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'A phenomenal idea': Edmonton to make downtown avenue car free, at least for a while

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After a tight vote of 7-6, Edmonton City Council is going to try out a plan to ban vehicles from a section of 102 Avenue.

The idea is to make the downtown corridor from 99 Street to 103 Street more "pedestrian friendly," and city staff were asked to close the traffic lane "as soon as possible."

Council plans to test out the initiative for the summer and may extend the closure with a future vote on a bylaw for a one-year pilot project.

"I understand the instinct to stick to what's familiar," Coun. Anne Stevenson said of her motion, which also states the closure needs to "accommodate emergency services access."

"At the same time, I'm just hearing so clearly from residents who are excited by this idea and who do want change and who do want a different way of being downtown."

But some councillors had concerns that the change is being rushed, without proper consultation with businesses in the area that rely on customers who arrive in vehicles.

"This is not about whether it’s a good idea, this is about the process to actually properly examine that idea, and that’s where I have some reservations," Coun. Tim Cartmell said.

 "Like many, I also agree that it's a phenomenal idea. I also agree that I would love to see this in the future. But I do think it's coming at a time where we haven't signalled enough notice to downtown stakeholders," Coun. Erin Rutherford said.

She pointed out that the road just underwent a major redesign and rebuild to include sidewalks, bike lanes and a single lane of traffic, as part of an LRT expansion.

The portion of 102 Avenue has been closed for more than four years for construction and was scheduled to reopen on June 30.

"Let's see how this current design activates this space, naturally," Rutherford urged council before the vote.

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi voted in favour of the car-free zone, as well as a motion that passed unanimously to study the city's process for closing other urban roads to vehicles, in favour of pedestrians.

"I think we need to find ways to animate these places, and I agree with other colleagues that there are other places that we need to activate as well," Sohi said.

One example used was 102 A Avenue directly in front of city hall. A previous council voted to close that space to cars to create a continuous car-free space from the front doors of the hall to the far end of Churchill Square.

"If I made a motion today to reopen that corridor, how many of you would vote to reopen that corridor to vehicles? I would guess probably none." Coun. Andrew Knack said.

"It's actually become one of our best spaces, I think, for people to gather. We have festivals there regularly."

The 102 Avenue corridor idea was first raised, and then promoted for months, by local advocacy group Paths For People.

"We thought this is a spectacular idea to really open up the space, revitalize our core, especially as the Valley Line (LRT) is about to open," chair Stephen Raitz told CTV News Edmonton.

Councillors Tim Cartmell, Jennifer Rice, Sarah Hamilton, Erin Rutherford, Karen Principe and Keren Tang voted against the motion.