, in ‘as is’ condition, at a cost of $100 per meter, are asked to contact 311 by May 31 to express their interest. The City is also hoping to sell the remainder of the meters to another municipality. The next step in the evolution of parking is the move towards automated enforcement with use of vehicle-mounted cameras later in 2016.”

You can learn more about EPark at the City’s website.

The Edmonton Oilers bid farewell to Rexall Place

Tonight the Edmonton Oilers played their final game in the building they have called home since 1974. Though its future remains uncertain, Rexall Place has been an important part of Edmonton for more than 40 years.

Farewell Rexall Place

The subject of its own, drawn out arena debate, Rexall Place was eventually built in the early 1970s. It opened on November 10, 1974 and the Oilers played their first game in the building that night. They won that game over the Cleveland Crusaders by a score of 4-1. For more on the history of Rexall Place, check out this great deep dive from David Staples.

Farewell Rexall Place

In addition to tonight’s celebrations at the building itself, the Oilers and the City held a rally in Churchill Square today. All former Oilers were invited to attend, and more than 100 did. The event was hosted by City Manager Linda Cochrane and was a nice opportunity for fans to join with the Oilers to say thanks to Rexall Place.

Farewell Rexall Place

Mayor Don Iveson, Jason Strudwick, Ryan Smyth, and Mark Messier all shared a few memories and tributes to Rexall Place.

Mark Messier

I thought it was very fitting that the crowd did the wave today at the rally given that Rexall Place is the venue in which the wave was perfected.

The Oilers have been preparing for this all season long, of course. Here’s what they had to say about leaving the building earlier today:

“Hours before opening faceoff, media members and arena workers flooded the halls, snapping photos of the old barn. The current players laughed at the fond memories of their home building, while lamenting missed opportunities in recent seasons. The alumni shared stories with the media and with each other, some serious and others hilarious tellings of locker room happenings. The mood at Rexall Place’s final pre-game morning was more joyful and reminiscent than sad, but it is sure to be an emotional evening of goodbyes for all those with ties to a historic venue.”

You can see the pre-game, in-game, and post-game videos and other media here.

Farewell Rexall Place

Northlands itself also had some positive things to say about the building today:

“On behalf of our board, staff and volunteers we want to thank the Edmonton Oilers for an amazing partnership,” said Tim Reid, Northlands President and CEO.

They also pointed out that while the Oilers won’t be playing at Rexall Place anymore, there are still other events on the schedule including the 2017 Ford World Men’s Curling Championships next April which is the final qualifying event for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. But for pro hockey at least, tonight was the end.

Oilers Superfan

For the current team, next season and the brand new Rogers Place can’t come soon enough. It hasn’t been a great season, but at least they ended on a high note tonight with a 6-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.

You can see more photos from the lunch time rally here.

Goodbye, Hello at the Royal Alberta Museum

More than 35,000 Edmontonians visited the Royal Alberta Museum over the weekend to say goodbye to the building that has seen more than 14 million visits since it opened back on December 6, 1967. The numbers from this weekend speak to the impact the museum has had on the community:

“The museum saw 16,290 people in the first 24-hours alone, eclipsing the previous single-day attendance record of 13,212, which was set in 1974 with gear from the Apollo moon landings on display.”

Goobye, Hello RAM

In addition to one last look at the bug room, visitors had the opportunity to visit the “Goodbye, Hello” exhibit in the feature gallery where they could share a memory or write a message for the new building. They could also see a video overview of the new building that is currently under construction downtown.

The new building will be roughly twice the size, with more than 82,000 square feet of exhibition space. It is being built to the LEED Silver standard at a cost of $375.5 million, $253 million of which is coming from the Province with the rest coming from the Federal government. Construction began on February 7, 2014 and is expected to finish in mid-2016. The goal is to open the new museum to the public in late 2017.

Goobye, Hello RAM

While the new building will certainly be an exciting addition to the downtown arts district, it does raise the question of what will happen to the current building. There’s nothing wrong with it, aside from being too small to share the museum’s growing collection. Here’s what the FAQ says:

“There has been no decision on the future of the Royal Alberta Museum building when the existing museum closes. When determining the future use the general process is to first see if government still has a use for the building/property. If government doesn’t require the property then the municipality is consulted to see if they have a use for it. The building is offered to the public if neither levels of government have a use for the property. Although the museum will be closing its doors in December 2015, the building will still be occupied with staff and collections until likely Fall 2019, as it makes the massive move to its new location.”

So while there’s still time to determine its fate, it’s an issue we’ll have to address as a community soon. To learn more about the history of the museum, have a look at Then & Now feature and check out this article by Janet Vlieg:

“The first two decades of the museum’s existence saw new exhibits added in keeping with the original goals of preserving Alberta history. No admission fees were charged and the museum relied almost completely on provincial funding. Help for extras came in 1982 with a new fundraising support group, now known as Friends of Royal Alberta Museum.”

On Monday evening, the final day the museum was open, Sharon and I were able to attend the RAM: A Moving Tribute event as guests of the Friends of Royal Alberta Museum Society (FRAMS). It was an “evening of fond farewells to a beautiful building.” A well-dressed crowd gathered to hear some speeches, visit the galleries, and reminisce about their previous visits to the building.

Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell, Minister of Culture & Tourism David Eggen, and City Councillor Scott McKeen were among those who brought greetings and reflected on their experiences in the museum. Guests could then explore the museum one last time, stopping perhaps to learn from the experts that were stationed throughout.

Goobye, Hello RAM

I didn’t grow up in Edmonton, so I don’t have the same memories of visiting as a kid. But I have enjoyed visiting in recent years and look forward to spend lots of time at the new building. Sharon does remember visiting as a child and was quite eager to visit the Wild Alberta Gallery one last time! We had fun exploring and adding our own messages to the wall in the feature gallery.

Goobye, Hello RAM

Thanks to FRAMS for having us! We look forward to visting the new museum when it opens on (or around) December 7, 2017. Can’t wait!

Welcome to Edmonton: How our entrance signs came to be

Until the late 1980s, Edmonton’s city limits were marked with simple blue and white signs that said “Welcome to the City of Edmonton”, not unlike the signs you’ll find near entrances to dozens of other towns around Alberta. The marker “City of Champions” was added following a streak of wins by the Eskimos and Oilers, though many also attribute that slogan to the way the city came together during the tornado of 1987. Not long after, City Council decided the existing signs were tacky and commissioned a study on the wording and design of new signs. That study decided that the word “welcome” was no longer necessary, but the “City of Champions” moniker was to remain.

IMG_6621.jpg
The sign welcoming visitors entering Edmonton via the Sherwood Park Freeway

And so, Edmonton’s concrete entrance signs, made of sandblasted concrete shaped into a stylized silhouette of the city skyline, were erected from 1989 to 1991. A total of nine signs were put up, the last of which was located so close to St. Albert that aldermen there complained and threatened to redraw the southern boundary so that the sign would be on their land.

Others also disliked the signs. In April of 1989, Calgary mayor Don Hartman said Edmonton should tear the signs down. “Calgary has replaced Edmonton as the City of Champions,” he said. A cartoon in the paper next day also made fun of the signs by depicting new signs on the north edge of Calgary that read “City of Champs, 1 KM” on the southbound side and “City of Losers, 290 KM” on the northbound side.

But Edmontonians liked the signs. In late 1991, the Journal ran a reader poll about whether or not to keep the new signs. “Overall, 70 per cent of survey respondents say the signs are fine,” the paper reported. They found that residents in Sherwood Park, elsewhere in Alberta, and even outside Alberta all liked the signs.

Some locals grew to dislike aspects of the signs, however. Alderman Ron Hayter complained that the signs did not extend a welcome to visitors and were thus unfriendly. It took a while, but in the fall of 1996 the words “welcome to” were added. The total cost for adding that box to all nine signs? Just $8,837.93 ($982.00 each).

entrance sign
Photo courtesy of CBC

In late 1999, City Council began considering updated Highway 2 Corridor Design Guidelines. They also proposed spending $65,000 to “place signage of a complimentary, but smaller nature, to that of the major entrances” at thirteen other entrances to Edmonton. While discussing the report in June 2000, City Council passed the following motion:

“That the designation “Alberta’s Capital City” or other similar phrase be added to signage on Edmonton’s nine major entrance highways and included on any future entrance signage. Further that a report, including both the feasibility of this proposal and the cost involved, come back to the August 23, 2000 Executive Committee meeting.”

In the fall the report came back and said that adding the words “Alberta’s Capital” to the nine existing major entrance signs would cost an estimated $28,500. Council decided that was a bit too expensive, but a subsequent plan to spread the cost over three years was approved in December 2000. As you can see in the first photo above, the signs have fallen into disrepair and this addition isn’t even present on every sign anymore!

In December 2005, Council approved $625,000 for new entrance signs on the Stony Plain Road and Yellowhead East entrance corridors (they had already approved another $275,000 in December 2004). Manasc Isaac Architects provided an initial concept for the Stony Plain Road entrance sign:

entrance sign

The design concept for the Yellowhead East entrance came from Gibbs and Brown Landscape Consultants:

entrance sign

In March 2006, Council decided that a design competition would be held for the two new signs and that the newly formed Edmonton Design Committee would manage it. The competition drew eighteen submissions from across the country, and in May 2007 two finalists were selected: a pyramid-based design from local architect Gene Dub and a ribbon of steel design by Montreal architect Sylvie Perrault. Both received a $50,000 honoraria to take their designs to the next stage which included preliminary plans, a model, engineering assessments, and cost estimates.

entrance sign

Throughout 2007 there was a lot of debate about the new entrance signs (frequently called “entrance markers” at the time for some reason). “At some point, the old signs do need to be replaced,” said Councillor Karen Leibovici as the discussion grew more heated. Her Council colleagues seemed on board with the idea of replacing the entrance signs, but they may have been the only ones.

The most common complaint from the public was related to the cost. The City estimated the cost of the original signs to be around $400,000 each and replacing just two with new ones would cost between $600,000 and $1.4 million. But cost wasn’t the only concern. Soon after the two final designs were unveiled, citizens registered their dislike for both. Of 268 phone calls made to the City, only 2 were favorable.

