Poor Jasper Avenue, Rossdale Land Sale, Star Wars in Edmonton

Here’s the latest entry in my Edmonton Etcetera series, in which I share some thoughts on a few topical items in one post. Less than I’d write in a full post on each, but more than I’d include in Edmonton Notes. Have feedback? Let me know!

A new vision for Jasper Avenue

Back in May 2009, I attended the first open house for the Jasper Avenue New Vision project. Then in November of that year, a more in-depth open house was held at Enterprise Square. Six years later, only a tiny portion of that vision has come to life between 100 Street and 102 Street. The original project was meant to cover Jasper Avenue between 97 Street and 111 Street. In theory that work will still get done, but don’t hold your breath! Already the City is conducting public engagement on the rest of Jasper Avenue, west of 109 Street. I guess that makes sense, given how long it has taken them to get to this point, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could finish the original project first?

Cyclist, Jasper Avenue, March 22. 2015
Cyclist, Jasper Avenue, March 22. 2015, photo by More Bike Lanes Please

Here’s what a recent Edmonton Journal editorial said about our city’s main street:

“Pity poor Jasper Avenue. It has always been the canary in the recessionary coal mine in our city — it can go downhill very quickly when the economy softens. The signs are there already, bringing back echoes of Edmonton’s bad old reputation as Deadmonton.”

In general I agree with Paul who wrote in response that “the sense of doom and gloom is overstated and unhelpful.” Yes there are empty spaces along Jasper Avenue that badly need to be filled, but there are plenty of examples of positive changes to the street too.

Filling those spaces is important but it’s not enough. What Jasper Avenue could really benefit from is a reduction in traffic lanes and wider sidewalks throughout, not just around 101 Street. Here’s what I wrote back in 2009:

“Almost every feature of Jasper Avenue is geared toward vehicle traffic. Any redevelopment needs to shift the focus to pedestrian traffic.”

Sadly, not much has changed.

Rossdale land sale to the Province

Council voted this week to move forward with negotiations to sell a block of land in Rossdale to the Province for about $13 million. The land, located southwest of 96 Avenue and 105 Street, is considered “surplus to municipal requirements” and is currently vacant park land with just four houses. The Province wants the land so that it can “restrict development on these lands to protect the view corridor to the legislature from the bridge crossing.”

The problem is that the City’s West Rossdale Urban Design Plan aims to “create a complete, mixed-use, highly liveable, walkable, and sustainable community” that could be home to 4,500 people. Council feels that the money isn’t the problem anymore (the $13 million is apparently market rate) but they are concerned about fit with the urban design plan. If the Province won’t allow any development on the land, that could be an issue.

The West Rossdale plan does include a recommendation to “reserve and enhance view corridors” so that part is aligned at least.

Star Wars in Edmonton

Forget Christmas, Star Wars is what everyone is talking about right now. And that means the media are looking for local angles to basically tell the same story as every other news organization in the world right now: people are excited for this movie! And why not, the reviews sound incredibly positive.

South Edmonton Common’s Cineplex theatre is one of six across Canada offering a Star Wars movie marathon where fans can watch the original six films before seeing the new one. Good luck getting tickets though, as well over 6000 tickets had already been sold at the southside theatre by Monday. Still, five of the theatre’s sixteen screens will be showing the new Star Wars movie. On Friday, The Force Awakens will play 103 times in Cineplex theatres throughout Edmonton.

So we know it’s going to be a big deal. If you’re going to wait a few days to watch it, then you can read about it in the meantime. Here is 5 ways to “find the Force” from an Edmonton Star Wars superfan, and of course there are interviews with lots of other Star Wars superfans. Here’s a sneak peek at the movie from an official Star Wars artist who lives right here in Edmonton. Even Paula decided to write about Star Wars this week! If you’re looking for a primer on what happened after Return of the Jedi, read this.

May the force be with you!

Jasper Avenue New Vision – November 2009 Update

Back in May I attended the first open house for the Jasper Avenue New Vision project, an initiative that seeks to re-establish Jasper Avenue as the main street of Edmonton. Tonight another open house was held at Enterprise Square downtown, to provide an update on the project and a lot more detail on the plans and designs. Like last time, there were large posters, a 3D foam model, and a presentation. This time however, the presentation was much more in-depth.

