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Dwayne Robertson near new bicycle friendly infrastructure in his neighbourhood of Lauderdale, in Edmonton, Alta., on Oct. 26. Mr. Robertson has been a resident of the area for over 30 years and says the project will likely cause problems with snow removal and traffic flow.Amber Bracken/The Globe and Mail

With $100-million of designated funding and a roadway renewal program that includes wheeling infrastructure, Edmonton is gaining momentum as Canada’s cycling capital.

Since 2009, the City of Edmonton has been rebuilding and upgrading transportation infrastructure across the city through the Neighbourhoods Renewal Program, whose most recent projects do much more than repave distressed roads and sidewalks, and include significant improvements to the city’s livability.

“We have over $600-million annually allocated to Neighbourhoods Renewal as a whole,” says Ryan Kirstiuk, director of neighbourhoods planning and design at the City of Edmonton, about the budget for the 2023-26 cycle. The neighbourhoods that participate in this program are selected based on factors such as existing road condition, alignment with strategic objectives – such as the city’s Vision Zero initiative – and fund availability.

To upgrade roadways in poor condition, the City of Edmonton created the Collector Renewal program. Currently, there are four projects in the works: 132 Avenue, 127 Street, 95 Avenue and 97 Street.

“The city is looking to build out infrastructure that provides options for all modes of transportation,” Mr. Kirstiuk says. “So whether someone wants to drive or ride a bike, walk, take transit, take a scooter – we are interested, when we do renewal, to provide these options to people for transportation.”

The latest project to break ground as part of this program is 132 Avenue Renewal, located in northwest Edmonton, which will transform a 50-block stretch of an “overbuilt” collector into a multimodal road, and accommodate the needs of a variety of users, including pedestrians and cyclists.

“132 Avenue is a significant east-to-west corridor that will have bike lanes for the entire length of that corridor,” Mr. Kirstiuk says. “It’s also identified as an urban greenway, which is basically increased green space.”

After three years of public engagement, planning and design, the upgrades to 132 Avenue will narrow down the road’s width from four to two lanes as a traffic-calming measure. The space freed up by the removal of two lanes will allow for wider sidewalks, increased greenery and landscaping, as well as a separated bike lane running in each direction along this roadway, improving the connection between the 11 neighbourhoods adjacent to 132 Avenue, between 127 Street and Fort Road.

Because this roadway links schools, parks, churches, community halls and shopping areas, the 132 Avenue Renewal project encompasses significant enhancements to the public realm such as continuous sidewalks, raised crossings and medians, as well as curb extensions. Moreover, the addition of trees, landscaped areas and seating along the entire length of this collector road will make for a more pleasant experience.

“This project came at a good time in its life cycle, because now we’re able to renew it; we’re able to green it; we’re able to change it to build out the active transportation network; [and] we’re able to do it from end to end,” Mr. Kirstiuk says. “So it’s a significant transformation of a corridor.”

But in a car-dependent city such as Edmonton, neighbours don’t necessarily see this project as an improvement.

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A cyclist near construction for new, bicycle-friendly infrastructure on 132 Ave., in the Lauderdale neighbourhood.Amber Bracken/The Globe and Mail

The first phase of this project, which broke ground in June, is adjacent to two neighbourhoods developed in the late 1950s, Rosslyn and Lauderdale, where residents still rely on their private vehicles for transportation.

According to Dwayne Robertson, a Lauderdale resident, the collector’s renewal doesn’t cater to his neighbourhood’s needs.

“The issue is that the city came out with three options – the plans were already established,” he says, pointing at the city’s neglect of concerns neighbours brought forward, such as increased congestion and reduced on-street parking, derived from the narrowing of the road.

“I think the mandate of this city is zero-carbon emissions, and their plan is to do whatever they can to impede traffic flow,” Mr. Robertson says, noting that although the city’s goal is to encourage people to walk, cycle, or take transit, none of these options are a feasible alternative for Lauderdale’s blue-collar residents.

“Right now, where [people] work, and where they live, are further from one another,” he says. “And to take the transit system is just too cumbersome.”

While the presence of a major highway, Yellowhead Trail, and the CN rail yard just south of Lauderdale poses a connectivity challenge for alternative modes of transport, the long-term benefits of Edmonton’s Neighbourhoods Renewal program are evident.

In Inglewood, an Edmonton neighbourhood north of downtown, but south of Yellowhead Trail, two collector renewal projects have been completed since 2019, on 127 Street and on 124 Street – and results are already showing.

“We’ve seen really great improvements,” says Chad Ohman, an Inglewood resident. “No. 1 is in terms of livability and walkability in the neighbourhood.

“We have that wonderful linear park that’s going north to south from 118 Street, all the way down into Oliver,” he says. “That is such a great connector for cyclists and for people that are wheeling and walking. To get downtown, I can ride my bike faster than it would be to get in my car and drive – and that’s a success story.”

Despite the tensions arising from the city’s aspirations and its reality as a car-centric city, improvements to Edmonton’s transportation networks are key to fostering livability across the city, says David Dale-Johnson, the Stan Melton executive professor of real estate at the University of Alberta. And as the city moves forward with its zoning bylaw renewal, projects like 132 Avenue and 124 Street will ensure the success of the city’s 15-minute districts, and promote densification.

“Any effort to make neighbourhoods more livable, either through landscaping or accommodating different types of transportation, is the right thing to do,” Mr. Dale-Johnson says, adding that upgrades can add value to existing properties, and support redevelopment.

“If the livability of the neighbourhood improves, it’s more likely that a resident or a new buyer will think about upgrading the home,” he says. “And as these neighbourhoods become 15-minute communities, maybe we’ll see some more density.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify the timeframe the annual $600-million will be allocated to the Neighbourhoods Renewal program.

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