Some people defended the design competition and the spending though. Then Journal columnist Todd Babiak wrote in May 2007, “the public reaction to the city’s design competition is emerging as my new least-favourite thing about Edmonton.” He argued that “to frame this project in terms of spending priorities in incoherent.” While he agreed that Edmonton was being “starved to death” by the other levels of government, he argued in favor of spending on the signs as public art:

“In 10 years, we won’t remember the potholes of 2007. But giant pyramids on each end of the city could be there, still inspiring debate.”

“If we continue to configure our priorities, as a community, around a reflexive, mean- spirited and frankly stupid hostility to cultural spending, the filled potholes will allow a lot of very smooth one-way trips out of this cold, efficient province.”

In February 2008, the jury selected Gene Dub’s proposal. A letter from the Edmonton Design Committee said the decision was unanimous and that “the winning entry is an edgy, glowing glass and steel crystal.” They called the design “surprising, even startling” and said it would “function both as a beacon and a gateway welcoming visitors with a symbol of a city that is poised, confident and energetic.”

entrance sign

But wasn’t meant to be. By the time City Council was getting ready to make a final decision, the estimated cost had ballooned from $900,000 to more than $2.5 million. Council voted 6-5 against the proposal in July 2008, bringing the debate to a close (at least temporarily). Writing about the decision in the Journal, then-columnist Scott McKeen called Council “hypocritical” and said a majority of them “caved badly under the weight of public pressure.”

There has always been some minor discussion about the signs, but in the last two years, the debate has once again become interesting. In October 2013, vandals made their mark on the signs, replacing the “City of Champions” section with their own humorous slogans like “City of Speed Traps”, “Suck it Calgary”, and “City of Champignons”.

city of champignons

Last fall, Councillor Michael Oshry officially reopened debate about the signs, saying “we need branding that demonstrates what we are about now and where we’re going and not about where we were 30 years ago.” He has since suggested an acceptable initial step would be to simply remove “City of Champions” from the signs. He is expected to make a motion to that effect at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

According to the latest City report, just seven of the major entrance signs remain (the two welcoming visitors from St. Albert and along Highway 28 no longer exist). An option to fund new signs with corporate advertising was quickly dismissed by Mayor Iveson. “Not on my watch,” he said. A new design competition could be an option though, as could a public search for a new slogan. That’s not necessary though, according to Mayor Iveson. “We’re in the post-tagline era,” he said.

For better or for worse, debate about Edmonton’s entrance signs has always been conflated with debate about our brand and image. I’ll examine that in more detail in an upcoming post.

Recap: Retrofutures – Edmonton’s Omniplex Debate

Last month I attended the first ever Retrofutures event, hosted by the Edmonton City as Museum Project. ECAMP is a project from the Edmonton Heritage Council that aims to tell the stories of the people, places, things, and moments that make Edmonton what it is. Retrofutures is a new event series they are trying to get off the ground.

The topic at this event was was the Omniplex, one of the big ideas that Edmonton was considering in the 1960s and early 1970s as the arena debate of that era raged on. The Omniplex was never built, of course, but that presents an interesting thought exercise – what if it had been built?

“The first Retrofutures project from ECAMP takes the case of Omniplex to explore these and other questions. When the idea was first hatched fifty years ago, Omniplex was one of the boldest ideas in urban planning in Western Canada.”

Dr. Russell Cobb has done some research on the Omniplex and started with a presentation on what the Omniplex was all about, as well as the context of the time in which it was being considered. If you haven’t already done so, check out his extensive piece on the Omniplex at The Wanderer.

Retrofutures: Omniplex

After the presentation, he led a panel discussion which featured Paula Simons and Alex Abboud. It was a great conversation, filled with interesting anecdotes and insights. Alex kind of took the position that we should have built it, while Paula took the opposite view. Much of the discussion centered around the impact the Omniplex might have had on downtown, and that raised all sorts of points about the LRT construction, West Edmonton Mall, etc. We also had a mock vote, to decide if we should have built the Omniplex or not. By a narrow margin, the room voted against the Omniplex!

If I have one criticism of the event, it’s that the Omniplex was talked about as if it was the only thing being considered at the time, when in fact it was just the most audacious in a series of arena proposals that failed before the Coliseum (Rexall Place) ultimately went ahead in the early 70s (it opened in 1974). I think you could look at three different plebiscites to support this.

The first took place in 1963. Voters were asked if Council should borrow $4 million to buy land for a megacomplex (which included an arena) to be built where the Citadel sits today. That vote failed. They were also asked if Council should borrow $10.25 million in debt to build the facility, and that vote failed too.

The second plebiscite took place in 1968. That time, voters were asked if they favored the construction of a “Trade Convention and Sports Complex” at a cost of $23 million to be operated at an annual deficit of not more than $2 million. That vote succeeded.

The third plebiscite took place in 1970 in a by-election, and that one was the Omniplex decision. Voters were asked if they wanted Council to borrow $26.4 million to construct the Omniplex – they said no. They were also asked if Council should purchase land north of the proposed site for parking. That vote also failed.