Jasper Avenue New VisionJasper Avenue New Vision

Mark Reid of Urban Strategies hosted once again, and began by stressing that the New Vision project is about more than just the streetscape. It takes into consideration the adjacent streets, and is really about targeting re-investment to strengthen downtown’s economic advantage. Much of the presentation focused on the six “big moves”:

  1. Re-vision Jasper Avenue: A catalyst for downtown investment
  2. Civic and Cultural Riverfront Centre
  3. Veterans Park Intensification Area
  4. Capitol District Intensification
  5. Warehouse Community
  6. Railtown Centre

The first big move is to make Jasper Avenue the signature street in Edmonton, reflecting the vibrancy and diversity of the city. Some of the key principles the team has used include: Place Making, The Streetscape, Prioritize Transit/Pedestrian Use, Built Form, Winter City, Activate Ground Floors, Residential Focus, Sustainability, Leadership & Commitment.

The key recommendation for Jasper Avenue is related to space. Currently the street is 30m wide, 21.8m of which is devoted to paved lanes, and 8.2m of which is devoted to sidewalks (4.1m on either side). Essentially 75% of Jasper Avenue is for cars and buses – 4 thru lanes, 2 parking/transit lanes, and 1 turn lane. The plan is to reduce that to 60% – 2 thru lanes, 2 thru/transit/parking lanes, and 1 turn lane, resulting in 17.6m for paved lanes and 6.2m of sidewalk on either side. There would be no parking during rush hour, and only two lay-bys would remain (the space for buses to park on the side). Additionally, the curb lane would be wider to help facilitate transit and cyclists. Traffic volume statistics show that the roadways that run parallel to Jasper Avenue are very underutilized, so there appears to be capacity for this reconfiguration to work.

Jasper Avenue New Vision
Jasper Avenue and 106th Street, facing northwest

Another set of recommendations are related to the streetscape. I noted a few main ideas:

  • Larger trees, by increasing the amount of soil available for each tree by 5 times. In addition to playing a visual role, the trees are an important part of storm water removal.
  • A “grander” looking sidewalk, with steel-faced curbs to reduce the damage caused by winter snow removal, among other things.
  • Heated sidewalks, powered by a glycol system that would pipe waste heat from buildings through the sidewalks. The idea is that Jasper Avenue sidewalks would never need to be shoveled, sanded, or salted ever again!
  • Four scramble intersections, tentatively located at 99th Street, 100th Street, 105th Street, and 108th Street.
  • Newspaper boxes, seating, and other “clutter” would largely move to side streets, keeping Jasper Avenue clean looking. With the removal of lay-bys, you would have a mostly clear, straight sight-line down the Avenue.

There are also recommendations for the appearance of buildings along Jasper Avenue. The team has identified four main categories:

  1. 13% of the facades are heritage buildings or contribute positively.
  2. 18% require some sort of major retrofit.
  3. 32% of the facades are candidates for redevelopment.
  4. 37% require some sort of minor retrofit.

These are all part of the Urban Design Framework, a document that itself will form part of the Capital City Downtown Plan.

Jasper Avenue New Vision
Jasper Avenue & 105th Street, facing northeast

Less time was spent on the other “big moves”, I think because the presenters were running out of time! In the study area today, there are just 2.6 hectares of municipally-owned park space, which is about 3% of the total space. A key target is to increase that to 8%, which is what the Veterans Park Intensification and the Civic and Cultural Riverfront Centre moves are aimed at. Some of the key ideas include:

  • The creation of “MacDonald Central Park” in front of Hotel MacDonald (Mark cited Bryant Park in New York as an example). The park would link up to the “Riverfront Heritage Trail” behind the hotel, which in turn would connect with Veterans Park.
  • The introduction of “mews” throughout downtown – pedestrian-only streets, essentially.
  • Expanding and improving Beaver Hills House Park, as part of the proposed Warehouse Community.

Overall the ideas presented are quite exciting, and when Mark asked for a show of hands indicating support, nearly everyone raised their arm.

