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Opportunity, right in the centre of Jasper Place

Update – The purchase has been approved by Council!

 

Second only in impact to the approval of a statutory Area Redevelopment Plan next year, in a single-effort tomorrow, City Council could be in the position of granting a substantial opportunity to the west-end and in particular, the communities of the Jasper Place area in Ward 1.

The orange building at the corner of 100th avenue and 156th street, the site of a former school in the Town of Jasper Place, has long-been a distinctive mark. It’s also centered between four communities undergoing a dedicated revitalization, across the street from the Jasper Place transit terminal, and adjacent to a future LRT stop, within an active business revitalization zone, and within an area of Stony Plain Road envisioned to be a walkable pedestrian coordinator and vibrant urban market.

A decision by MacEwan University’s board of governors in 2009, to consolidate operations around it’s downtown campus means an open opportunity for the future of the building and site.

Slated to begin construction in 2013, with a opening targeted for 2015;

The new facility will house operations for the Centre for the Arts & Communications (CFAC), which will relocate from the west end campus.


Students will remain in the west end until the new facility is complete.

Yesterday evening several interested community league’s gathered to learn more about MacEwan’s plans and possible future options and processes for repurposing the site. Officials see a likely future for the facility in serving the public in some way, and any sale will need the approval of the provincial government through an order in council.

City staff have been discussing a possible purchase of the facility for some time now. With a possible future use an “arts incubator”.

With the surrounding communities looking for an investment in local amenities, and an adjacent business revitalization zone looking to create an attractive urban market, there is opportunity here. And with a decision today, Council can move the purchase forward. An arts incubator perhaps, space for community meetings, activities and programs, or more – right next to a future LRT transit station.

The loss of an educational facility in the community need not be a loss at all, just a new direction for an accessible, centrally located facility, at the four corners of neighbourhoods with a combined population of over 15,000. Officially sponsored revitalization efforts will have ended by the time MacEwan University has moved downtown, a decision to purchase this orange icon tomorrow, could be the best way for the city to end those efforts and send the communities of West Jasper Place, Glenwood, Canora, Britannia-Youngstown as well Sherwood, Jasper Park and more, off into their future.

 

 


 

Next Stop

Edmonton council nixes proposal for 40th Avenue LRT station

““You’ve got this billion-dollar LRT and it’s not relevant to all the neighbourhoods it cuts right through.” – Coun. Iveson

“I’m a bit appalled that we would be looking at $22 million for something that’s only been open a couple of years,” said Coun. Jane Batty, saying she would like to see the train run to all four corners of the city first. “I just think we have other fish we should be frying for LRT lines.”

 

Earlier today, a proposal by Councillor Iveson to add an LRT station at 40th avenue was flattened on the track by the Transportation Committee of City Council.

So much of Edmonton’s future LRT expansion will be retrofitted through existing neighbourhoods, roads and right-of-ways.  It’s in that vein that today’s decision by the committee and the quotes above, I believe merit the attention of Community Leagues, advocates, and the folks who will be looking to make use of light-rail in their communities on day.

A fears years ago, I had the opportunity to chat in depth with a member of a University-area Community League who was actively involved in south-side LRT expansion.  The debate over the West LRT line was in full swing, and having recently taken over a the civics director for a west-end league, I was looking for advice from someone who had looking at the topic as a community advocate for some time. The conversation was focused on one topic, taking a multi-billion dollar transit investement and getting it right for the communities affected.  That the focus for decision makers needed to be on serving the communities expansion transits.  Decisions such as forgoing consideration of additional stops in redeveloping mature neighbourhoods for a tunnel-vision on 20 minute ride-times from the end to downtown, was largely missing the forest for the trees.

We see the contrast today, with the quotes above, between detail and completion.  Between working at the most local of levels to serve communities, and focusing in on the end of the line and ribbon cutting day.

No, not every community can get what it wants, but nor in a changing and growing city, can we really consider a LRT line complete just because it’s moving riders.  A demand for a station, a demand for service, and the consideration of potential ridership and local transit-related redevelopment should carry the same weight whether the line is a few years old, or 30 years-old.  The same goes for mature and inner city communities looking to increase service of proposed and developing LRT lines in their communities.  They shouldn’t be placed in a situation where their desires and concerns are quickly dismissed and/or outweighed by a focus on suburban ride times or focusing on the construction of one LRT at the expense of the functionality of another.  That may help to hurry along the development of future LRT routes, but for an investment of this size, do we want to just build it, or build it darn well for our communities and our city?

