Fair weather Pedestrianism

Fair weather Pedestrianism

Being a pedestrian isn’t as glamorous as this blog makes it sound. There are some days, in early September, when you look outside and see things like this:


And you just wonder where the summer went, immediately regretting not taking full advantage of warmer days. “It’s over”, you think to yourself. It happens around the same time every year, yet you’re always surprised when it finally arrives. But no fear, you tell yourself, the first snowfall never lasts long anyways, conveniently forgetting all those times it did. This mindset makes you procrastinate two extra days from accomplishing what you were supposed to, and before you know it, it’s -18 degrees with wind chill, rained overnight and looks like this:


No way you’re getting up that hill today without some sort of specialty footwear (you’re always too cheap to buy)

You’re also dreading doing your usual round of errands; instead mentally evaluating the importance of everything you needed to leave the house to get. You open the fridge, visually rationing what you have left to avoid having to go to the grocery store until the outside conditions improve. The cheque you must deposit at the bank gets shelved in favour of online banking wearing a plush robe and slippers, moving around money to ensure you don’t miss your mortgage payment. “It’s important to take rest days”, you tell yourself to feel better about not going to the gym, ignoring the calories consumed the night before that really should be worked off.

The “you” in this completely hypothetical situation is supposed to come off as the royal “you”, but it’s really just “me”. Fair weather pedestrianism is in my DNA.

Another reason (much smaller, but a post about my wimpiness doesn’t really fit the theme I’m going for) is that the pedestrian experience is not designed for year-round comfort. Not where I’m from, anyway.

Before long, the early stages of winter hit, and climbing up the hill to get to work is a daunting task for a few reasons:

  1. Pedestrian sidewalks are, by bylaw, to be kept clear by the owners of the properties immediately adjacent to the sidewalk. This isn’t enforced consistently and for owners of empty properties awaiting redevelopment, they are more likely than not living in a warmer climate and don’t know or care about my pedestrian experience from November to March every year. Like the assholes they are.
  2. Even when cleared of snow, sidewalks aren’t always ready for pedestrian activity. Sidewalks serve two purposes in contemporary infrastructure design – they are for the movement of pedestrians for sure, but they are also used to convey major drainage. The sidewalk is designed to capture water runoff from private properties and take it to storm pipes – concrete being the hard surface that it is moves water very efficiently. This is why you’ll often notice a lot of moisture and buildup of snow/ice on curbs and sidewalks following storm events. Like this.

The picture being painted here is that life is hard for pedestrians in the winter. Once your eyes are done rolling, I’ll move on.

Luckily for me, there is always a backup option: the stairway. Located one street over, the stairway (in orange, below) offers what the hill climb can’t – a safe way to climb out of the river valley during the winter.


What this space is, in actuality, is a road right-of-way, with the road connecting the top of the hill to the bottom never being built. And thank goodness for that, otherwise people would have two identical hill climbs standing between them and the more active areas of downtown Edmonton.

Instead, there’s a staircase, wide enough for a lot of traffic, and even possessing these little flat ramps with which help get bicycles from the river valley to downtown.


The staircase is, it seems, intended for athletes. For as much as I complain about the 103 Street hill being a test of one’s endurance, the staircase is just as difficult. But just as the hill rewards with a berry delicious treat at the top of 103 Street (for those that survive), the staircase has platforms built in-between the risers which act as merciful breaks between the climbing. This is the area where I can be found leaning against the railing, pretending to be looking into the distance contemplating life, when in reality I’m catching my breath and waiting for the spots in my eyes from a lack of oxygen (that’s all being pushed out in wheezes) to dissipate. The fact remains though, this staircase is built to get people from bottom to top (and vice versa) as efficiently as possible.

The City of Edmonton recently released a survey asking residents to share their thoughts on parks and public spaces in downtown, and it included this corridor as a potential park space. I had never really considered it before to be a public space, as I only ever think about it as the only thing standing between me and my reasons to go downtown. But it is publicly owned and underutilized, so I got to thinking: what could this space look like that serves two purposes – being a pedestrian through-route as well as a destination?

Having recently completed a trip to Scandinavia, an example from Copenhagen is a good place to start for reference:


This is the SEB Bank headquarters on one of the busiest vehicular intersections in Copenhagen. It’s on top of a parkade, but you wouldn’t be able to tell. What this Corporation wanted to do was create an inviting space by bringing in pedestrians and cyclists safely from the street to the harbour redevelopment to the west. Here’s what that looks like from above:

SEB bank

The SEB bank building is in the yellow square. The entire redevelopment is pretty interesting, and is worth a read here. I’m only going to focus on one component of the redevelopment though – the SEB courtyard.

It’s essentially set up as a series of ramps with landscaping as separation, leading up from the street corner to the courtyard at the rear of the buildings.


The ramps are designed to be fully accessible (max 1:12 slope), and are seemingly randomly placed amongst the trees. If you read the linked article above, you’d have seen that it was supposed to mimic the appearance of a dune. I think the goal was reached.


From the courtyard atop the nearly 7m climb from street level, the dense landscaping throughout the ramps blocks the view, and some of the noise, from the busy intersection.


Oh, and the courtyard? Casually has a children’s play area, and connects to a linear path along a series of building rooftops with gardens and seating areas and gathering spaces.


Anyway, this isn’t supposed to be a puff piece about the development, it’s already been an unsolicited topic of discussion between me and strangers enough. What I want to focus on are the principles of the Dune, as they could be replicated in the local context – the central theme of this post that’s seemingly gotten away on me.

study area

Back to 104 Street in Edmonton, here (study area in orange) we have a situation where it would be beneficial to provide a safe route up and down from the 98th Avenue to 99th Avenue for a variety of wheeled users, non-vehicular division. I’ve seen all sorts of adrenaline junkies flying down the hill one street over on everything from scooters to skateboards. There was even one guy on rollerblades that I watched zoom by while legitimately holding my phone in my hand ready to dial for help. There will always be thrill-seekers, but the rest of us could use a safer way down.

Using data easily accessible through Google Earth, there’s an average grade difference from the top of the orange rectangle to the bottom of about 20m. Checking the math tells us this is slightly higher than the 7m difference at the Dune in Copenhagen. But that’s alright, still worth exploring.

The second thing is incorporating spaces that can be used for other purposes – like the play areas at the Dune. In the Edmonton context, this could be space for exercise groups, as the staircase is already frequented by exercise enthusiasts.


So this exploration shows that it can technically be done. All the ramp slopes are less than the aforementioned 1:12 max, the stairs (in yellow) are maintained, and there are spaces for vegetation and activities (in green).

So instead of this:


You could get this:

Render - ground up

A full ramp system with grass separations that can be vegetated or left for people to lean on. The staircase remains, and you can incorporate signage to show an overall bicycle network path and historical information on the conveniently located McKay Avenue School at the top of the hill.

Mckay Ave

There you have it, a safer way up the hill for a variety of users, leaving 103 Street to the vehicles. This could also be a new connection for the bicycle path on 100 Avenue to the River Valley.

to river valley

Winter is hard enough as it is. Having a more comfortable space to do my pedestrian thing is really all I’m asking for.

***Update: the city released a Downtown Parks Plan draft to the public in late November, and page 16 of the document shows the proposed plan for this exact staircase. No accessible ramp, but otherwise I have correctly predicted the future outcome for the space. I promise to only use this superpower for good and not evil.

Edmonton Plan.JPG


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