Throughout the decade, a series of arena proposals were put forward by local businessmen and politicians including Sam Hashman and Webb & Knapp. In 1966, after it was condemned by the fire chief, the Edmonton Gardens received a $670,000 renovation, extending its life a little while the arena debate continued. The Oilers moved to the Coliseum for the 1974-1975 season, and the Gardens was eventually demolished in 1982.

Retrofutures: Omniplex

ECAMP has said they plan to hold additional Retrofutures events in the future. Topics could include “what would Edmonton be like if we had not built West Edmonton Mall” or “what would have happened to Edmonton if the freeway through the river valley had gone ahead”. Should be pretty interesting! To find out about upcoming events, check the website and follow them on Twitter.

Have arenas on your mind? Northlands and the Arena Strategy Committee that I am a part of are doing an online survey on the future of Rexall Place. Fill it out and let us know what you think should happen with the arena! The survey is open until January 31, 2015.

The lights are on at Edmonton’s Outdoor Neon Sign Museum

Dozens of Edmontonians braved the cold tonight to join Mayor Iveson, Councillor McKeen, Councillor Knack, and Downtown Business Association Executive Director Jim Taylor for the official launch of the Edmonton Neon Sign Museum on 4th Street Promenade. After probably a bit too much talking, the signs were introduced and the lights came on one-by-one.

Neon Sign Museum

Here’s an overview of the museum:

The primary purpose of this project is to develop an outdoor historic neon sign museum in downtown Edmonton to celebrate the history of neon signage in the city, and to create an engaging outdoor space for cultural tourism as part of the bustling 104th Street Promenade. This unique museum fosters activity and walking traffic in the surrounding area, acting as a light-based form of urban beautification for downtown Edmonton.

The project has been years in the making. Work began in 2008 and the museum has been consistently championed by city planner David Holdsworth, who originated the idea.

The City of Edmonton Heritage Planning has been collecting the historic neon signs at The City of Edmonton Archives over the past few years, salvaging them from both demolished buildings and from buildings where new businesses moved in and removed the signs. The City has collected twelve signs that represent some of the early signage styles and iconic signage forms in Edmonton. The Museum will continue to grow as additional signs – a goal of 30 total – are added in the coming years. Each of the current signs has an accompanying plaque with text panels that tell the stories of the signs, and by doing so the signs speak to the history of Edmonton.

For more on the history of the project, check out Omar’s piece.

Neon Sign Museum

The museum currently features signs from Mike’s News Stand, Canadian National Railway freight-telegrams, Northern Alberta Railway, XL Furniture, W.W. Arcade, Cliff’s Auto Parts, an unidentified drugstore, and Canadian Furniture. Signs still to come are from the Princess Theatre, Pantages Theatre, the Georgia Baths, and a second sign from the W.W. Arcade.

Neon Sign Museum

Sponsors of the museum include the City of Edmonton and the Alberta Sign Association, and community partners include TELUS, the Downtown Business Association, and The Places.

You can see more photos here. Stay tuned for much better photos from the local Flickr group as well!

Edmonton’s Pedway: Wayfinding

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

Have you ever gotten lost in the pedway? You wouldn’t be the first to do so.

In the late 1970s, the City began to think about how to make the pedway more usable, and navigational information (known today as wayfinding) was to play a big part of that. The Pedway Concept Plan of 1976 called for “a standardized information guide applied throughout the system, including directional signs, maps, route directories, and general information signs” and “identification for individual commercial frontages.”

In March 1989, the City published the Downtown Pedway Network Review which highlighted the need for improved signage. “There is a need to develop and implement a directional and information signage program for the pedway network,” it said. “The 1987 pedway user survey revealed that users generally were unaware of the extent of the pedway network beyond a few specific areas.” As is often the case with the City, there was already a project underway to improve the signage when the report came out.

Pedway Documents

In 1987 the City of Edmonton entered into an agreement with Lance Wyman Ltd. for “consulting services in the area of the design of public signage and information systems.” Wyman has had extensive experience in designing branding and wayfinding systems, having worked on the Washington D.C. Metro maps, the Mexico City Metro icons and wayfinding, wayfinding for Midtown Detroit, and branding & wayfinding for Pennsylvania Station in New York City, among many other projects.

Edmonton’s pedway wasn’t the only project Wyman undertook in Alberta. He also designed the branding and wayfinding for Calgary’s +15 network. Here’s what he wrote about it in 2004:

“Symbols can participate with the environment in many ways and can enhance and make a wayfinding system work better. A symbol can be a reminder of history and a functional directional guide at the same time. The Calgary +15 Pedestrian skywalk symbol (bridges and walkways are 15 feet above grade) combines references to the city history and culture (local native Blackfoot star constellation circles, traditional white rodeo hat symbol) to establish a symbol that participates in all aspects of the wayfinding system. Circle patterns are also used to indicate the walking path on +15 maps, and are inlaid into the floors in contrasting materials to indicate the actual walkways. The consistent use of the circle patterns become familiar +15 wayfinding information and is a reference to Calgary history.”

In Edmonton, Wyman’s work was to proceed in three phases. The first would be Preliminary Design, during which data would be collected and Wyman would become familiar with the system. A concept for the pedway system logo, typography, and symbols would also be produced in the first phase. The second phase would be focused on detailed design, resulting in a manual and cost estimates for each element. The third phase would be a demonstration project. The total value of the contract, signed in December 1987, was $117,950.00. Only the first phase at $27,725.00 was funded at first; the other two phases were to proceed subject to funding approval from City Council. The work was to be completed by the fall of 1988.