 

Area 6

The City has completed a round of public consultation exercises for the Mill Woods to Lewis Estates LRT line, featuring an additional session last night for “Area 6 -149 Street to Lewis Farms Transit Centre”.  A previous go-around had us west-end folks crammed into the Meadowlark Community Hall, seemingly well beyond the hall’s fire capacity.  A second night and larger venues this time around were more than welcome.  Before I forget something, a quick run-through of some of yesterday’s discussions..

Grant MacEwan is on the move, vacating their Jasper Place arts campus in favor of a centralized operation downtown.  The city is negotiating to buy the site, which opens up some interesting opportunities for future use.  Councillor Sloan made the suggestion, of adding public washrooms at a mid-point in the west line.  The city’s potential ownership of the Grant MacEwan site and the rest of the south-east corner at 156st and SPR makes this a logical point in the line, to do so.

The next stop to the south is 95th avenue and 156st.  97th avenue is part of a designated bike trail through the Jasper Place area, and bike lanes are going to be installed along 95th.  As such, we had a good discussion at our table about bike storage facilities, namely something that serves a dual-purpose as a form of public art.

Transit Oriented Development is of course an issue.  The TOD guidelines have been approved, and communities now have a desire to see some specific area planning done around their stations.  Staff were on hand who commented that TOD planning would be done along 156st, and full Area Redevelopment Plans are on the horizon for Glenwood, Canora, West Jasper Place and Britannia-Youngstown, though no time-table was available.

The flow of people and vehicles after construction was discussed.  Along 156st there was a desire to see the installation of signalized pedestrian crossings at several intersections.  For Glenwood, we again recommended moving our neighborhood’s signalized entrance/exit along 156st, from 97th avenue to 98th.  97th becomes a free-way at times, wide and open, allowing for high-speed cut-through traffic in the neighborhood.  98th on the other hand dead-ends, inhibiting such behaviour.  For the 170st overpass, there was a desire to see a pedestrian bridge incorporated in the design.

We all had a strong desire not to see transit stops and public realm investment becoming generic installations.  Rather they should be tailored to the history, character, and design of their host communities, for example, an olde town feel in older areas such as Glenora and JPlace.

Finally, the biggie, the west’s status, as staging plans have construction of line starting in Mill Woods and ending eventually in the west..  With several community league reps at the table, it’s probably no surprise that discussion turned towards advocacy.  Specifically what communities and stakeholders can do along the lines of helping to secure funding from higher levels of government, and to encourage desired modifications to the final design.  There’s strength in numbers and as we head back to report in to our individual league’s, we’ll see what grows from this spark.

 

 

Make up your mind

There’s an interesting article out in the Edmonton Journal regarding resistance to the proposed downtown LRT corridor (part of the proposed Lewis Estates to Millwoods low-floor corridor).

Of course having been neck deep in the WLRT corridor debate back in the day, there’s a few things that caught my attention, bringing back memories of 2009.

“All I hear from communities, and I hear lots, is that our administration is absolutely intransigent,” Mayor Stephen Mandel told transportation officials.

“(You) say, ‘We will listen to you’, but you have no intention of listening to anybody. You have your minds made up.”

The first being a word (highlighted above) which no doubt gave the senior transit planners in attendance, bad flashbacks to 2008.  The second being my flashback to 2009,“(You) say, ‘We will listen to you’, but you have no intention of listening to anybody. You have your minds made up .”

The 2009 public involvement process for West LRT corridor selection was preceeded by the annual  State of the City address (quoted below)…

Imagine an area like Stony Plain road maybe, with tons of shops and cafes and trendy apartments or lofts above each one. You can live and work on the same street and have the LRT connecting you to everything else, and everything else to you.

It wasn’t easy trying to find value in “public consultation” when the city’s lead decision maker picked his route, and announced it at the podium the day before.  In the end, someone’s gotta make a decision.  In the beginning, sometimes it’s best just to be quiet and listen.

Turn Right at 107th

Below is a letter to the editor of mine which was published by the Edmonton Journal in December of 2009, just prior to Council approving bylaw 15101, which established among other routes, a west lrt line utilizing Stony Plain Road.