In total, the plans call for an increase of:

  • 8,300,793 GSF of residential space
  • 1,173,454 GSF of office space
  • 656,487 GSF of retail space

Which if implemented today, would result in a $19 million increase in tax revenues.

The big question, of course, is how much this will cost and when it’ll happen. Mark said costing information will come in the next phase (winter 2010), which also includes preliminary streetscape and engineering designs, and a finalized urban design framework. Some of the work will happen anyway, though. The trolley wires are scheduled to be removed, and Central LRT station is in need of renovations due to water leaks, work that is tentatively scheduled for 2012. Beyond that, no details were provided.

A lot of information was presented this evening, and I’m not sure I’ve done it justice here. It’s one thing to read about the recommendations, and quite another to see the detailed diagrams and other artwork. I really wish they’d update the website with more information and visuals!

Jasper Avenue New Visions

Tonight I stopped by the first of two open houses for the Jasper Avenue New Visions initiative. Part of the Capital City Downtown Plan, the project aims to develop a vision to re-establish Jasper Avenue as the main street of Edmonton. I have worked on Jasper Avenue for over five years now, and while there have been some changes in that time, they haven’t been significant (though lately this has been changing). I was curious to see what the future might hold.

The consultants on the project are Toronto-based Urban Strategies, led by former Edmontonian Mark Reid. Other firms involved include Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg of Vancouver, and Edmonton-based ISL Engineering & Land Services, Armin A. Preiksaitis & Associates and HIP Architects.

Jasper Avenue New VisionsJasper Avenue New Visions

The open house took place in the main floor atrium of Enterprise Square. Along one wall was satellite imagery of the areas being considered by the project, and next to that were a bunch of flip chart sheets with lists of challenges and aspirations created by the team throughout the day. There was a projector and a bunch of seats setup, and not far from that was the 3D styrofoam model of Edmonton’s downtown. The remaining walls and separators were plastered with drawings, maps, and other designs.

Mark gave a brief presentation to the dozen or so in attendance, and then led everyone around the room to talk about some of the posters and drawings, finishing with the 3D model. Here are some observations from the event (and about the plan):

  • The project focuses on Jasper Avenue from 97th street to 111th street.
  • The heart of the project is the Central LRT Station, which is being planned for rehabilitation in 2013.
  • There’s a combination of infill development, large development areas, and open spaces in the concepts.
  • Edmonton’s estimated population for 2041 is 1,158,872. The goal is to attract 6% of the growth or 24,000 people to downtown. That translates into roughly 75 twenty storey apartment buildings.
  • Jasper Avenue is wide enough to support seven lanes of traffic. In comparison to other downtowns, the amount of pedestrian space on Jasper Avenue is incredibly small.
  • In fact, almost every feature of Jasper Avenue is geared toward vehicle traffic. Any redevelopment needs to shift the focus to pedestrian traffic. Think back to the Stanley Cup run of 2006, and this becomes crystal clear. I took video of both Whyte Avenue and Jasper Avenue – Whyte was full of people, Jasper was full of vehicles.
  • Height restrictions due to the City Centre Airport are a challenge, but not as big as you might think. The strictest height limitations are west of 109th street. However, Mark did admit that the airport is one of the main reasons our skyline lacks a recognizable, tall structure.

The timeline for the project is as follows:

  • Phase 1: Concepts – November 2008 to May 2009
  • Phase 2: Finalizing the Urban Design Concept – May 2009 to June 2009
  • Phase 3: Preparing the Public Realm Concept – June 2009 to September 2009
  • Phase 4: Preparing the Preliminary Design Drawings – September 2009 to November 2009

One of the more interesting displays was a timeline describing Jasper Avenue from the early 1900s up to now. It started as the commercial district for the city, centered between 96th and 99th streets. By the 1930s, Jasper Avenue had become a prestigious business address. Through the 1960s, higher scale development started, a number of historic buildings were demolished, and vehicles were more prominent. Suburbanization through the 1980s led to the decline of Jasper Avenue, and the launch of initiatives to help revitalize the street. Today, we’re starting to see renewal though continued outward growth poses major competition.

What will it be like in 2020?

You can see the rest of my photos from tonight here. The second open house is tomorrow from 2pm to 4pm in the main floor atrium of Enterprise Square (10230 Jasper Avenue).