When I heard that plans to widen Gateway Boulevard to five lanes between 23 Avenue and Whitemud Drive could be delayed due to provincial funding cuts, it came as something of a surprise. Not a surprise that the province would cut funding to cities — especially transportation funding — but rather that the project existed in the first place.
I suppose it shouldn’t have been a surprise at all: With the 23 Avenue interchange nearly complete, I knew it was only a matter of time before “improvements” were needed further north.
It’s hardly the first such project to surface — the Walterdale Bridge replacement turned freeway starter pack is another — and each is just another skirmish in an unwinnable war.
At the same time, however, we seem to be coming around as a city to admitting that these projects only shift congestion around and encourage more driving.
Mayor Stephen Mandel took another step towards that admission in his State of the City address speech last week when he said LRT expansion will mean “less emphasis on some roads around our city” and a shift in funding and support toward transit.
Gateway Boulevard (and Calgary Trail) ranked pretty highly in terms of needing a shift. Few places in Edmonton are as uncomfortable to be a pedestrian and transit rider.
Just getting there is difficult, with transit provided by minor bus routes that loop through and around parking lots before heading back to where they came.
Once there, even crossing the street turns into an adventure, from the time my mom wouldn’t stop to let my then-toddler brother retrieve his shoe, to when I went black-light bowling in muddy white pants because there weren’t any sidewalks.
Unfortunately, the only steps taken to improve the environment thus far have been window-dressing like the renaming of Calgary Trail northbound as “Gateway Boulevard.”
While the name is particularly laughable — not just because of the lack of a clear gateway — it provides an instant vision for what the corridor could be with different priorities.
Boulevards originated as medieval cities shrugged off their walls and replaced them with grand promenades lined by impressive architecture. A proper boulevard is multi-modal, bi-directional, and divided by multiple landscaped and treed medians in precisely the way Gateway Boulevard isn’t.
Once the funding is restored, the city should consider redirecting it toward creating a more hospitable environment. Either way, if there’s one thing Gateway doesn’t need, it’s more lanes to cross.