Between presentations to Council, letters, press releases, community notices, FOIP requests, opinion pieces and blog posts, I don’t care to count how many thousands of words I’ve written about the West LRT.  With the ability to connect West Edmonton to the existing line via the University area, the destinations it will be extended to, and the opportunity to build a unified back haul LRT system across our city, I’ll always consider the former 87th avenue option superior to a low-floor line traveling down Stony Plain Road, through a number of accessibility issues, and question marks standing between it and redevelopment potential, before connecting to the downtown circulator and heading off to Mill Woods.

With the Federal Government refusing to advance Edmonton’s 2017 Expo, the sense of urgency to present the West LRT for Provincial and Federal funding is gone, and it showed at a public hearing this past December when Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee choose to advance the proposed West LRT conceptual plan to Council without a recommendation and endorsement.  The public criticism at the hearing, of a flawed, and disjointed public involvement process wasn’t a surprise, neither were some concerns and criticisms brought on by more detailed conceptual planning.  The effect of the expo bid on Council was evident on the hearing’s second day, when Council spent time asking questions of administration.  The process of WLRT selection began with 87th avenue, and seemingly ended with Stony Plain Road, without ever featuring a significant look at 107th avenue, a fact pointed out by Mayor Mandel on December 9th.  The Mayor referenced the limited consideration of 107th avenue, and asked questions relating to the ability to serve the SPR commercial district from a single stop at 156st, and the additional ridership potential of a 107th avenue alignment. Given the time available to ensure the best possible corridor for West Edmonton, I think it would be beneficial for all involved for Council to take the opportunity, beginning on January 19th when detailed conceptual plans on are on their agenda, to begin the process of splitting the West LRT from Transportation Bylaw 15101, and referring the corridor back to administration with direction to begin a public consultation process, and detailed route analysis for a 107th avenue corridor.

Another strong point made during the public hearing in December, was by Councillor Leibovici in regards to the future of the Jasper Place Transit Terminal and Jasper Place Revitalization Strategy.  The strategy, crafted in consultation with the community, and approved by Council in early 2009, included a plan to revitalize the northeast corner of the Glenwood Community, by reconfiguring the JP Terminal/Butler Park area as a multi-use townsquare for Glenwood and neighboring communities.

Like most strategies and work plans in the revitalization area, including the proposed Stony Plain Road workplan, the plan has remained in a holding pattern, pending further decisions regarding the West LRT.  The funding and civic resources currently assigned to the Jasper Place Area, are a limited-time opportunity for the communities bordering Stony Plain Road, and indeed in demand in other locations in the city.  Utilizing 107th avenue for the WLRT provides the ability to serve the Revitalization Area with a future LRT stop, without significantly impacting current workplans and revitalization efforts.

Another aspect that must be considered is the environment which is being created for current and future redevelopment.  An LRT alone is not, and never has been, a single-solution to redevelopment and revitalization potential.  In December 2009, I delivered a case study presentation to Council comparing Stony Plain Road and the proposed WLRT corridor to Washington Street in downtown Hillsboro, Oregon.

Presentation Text

Presentation Pics

Both streets share a similar set of characteristics (accessibility, right-of-way, social/physical environment), with the proposed WLRT providing a similar level of service to SPR as the Max Blue Line does to Washington St.  Comments from Hillsboro note that the vibrancy of area has declined.

It was a quote from George Crandall of the consulting firm, Crandall Arambula, in which referencing Hillsboro, he noted that subtle differences can greatly affect the vitality of the area.  The same consulting firm is drafting the City of Edmonton’s Transit Oriented Development Guidelines , and a related Planning Academy Course.  Through the consultation process for both, I’ve had the opportunity over the past few months to meet Mr. Crandall, and attend several sessions conducted by the firm regarding TOD planning and development.  Throughout the sessions, a number of key themes were stressed as elements of successful TOD retail development (of note for a commercial corridor such as SPR), such as:

Complete Streets

Connection to the Station

Located on a street with curbside parking

Located on a street with adequate drive-by traffic

One item of note in particular was the creation of Transit Oriented main streets, existing adjacent to, not as, transit corridors.

A scenario which would seem to create a far more viable future for Stony Plain Road, should it be provided an LRT transit stop on a 107th avenue alignment, while maintaining through traffic, available parking, and side street access, without having to sacrifice any of it’s access ways, right-of-way, or potential re-development sites, to accommodate an LRT transit corridor.