Wyman eventually produced the City of Edmonton Pedway Signing & Graphics Manual (pictured above), which outlined the pedway network logo, iconography, and other design details. “The Helvetica system of typography was chosen for the Pedway to be compatible with the LRT signing system, which also uses the Helvetica system,” it reads.

pedway levels

Something that may not be immediately apparent is that the pedway logo itself comes in three versions, one for each level of the system. As Wyman puts it, “pedway logos inform pedestrians which of three walkway levels they are on; Subway, Street, or Skywalk.”

Another unique aspect of the design are the directional elements. “The signs give orientation using compass directions that incorporate familiar city landmarks; the North Star to the North, the refineries to the East, the river to the South, the view of the Rockies to the West.”

pedway directions

The manual includes design details on a wide array of different signs, including:

  • Flag Sign (sticks out from building)
  • Wall Sign (flat on building)
  • Elevator Button Sign
  • Pedestal Map
  • Wall Map
  • Waymarker Sign (mounted at baseboard level)
  • Stencil Sign (for paint applications)
  • Overhead Sign
  • Street Name Sign
  • LRT Sign (on the illuminated signs)
  • Entrance Decal (interestingly has different times for entrance hours)

The project was a relative success, and today the signage that Wyman designed can be seen throughout the network. In 1989, the Downtown Pedway Network Review recommended that the designs and signs “be incorporated into the existing portions of the Pedway Network and used in all future pedways.” Furthermore, it recommended that all development agreements should “require installation of this standardized signage system within the pedway link and throughout adjacent developments to ensure ease of access by pedway users.”

Edmonton Pedway Signs

Over the years the signage rolled out, but it very quickly became out-of-date. As new buildings and connections appeared, they did not always follow the same format and some lacked signs altogether. There were long stretches of time during which the pedway map was not updated. Even today, the link to the Downtown Pedway Map on the City of Edmonton’s website takes you nowhere. Today’s system reflects a lack of ownership over the wayfinding aspects of the pedway, resulting in a mess of different signs and maps.

Twenty years after they first tackled the problem, Council decided to do something about wayfinding in the pedway. On November 18, 2009, Executive Committee directed Administration to work with the Downtown Business Association on addressing issues with the pedway, including “signage, way-finding, and new directions, including connections to outside streets.” An ad hoc pedway committee was formed shortly thereafter, and they identified “a system of standardized signage” as a key opportunity. The committee felt that a database should be created containing all of the relevant details about the pedway, so that it could serve as the basis for a web-based map to help people navigate the system.

Edmonton Pedway Signs

The Downtown Pedway Committee was officially established in September 2010 with a mandate to “examine and address the challenges and opportunities” related to the pedway. The committee met six times throughout 2011 and focused their efforts on updating the existing pedway maps, a task they finally completed in March 2012 (you can download it in PDF here). Next they turned their attention to wayfinding.

“The major focus of the Committee has been the creation of an integrated way-finding signage system for the pedway network. A way-finding system performs the essential function of directing, informing and supporting movements that allow public spaces and buildings to function. Such a system is key to ensuring that people can access and use pedways and the transit system efficiently, conveniently and safely. A comprehensive way-finding system involves not only clear directional signage to smooth pedestrian flows, but also includes open spaces beyond the pedway network which extend throughout the downtown, resulting in a more open, uncluttered environment. A comprehensive way-finding system also includes connecting street level activity with the existing multi-level pedway system.”

The Pedway Committee made it clear that they felt improvements to the wayfinding system were necessary, especially given all of the other projects taking place in the downtown area:

“The Pedway Committee feels the time is right to start planning for an integrated way finding signage system for the pedway and throughout the downtown. The downtown is well-positioned to take advantage of this initiative.”

In November 2012 the Pedway Committee made a presentation about the business case for a wayfinding system. They identified “at least 78 different signage types” throughout the pedway network, including 13 in the library parkade alone!

Edmonton Pedway Signs

They proposed a project with three phases to remedy the situaton. The first would be to do initial scoping and conceptual and detailed design. The second phase would focus on a pilot project, with the final phase including final design and rollout of the system beyond the pilot project area. Executive Committee was generally unimpressed with the presentation, and seemed shocked at the cost. The report estimated the cost of implementing such a project at $2 million, a figure based on similar projects that were recently implemented in Calgary and Toronto.

The source of that funding? The report recommended that the project be aligned with the “Green and Walkable Streets” project proposed as part of the downtown CRL. Unfortunately, when Council approved the list of catalyst projects that would be funded under the CRL on May 8, 2013, they broke Green and Walkable Streets into two. The first part, around the arena, was in the “recommended for initial funding” category. The second and much larger part, which includes any potential wayfinding project, was placed in the “to proceed on revenues actually realized” category. In other words, any improvements to the wayfinding system used throughout the pedway are for now dependent on the arena going ahead and the CRL being successful. Improvements may never happen.

