Starting in mid-2016, the City of Edmonton began holding public consultations in the southeast part of the city regarding the future of 101 Avenue between 52 and 79 Streets. January 31 marked the most recent open house, a culmination of prior workshops and open houses that have resulted in a concept that is virtually unrecognizable from what exists today.

101 Avenue - Existing Conditions & Plan Area, image by Dave Sutherland

The history of the area surrounding 101 Avenue dates back to the 1880s, though it remained little more than farmland until 1915, when the city's first Jewish citizen, Abraham Crital, purchased a plot of land for a Jewish Cemetery at what is now 7622 101 Avenue.

Edmonton Jewish Cemetery (1915), image via City of Edmonton Archives

Edmonton Jewish Cemetery (2015), image via Google Street View

Residential development of the area began in earnest after World War II and into the 1950s. The first shopping centre in the area opened in 1955 at 79 Street as a strip mall with some modernist touches that still operates today.

Shopping Centre at 101 Ave. & 79 St., image via Google Street View

101 Avenue was built with extra vehicle capacity in mind, as it was originally a main route into the city from the east. The 1960s METS plan, however, saw through traffic re-routed to 98 Avenue and over the James MacDonald Bridge, leaving behind a roadway that has seen very little utilization compared to what it was designed and built to handle.

101 Avenue today looking west toward downtown, image via City of Edmonton

Today, the roadway is due for reconstruction owing to its advanced age and wear. Citizen and community groups, however, felt that simply rebuilding what was there was not in the best interests of the community, citing the avenue's lack of identity, concerns about speeding traffic, vacant properties, and crime. They instead saw the potential for what the avenue could become: a welcoming new main street and a destination in itself for southeast residents.

A new vision for 101 Avenue, image via City of Edmonton

Through public workshops and open houses, several key themes emerged. Residents wanted an inviting, walkable, and traffic-calmed "complete street," with new buildings meeting the sidewalk with commercial street fronts, rather than buildings that are set back with large parking between them and the sidewalk as mostly exists today.

Mindmap from a consultation workshop, image via City of Edmonton

Perhaps most surprisingly, however, was the demand and support for separated cycling lanes running the length of the avenue. Cycling infrastructure has been a hot-button issue in Edmonton in recent years; trials involving unprotected painted lanes and "sharrows" have been panned as ineffective by drivers and cyclists alike, and several have already been removed after a short time as a result.

Proposed mobility plan with protected bike lanes (blue), image by Dave Sutherland

Perhaps owing to more successful trials with protected lanes in downtown Calgary (which Edmonton will attempt to replicate downtown in 2017), or perhaps simply because it will serve as an excellent connection to the river valley trails west of 79 Street, southeast residents have rallied behind the idea of separated infrastructure for bikes as part of the redesign of 101 Avenue.

Proposed mobility plan cross-section, image by Dave Sutherland

The plan still has a few steps to go through before it can be implemented. First it will be presented to City Council's Urban Design Committee for approval as an Area Redevelopment Plan. Following that, Administration must request funding for the streetscape improvements that go above the normal reconstruction costs. If all is approved, detailed engineering and design can begin, with a potential construction start in 2019.

Before then, two big changes are already coming to the Avenue which may help accelerate the plan and promote additional redevelopment. The Capilano branch of the Edmonton Public Library will be building its new location on 67 Street, just south of 101 Avenue and abutting the Fulton Ravine. Further west, Forest Garden, a 16-storey seniors complex, is set to replace the aging Patricia Motel next door to the Jewish Cemetery.

Rendering of Forest Garden from 101 Avenue, image via City of Edmonton & GMH Architects

Rendering of EPL Capilano branch, image via Edmonton Public Library

The proposal represents a fairly dramatic change of direction for a city like Edmonton, which has traditionally self-identified as a "car city" that prefers wide free-flowing traffic lanes and suburban-style retail developments with an abundance of free parking.

Through the highly engaging community consultations, however, the 101 Avenue Vision marks shifting and maturing attitudes of residents about what makes great neighbourhoods in a rapidly growing, intensifying, and urbanizing city. A newfound identity along with some new developments could well see 101 Avenue become southeast Edmonton's own Whyte Avenue or 124 Street, while protected cycling lanes hope to draw new bike commuters by connecting the area to the river valley trails.

Want to get involved in the discussion? Check out the associated Forum thread or leave a comment below.