Interim City Manager Adam Laughlin was very clear about what the City wants Edmontonians to understand about transit in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our message to Edmontonians is that transit is only for essential trips,” Laughlin said at a physically distanced meeting of Edmonton City Council.
Most customers have gotten the memo. Transit ridership is down almost 80 per cent from pre-pandemic levels. But some transit vehicles have become a refuge for some Edmontonians who are experiencing homelessness, said Laughlin.
Laughlin said the City has a plan to support Edmontonians travelling without a destination.
“We are working on a solution for LRT that emphasizes destination-driven travel only and requires all passengers to disembark at Century Park and NAIT stations [pictured at top of blog post],” said Laughlin.
“Riders without a specific destination will be directed to the shuttle service.”
Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) provides a dedicated shuttle service from temporary shelters at the Kinsmen Sports Centre and the Lions Seniors Centre to the EXPO Centre, which houses a day drop-in centre, and back. Neighbourhood Empowerment Team members are on hand to give guidance on social supports available to those who need it.
This approach will also be applied to bus routes facing a similar challenge, said Laughlin.
City Council also heard from David Aitken, the City’s COVID Task Team chair, that the City’s preference is not to close down transit lines, but, instead, at this point, to rely on an increased security and social support presence to deal with safety concerns. Aitken also said the City is looking at scheduling, timeframes and transit usage to address customer and ETS Operator safety.
Physical distancing, and the tantalizing prospect of spring-like weather, were also the driving forces behind roadway adjustments made to two areas in the city that are popular with pedestrians and bicycle riders.
“With the general decline in road traffic and the expected spring surge in pedestrian traffic, we have introduced two road sharing changes,” said Laughlin.
The first is on Victoria Promenade (100 Avenue) where the bike lane has been expanded and converted into shared-use space for people walking and biking between 116 Street and 121 Street.
The second is on Saskatchewan Drive from 105 Street to 109 Street, where traffic traffic is down to a single lane with the north lane converted to a shared-use space.
City crews removed snow and swept the lanes before they opened to shared use.
Good compliance at dog parks
At the Council meeting, Laughlin also spoke about rules at dog parks.
To enhance physical distancing, the City has temporarily closed four off-leash dog parks (Lauderdale, Paisley, Manning Village and Alex Decoteau, pictured below) and made it a requirement for dogs to be on-leash in 38 other dog parks.
Laughlin said the move “had the potential to cause upset in the community, but overall there has been good compliance.”
Laughlin did say City staff continue to monitor the dog parks and that the real test will happen on the long weekend, and with the arrival of spring weather.
“If we observe repeated, chronic overcrowding in these parks and encounter owners not adopting physical distancing measures, we can progressively increase restrictions, from closing parking lots to closing some or all parks,” said Laughlin.
“It’s not something we want to do,” Laughlin said at a news conference after the City Council meeting, “but we need to ensure that we provide appropriate physical distancing measures and we need Edmotonians to cooperate.”
“This great city”
Laughlin also spoke about “our obligation to define and shape the future of this great city.”
The Interim City Manager introduced a 4-R model of how to organize those discussions. He explained:
“Respond is what we’re doing now. It’s the current state of reaction and resilience. Relaunch is what we’ll do when we cut the tape on playgrounds and let the dogs off leash. It’s the intentional act of reopening what was closed and activating what was paused.
“Recover, in this context, it’s the establishment of new normal productivity. It requires a reassessment of business systems, assumptions and rules. Reimagine is an opportunity to reimagine the possibilities of the products and services we deliver and demonstrate our resilience:
At the news conference, Laughlin shared his hope for the weekend and beyond.
“Please enjoy the weekend safely, practise physical distancing and stay home as much as you can,” he said. “We will get through this together.”