So we’re stuck with the same old pedway signage and out-of-date information that has plagued downtown for the past twenty years. We’re stuck with PDF maps instead of mobile apps and other technological advances. And the situation could get even worse with the new arena, Royal Alberta Museum, and numerous other projects being constructed downtown with pedway connections.

It’s important to remember that wayfinding is about more than just signs. “An effective wayfinding system can be a visual ambassador, a means of saying ‘Welcome, let me help you find your way around and enjoy yourself’,” Lance Wyman wrote in 2004. “Wayfinding offers the designer an opportunity to reference the history, culture, and essence of place in an immediate way that will be seen and used on a daily basis.”

Edmonton’s Pedway: The Growth Years

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

The pedway system we know today was largely built in the 1980s. According to the Edmonton Journal in 1990, projects with an estimated value of $679 million were completed between 1983 and 1989 downtown, including $20 million on Jasper Avenue, Rice Howard Way, and the pedway system.

One of the biggest projects was the extension of the LRT line, with construction on Bay and Corona stations beginning in 1980. Subterranean downtown Edmonton must have seemed like paradise in those days, because the LRT construction had an extremely large impact on downtown. Jasper Avenue was under construction for years, and that harmed businesses as much if not more than West Edmonton Mall (which first opened in 1981).

LRT Construction 1980s
Downtown construction, photo by ETS

It wasn’t just the LRT being built though. Of the roughly 40 buildings downtown connected to the pedway, half were built between 1974 and 1984. More buildings were constructed in Edmonton during the 70s than any other decade. It’s no surprise then that the pedway grew significantly during the latter part of this period and in the years immediately following it (as pedway construction tended to lag building construction).

Following the completion of Edmonton Centre in 1974, a series of office towers followed. TD Tower opened in 1976, with the Sutton Place Hotel (Four Seasons Hotel) and 101 Street Tower (Oxford Tower) following in 1978. All three had connections to the pedway built. The Citadel Theatre and Sun Life Place also opened in 1978, and the Stanley Milner Library, constructed in 1967, was first added to the pedway network that year. Canadian Western Bank Place, HSBC Place, and the Standard Life Building all opened in 1980. ATCO Centre and Enbridge Place opened in 1981, followed by Bell Tower and Scotia Place in 1982. Manulife Place and the Shaw Conference Centre opened in 1983. Canada Place capped off a busy period of construction in 1986.

Pedway connections were often added years after a building was first completed. Scotia Place was connected via an above-ground bridge in 1990 when Commerce Place (Olympia & York) opened (though it already had an below-ground connection). The Royal Bank Building, built in 1965, didn’t get a pedway connection until April 1993, one month after an above-ground pedway was built connecting Manulife Place and Edmonton City Centre (Eaton’s Centre). Construction of these connections did not always go smoothly. The bridge connecting City Centre and Manulife was delayed for a variety of reasons, but one was that the hallway from City Centre did not line up with existing “knock-out” panels that Manulife Place had for future pedway construction. That meant blasting through a wall that was not designed to be opened. Still, the bridge came in at a relatively inexpensive $200,000 (the typical above-ground bridge could cost up to $500,000 at the time).

Downtown Pedway c. 1980
Existing & Approved pedway connections, ~1980

Downtown wasn’t the only place pedway-like connections were being built. A $64 million renovation of the Alberta Legislature grounds took place from 1978 to 1982, and one of the key features was an extensive underground pedway system. In the spring of 1985, the Business Building opened on the University of Alberta campus with an above-ground connection to Tory and HUB Mall. It would eventually be connected to the larger system in August 1992 when the University LRT Station opened featuring a below-ground connection to the Dental-Pharmacy Centre and above-ground bridge to HUB Mall.

Though connections continue to be added today, many Edmontonians considered the pedway “complete” in 1990 after two key projects. The first was the extension of the LRT to Grandin Station in 1989, finally linking the downtown pedway network with the Legislature pedway network. The second was much more controversial.

The pedway linking Edmonton Centre and Churchill LRT Station was often called “the final link” in the pedway network. When the City first put the project out for tender, no bid came in at the budgeted amount of $4.9 million. The lowest bid was 14% higher, bringing the cost to $6.2 million. The original design called for a glass wall and an amphitheatre under Churchill Square, in addition to the removal of 16 elm trees. Council requested that the design be tweaked and re-tendered. That delayed the project, but the plan worked. The pedway we know today was designed by MB Engineering Ltd. and constructed by Chandros Construction Ltd., right on the original $4.9 million budget.

Edmonton Centre contributed $600,000 of the budget, and insisted on the skylights and planter boxes. Jim Charuk, Edmonton VP of Oxford Development Group, said at the time that anything less would have become a “people sewer.” The pedway connection first opened for Christmas shoppers on December 14, 1990. It closed during January 1991 so that finishing touches could be put on the project. The pedway officially opened to the public on February 18, 1991.

With the addition of City Hall in 1992, the Winspear Centre in 1997, and the Art Gallery of Alberta in 2010, the downtown pedway network has continued to grow. But today’s network was largely built in the 80s, and it shows.

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.