As I’ve previously posted, documents obtained via a freedom of information request show a negligible difference in ‘potential’ redevelopment sites between 107th avenue and Stony Plain Road.  Combined with the ability to still provide rapid transit access to SPR and it’s neighboring revitalization areas, without significantly hindering local revitalization, the enhanced right-of-way along 107th, and the potential for increased ridership, with time available to consult the communities involved, and develop a conceptual plan, Council would do well to take the opportunity on the 19th to refer the WLRT back to administration.

__________

As an active participant in the West LRT debate, I read with interest Paula Simon’s latest foray into advocacy for the Stony Plain Road LRT corridor. When the proposed amendments to bylaw 15101 started piling up last Friday, it seemed obvious that council was unprepared for two days of significant, well researched, and well-spoken opposition to the Stony Plain Road route.

Since the start of what’s been a long, drawn out, and frequently delayed process for selecting a corridor for much needed and long-overdue light-rail expansion, there’s been no shortage of ideological arguments for the SPR “everything to everybody” route. “It’s a people mover, a commuter route, a revitalization engine for downtown and the Jasper Place area, a streetcar like system to encourage shopping, dining, and walkability like Portland’s Pearl district, the route of the future, a round-the-city link from Millwoods to WEM. But there’s no consensus.”

Before we play fast and loose with a multi-billion dollar investment, there is still a strong case to made for the 87th Avenue route; as well, there are questions to be answered, and potential fatal flaws in the proposed SPR corridor that must be addressed.

The most heavily weighted of the latest criteria for west LRT expansion is Land Use/Compact Urban Form.

As Paula addressed in her article, communities along the SPR corridor are as a whole, far more compliant with the goals of higher density land-use than those along the 87th Avenue corridor.

Unlike their counterparts to the south, they are neither stagnant in terms of growth, nor severely lacking in higher-density housing developments. Citizens of these neighbourhoods enjoy strong ETS bus service to the downtown area, and are less likely to own a vehicle than their fellow Edmontonians in neighborhoods to the south.

The best option for building a compact urban form, and encouraging more residents to leave their cars behind, would be a link across the river which divides our growing city, providing an opportunity to encourage transit use in some of Edmonton’s least dense neighbourhoods.

At the same time it would link the west-end to a bounty of employment opportunities in the city’s second largest employment centre, providing quick, permanent access to the Uof A, U of A hospital, the Stollery and the Cross Cancer Institute, as well as one of the top transit hubs for Edmonton’s existing LRT infrastructure.

At the same time, it would provide such benefits as opening up access to one of our top tourist destinations, and provide an exciting opportunity for much-needed affordable housing for future university students.

That said, the ringer which seems to have won the tug of war between 87th Avenue and SPR is the potential for transit-oriented-development, and transit-oriented development-based revitalization, both of which are by far more mythological than factual in this city and climate.

Can tranist-oriented development succeed in a narrow right-of-way where transit stops will be few and far between, side-walks are narrow, access for persons with disabilities is questionable, pedestrians will constantly have to cross a busy street to reach the centre-lane transit stop, and bicyclists will be squeezed out of the narrow remaining traffic lanes by heavy traffic?

Can it occur on a mass scale at all in a city where it has failed to take hold despite decades of light-rail service in the city?

Yes 87th Avenue will require tunneling under “heritage neighborhoods”, an argument against 87th Avenue which swings dangerously to the NIMBY.

However, there is almost no risk posed to the “historic homes” in question, while never have a small group of river valley residents been promised an isolated, untouched, rural setting in the city’s core, nor have the same been promised that much needed river crossings to connect the city would be kept from the view of their backyards.

At a time when we are setting aside future road expansion for the growth of our transit system in order to reduce the number of vehicles from our congested roadways, we’ve been handed a shining opportunity to build a world-class LRT system along 87th Avenue to serve some of Edmonton’s top amenities. This can be done without compromising any of our arterial or collector roads, appropriating property to accommodate hair-pin turns, or compromising any much-needed revitalization efforts

And perhaps most importantly, it will give us a chance to encourage a new generation of transit riders, rather than simply shifting transit users in a dozen mature communities from one form of transit to another.

Leadership on Display

Patient welfare and LRT expansion both took a blast through the bow today in the crossfire of party politics.

