Rossdale revamp next step in connecting people to the river, advocates say

·3 min read
A rendering of the Rossdale river crossing area envisioned by the City of Edmonton.  (City of Edmonton - image credit)
A rendering of the Rossdale river crossing area envisioned by the City of Edmonton. (City of Edmonton - image credit)

Edmonton's Rossdale neighbourhood — centrally located on the North Saskatchewan River — is slated to get an overhaul after years of discussion and planning to improve access to the neighbourhood and riverside.

Earlier this week, the city unveiled its proposed transportation network that aims to make roads safer for all modes of transportation.

Wider sidewalks, raised intersections and crosswalks, boulevard trees and a two-way bike route on Rossdale Road are some of the plan's highlights, which puts the safety of pedestrians and cyclists first, adding generous public space and connections to surrounding green space.

The proposed changes encompass Bellamy Hill, Rossdale Road, 96th and 97th avenues and stretch between 101st and 105th streets.

Dónal O'Beirne, a resident of north Rossdale, said he thinks the city should start the project as soon as possible. 
"One of the challenges of living in Rossdale is that it is a food desert. There is nothing to do here,"  O'Beirne told CBC News Thursday. "There's nothing to eat here. I can't buy groceries here."

O'Beirne said revamping the transportation network could transform the community.

"Rossdale is a lovely neighbourhood," he said. "Rossdale is a place you drive through to get somewhere else. Whether you're driving through it to get to work, you're driving through it to get home. It's not a destination."

Park-like streets, grand boulevards

The transportation network plan calls for turning Rossdale Road into a park-like, curbless street that could potentially host festivals and food trucks.

The concept envisions grand boulevards to provide efficient and pleasant routes for commuters, enhanced streets and laneway connections throughout the neighbourhood, leading to the planned Touch the Water Promenade.

Former city councillor Ben Henderson said the improvements align with the River Crossing Business Plan, which includes an interpretive park, new residential developments, Touch the Water Promenade and a restored Rossdale Power Plant.

The city approved the business plan in 2019 but the projects remain on the books until funding is made available.

"People have said for a long time that they wanted a place to be able to go down to the river and have coffee or have a meal, this would obviously be a perfect place for that to happen."

Henderson has been advocating for the riverside projects for years but emphasized that they don't hinge on restoring the power plant.

The city has ensured the building is maintained, he noted, while funding and plans get finalized.

"The power plant is not going anywhere, it's historically protected," he said. "It's a really cool space, I think something really interesting could be done with it but it's going to take investment to make that happen," he said.

Revamp could take years

The city held a virtual information and engagement session Thursday where members of the public asked questions about the plan.

City staff working on the projects noted that moving beyond the concept design will need council approval and money.

Avril McCalla, a senior policy advisor with the city, said they're requesting funding for the project in the next capital budget cycle from 2023 to 2026.

"This area, the river crossing area, is defined in the city plan as a priority growth area."

McCalla noted that even with funding approval this year, the network revamp could take 10 to 15 years to build.

Erik Backstrom, a senior planner with the City of Edmonton who helped craft the River Crossing Business Plan, said developments depend on economics.

"In great economic conditions, these things build out quicker than when things are slow."

The city is planning outdoor public information sessions in the Rossdale area over the coming weeks and is collecting feedback through an online survey until July 11.