The ten year cycle of food security in Edmonton

The more I learn about the history of the Food & Agriculture Strategy, the more I find myself wondering: are we going to be at this again in 2022? It turns out that 1992 and 2002 were both key years in the history of “food security” here in Edmonton, yet here we are in 2012 talking about it again. Here’s a look back at two previous efforts to get food security on the municipal agenda.

1992: The Edmonton Food Policy Council

The first and most concrete recommendation that the current draft strategy makes is to “establish the Edmonton Food Council by June 1, 2013.” It’s one of the recommendations that I think everyone can agree upon, and indeed the preamble notes that “it was also strongly supported by stakeholders and the community during the consultation phase as a key pillar in implementing the Strategy and in making Edmonton a leader in food and urban agriculture over the long term.”

The strategy notes that these councils generally exist as advisory bodies for city councils:

Food councils may take many forms, sometimes commissioned by government and sometimes through a strong grassroots and community effort. Food councils have been successful at educating officials and the public, shaping policy, improving coordination between existing programs and starting new initiatives.

If the draft strategy is approved and implementation moves forward, Edmonton will join the long list of more than 200 municipalities across North America that have formed food councils. But what I learned recently is that it would not be our first.

In 1988, a group of community health and social agencies came together to form what was known as the Edmonton Food Policy Council (EFPC). According to a handout produced for a conference a few years later, “the group believed that the community needed to find new solutions through joint action on hunger-related issues.” The initial member organizations included:

  • Boyle Street Community Services Co-operative
  • Edmonton Board of Health
  • Edmonton City Centre Church Corporation (E4C)
  • Edmonton Gleaners Association (Food Bank)
  • Edmonton Social Planning Council

The group was later expanded to include CANDORA, KARA Family Support Services, Edmonton Potato Growers Ltd., Christian Farmers Federation of Alberta, Edmonton Community and Family Services, and Grant MacEwan Community College.

Edmonton Food Policy Council Report

The EFPC scored a victory two years into the effort, receiving $158,000 from the federal government in 1990 to conduct a study on the problems of food availability. Led by Kathryn Olson, the project completed in May 1992 with the release of the final report entitled “Community food needs assessment – a community development approach.” A total of 460 low income Edmontonians were interviewed and the study found that “three-quarters of them were having trouble getting enough healthy food on a regular basis.”

The term “food security” appears on the cover of the report, but when Liane Faulder wrote about it in the January 21, 1991 edition of the Edmonton Journal, she used the term “food insecurity” which she defined in laymen’s terms as “going hungry.” We generally define food security differently today, but in the 1980s and 1990s, the definition was more akin to what we now call food justice.

It was a difficult time for many Edmontonians. The project’s background noted that between January 1983 and December 1984, “the amount of food being distributed by the Edmonton Food Bank increased by a factor of seven from 18,000 pounds to 135,000 pounds of food per month.” By 1987, the Edmonton Food Bank was serving nearly 60,000 families in Edmonton. In 1992, the year the report was released, 105,086 people used the Edmonton Food Bank, according to data from the Edmonton Social Planning Council (totals do not represent unique individuals, and some may access the food bank multiple times per year). Usage peaked in 1996 at 192,067 individuals, and after falling to a 14-year low in 2007 at 125,069 individuals, usage has risen again in the last few years to more than 170,000 individuals per year. But to put those numbers into context, remember that the city’s population has increased from just over 605,538 in 1990 to 817,498 today.

edmonton food bank use

The report was met with a significant amount of criticism. Some attacked the methodology, others demonstrated a lack of understanding of what hunger is – “it doesn’t mean ribs sticking out,” was how Liane Faulder put it at the time. “There are a lot of pieces to hunger,” Kathryn Olson said. A total of ten recommendations for action were made, ranging from reducing the cost of shelter to increasing the opportunity to increase nutritional knowledge and food preparation skills.

I wanted to find out what happened next, so I tracked down Lorraine Green who served as the EFPC’s chairperson from the end of 1991 on. She’s currently the coordinator of the Health For Two program at Alberta Health Services here in Edmonton. We had a great discussion about the council, the report, and other initiatives that were underway at the time. “Edmonton Food Policy Council was probably not the most apt name,” she told me, noting that the group did not actually create any policy.

The EFPC was very active, however. They engaged Planning & Development to work on community gardening, they organized a conference called Food Fight! to discuss issues of food security, they talked to Edmonton Transit about needs they heard in the community, they met with grocery store managers, they met with people from Alberta Agriculture, and they regularly reviewed information and research from other sources. That information sharing proved to be very valuable as each member organization pursued its own initiatives.

While the group mostly served as a place for members to get together to discuss strategies and ideas, a few small projects did get off the ground. Lorraine told me about the “Shopper Shuttle” that was piloted in 1992. In talking with low income families, it was discovered that transportation was a major hurdle for getting to the “mega” grocery stores that had lower prices. Safeway opened its first Food For Less store in Edmonton at 3803 Calgary Trail on July 29, 1984, and Superstore followed suit the following year. Like big box stores today, they were built far from the established residential areas where most lower income folks lived, and with limited bus service you needed a car to get there. The shuttle would drive people from their neighbourhood to the big box stores so they could do their grocery shopping. Enthusiasm for the service was high, but usage turned out to be smaller than expected. Looking back, Lorraine identified a number of practical issues that hampered the shuttle. One was scheduling – if the shuttle came on Friday but you didn’t get paid until Friday, you likely wouldn’t be able to go (you had to get your cheque and cash/deposit it first). Another was perception – the shuttle was quite large and it parked right in front of the grocery store, which meant anyone getting on or off stood out. In the end, the pilot only last about six months.