One of the strongest draws to me in seeking a seat in civic government was the ability of Councillors to act and vote freely based on one’s own conscience and constituent concerns. In the same month where my family was forced to deal with the disastrous state of health care in Alberta, Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA, Dr. Raj Sherman took a stand for patients and front-line staff, speaking honestly on the problem plaguing the system.  Today he finds himself suspended from the Tory Caucus. The only physician in the Conservative Caucus, the only physician in the Legislature practicing emergency medicine, is now outside looking in.  There’s no doubt a degree of loyalty is needed for a party to function, however it should never take a front seat over the lives of Albertans.  As a constituent, a future City Council Candidate, and an active volunteer in a community which averages over 420 emergency room visits by residents each year (city average is 346 – source “CofE Quality of Life Indicators), and a witness to the problems plaguing Alberta Health Services and the stress it places on families, I have no problem saying the obvious in that party politics and internal policy is putting lives at risk.

Dr. Sherman now sits as an Independent, pending a return to the Tory Caucus or a walk across the floor.  Regardless, he will have my support in the next election.  The question however is the future of our health system.  Solutions won’t be found in Duckett’s cookies and plans which were quickly drawn up this week.  With the elected official with the closest ties to the health system now sitting alone in the Legislature, the voice for long-term solutions is going to have to grow.  Voters can obviously take that on in the next election, and I do hope health care dominates the discussion at that time.  However, it’s our municipal politicians who I feel also need to take a stand.  Crossing government boundaries is rarely advisable, however the impact of this issue on constituent’s lives is immense, and I feel warrants action, both in public, behind-the-scenes, and through the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association.

Edmonton’s 2017 Expo bid was also dealt a direct hit today, sinking both it and a number of potential local infrastructure investments by the provincial and federal governments.  With both the Liberals and Conservatives jockeying for seats in the House of Commons, the solution by the Harper government to handling competing funding requests (from Quebec City’s Arena to this) was to give everyone an equal share of nothing.  As I said during the campaign, while not a fan of the event itself, I was supportive of the investment that it could have brought to our city.  Expansion of Edmonton’s LRT system is decades overdue.  For the revitalizing Stony Plain Road area, the debate and uncertainty regarding route selection was harmful to the revitalization’s efforts.  Now designated as an LRT corridor, the longer construction of the WLRT is delayed, the more local revitalization efforts will suffer.  It’s far too early to gauge what provincial funding may be forthcoming in the wake of the deceased expo, and whether local MP’s will be working to secure any federal dollars for local transit expansion and infrastructure work.  As a city, we can pick our MP’s, but we’re still pawns in a national game.  Here’s to hoping our provincial leaders pick up the ball and realize the importance of these capital projects in our capital city.

Northern Route

As a Community League volunteer in a neighborhood which was not engaged early on in the West LRT corridor selection process, the timeline of the process which ended with Council’s decision in December 09, was difficult to follow.  In order to better understand it, on behalf on the Glenwood Community League, I filed a Freedom of Information request with the City Clerk’s office for a number of records ranging from Councillor correspondence and Council audio recordings, to public consultation records and internal project team documentation for the 2007 Council term.

The fee estimate from the city to complete the request was $5105.00, obviously beyond the budget means of a Community League.  The FOIP act operates on the principle that the applicant should pay for access to information.  The applicant is allowed to request that the fees be waived when the records in question relate to a matter of public interest.  Given the impact the West LRT debate has had on Glenwood, the Jasper Place Revitalization, and the Stony Plain Road Business Revitalization Zone, I did apply for a fee waiver.  The response from the City of Edmonton was a conditional approval of my request:

After completing an analysis of your request, the City of Edmonton is prepared to grant a fee waiver for this request on the condition that the date range of the request be amended to begin on May 28, 2008 when Council ordered Transportation Planning to begin the planning process for the proposed West LRT line over again.

The minutes of the May 28, 2008 Council meeting are below.  Given that the only item relating to the WLRT is an administrative inquiry and not a motion of Council, I did question the May 28, 2008 start date.  I was put in touch with staff from the Transportation Dept who indicated the change in route planning happened over time through postponements and a change in Council direction.  I was eager to move the request along (it ultimately took 5 months from the date I filed the request to receive the materials), and choose to accept the amended date.

Based on the materials received, and information forwarded to me by the Transportation Dept, for anyone who is interested in the timeline for the WLRT corridor selection, I have put it together below with the relevant meeting minutes, administration reports, Council audio, FOIP materials.

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