The EFPC was never an officially registered organization, so there was nothing to really shut down when the time came. “By the end of 1992,” Lorraine remembered, “it had become more of an information sharing group.” Once the funding for the study came to an end, the group was faced with determining next steps. “Coalescing the group around a longer-term mandate was difficult,” she said. The issue was not that there was a lack of interest, but rather that the members were busy with other projects. Their energies were being put into initiatives that are still around today, such as the school lunch program and WECAN.

2002: Edmonton’s Food Charter

The second recommendation that the current draft strategy makes is to “explore the creation of an Edmonton Food Charter.” While the recommendation is a good example of the passive, non-committal language found throughout the document, it does recognize the value in having a food charter. Toronto adopted its food charter in 2001, and I discovered recently that Edmonton nearly followed suit just a year later in 2002.

It was the action in Toronto that prompted Marjorie Bencz of Edmonton’s Food Bank to start exploring the adoption of a food charter in earnest. She had attended a national food security conference there, and discussed Toronto’s new charter with her board members. Despite some reservations about the content of Toronto’s Food Charter, the Food Bank did send a letter to Mayor Bill Smith expressing interest in working on a similar initiative here in Edmonton.

He referred the letter to the Family and Community Services Department, and thus began a series of discussions between the City and the group of stakeholders that Marjorie had helped to bring together (many of the same folks were involved in the Edmonton Food Policy Council actually). Throughout 2002, the group met on a number of times to discuss what a food charter should include and how it might be adopted. While the drafts created were certainly broader than the work the EFPC had done ten years earlier, they still dealt primarily with food justice.

Community Services drafted a report for Council in September 2002, but it never actually got onto an agenda. I wanted to know what happened, so I got in touch with Joyce Tustian, who was the general manager of Community Services at the time. “There was concern that perhaps we were moving beyond the City’s mandate,” she recalled. Her department was trying to plan for the future, but there was lots of uncertainty about what should be considered municipal work and what was out of scope. “The boundaries weren’t as clear as they are today,” she told me.

The lack of clarity around what role the City would play and the lack of support outside the initial stakeholder group may have been factors that caused the effort to stall. One of the biggest differences between then and now is that the City now has an established policy framework to work with. The Way Ahead and associated plans have been very effective at providing a context within which Administration can operate. In the absence of that sort of framework, initiatives such as the food charter “had to be held up individually,” Joyce said.

There was some early work taking place on establishing a policy framework, but it hadn’t progressed very far. Council had a vision for dealing with economic development, but not much else. In 1999, Councillor Michael Phair pushed for a broader vision, an effort that ultimately led to the adoption of City Council’s Vision for Social Well-Being and Quality of Life in September 2000. The draft report in September 2002 recommended that Edmonton’s Food Charter be incorporated into that vision.

Here’s an early draft of the charter (undated, but I think it was from early-mid 2002):

It seems the final draft of the food charter was lost, but here’s what was circulating in early 2003:

In concert with City Council’s Vision for Social Well Being and Quality of Life and Canada’s national commitment to food security by signing the United Nations Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights that includes the right to be free of hunger, the City of Edmonton supports the following beliefs:

Every Edmonton citizen has the right to adequate, safe, nutritious, affordable and culturally appropriate food.

Food security contributes to the health and well-being of citizens while reducing the need for medical care and improving their quality of life.

Sustainability of our food supply means ensuring that citizens have a safe and high quality food supply for now and the future.

Food security can only be achieved when it is approached within the context of increased self-sufficiency through supportive community environments and enhanced economic opportunity.

It’s fascinating to think that Edmonton could have been one of the first cities in Canada to adopt a food charter.

Final Thoughts

When I first came across the previous Edmonton Food Policy Council and draft Edmonton Food Charter, a thousand questions popped into my head. I wondered why I had never heard of them before, and why the current initiative made no mention of previous efforts. I wondered why both the Food Policy Council and the Food Charter seemed to fail, and if there were lessons there that could be applied to today.

What stands out for me is that in both instances there was a groundswell of community support and that is what really got things moving. Neither effort was initiated by the City, though it supported both. Maybe the Food Policy Council and Food Charter were just ahead of their time for Edmonton (certainly finding information now was difficult because it’s not archived online somewhere, it’s in folders and boxes in people’s offices).

I asked Hani Quan, principal planner on the Food & Agriculture Strategy, what he thought and he agreed that we simply may not have been ready for a Food Council or Food Charter in the past. “Today people recognize food is one of the levers that has potential to help address complex issues,” he said.

The context in which today’s Food & Agriculture Strategy is being considered is certainly much different than that of 1992 or 2002. Everything has changed, demographically, economically, and politically. We have a City Council now that has shown great leadership in establishing a forward-looking vision for the City of Edmonton, and I think that’s the key that will make a future Food Council and Food Charter successful.