Inclusivity and Connectivity To The River Valley


By Anna Guy

The River Valley is a natural wonder often described as the jewel of the city—and one the City of Edmonton is about to make much more accessible for its citizens.

river-valley-coverModern cities are defined by their urban green space; New York’s Central Park is perhaps the most famous example in the world of a shared mixed-use eco-space in a large, densely populated city. Here in Canada, Vancouver’s Stanley Park, “Bannerman Park in St. John’s, and Montreal’s Parc Jeanne-Mance all are deeply rooted in the city’s identity. Soon, Edmonton’s River Valley will join, even possibly eclipse, this league of urban green areas that make their city a more livable place to be.

Edmonton’s River Valley runs through the heart of the city. Over 18,000 acres, the River Valley system is the largest urban park in Canada, with more than 160 kilometres of maintained pathways and 20 major parks. The River Valley is a natural wonder often described as the jewel of the city—and one the City of Edmonton is about to make much more accessible for its citizens.


Set to officially open in fall of 2017, the Mechanized River Valley Access Project is a $24 million infrastructure project that will give citizens a new way to appreciate the valley for decades, if not centuries, to come.

At the heart of the project is an innovative, barrier-free system that will allow people to enjoy both the city’s vibrant downtown and river valley within minutes. The City recognized that the current access (stairs near the Hotel Macdonald) to the river valley posed significant challenges for anyone who was unable to access the stairs. Primarily, the consideration went to those citizens with mobility challenges; secondarily, consideration went to families with strollers, bicyclists, etc.

The Mechanized River Valley project will connect 100 Street near the historic Hotel Macdonald and the river valley trail system near the Low Level Bridge. There will be seven key elements, including the promontory, a staircase, promenade, bridge, lookout area, and—uniquely—an elevator and funicular, which will connect persons of all abilities to the existing trail system and Louise McKinney Park, the Low Level Bridge, and the Rossdale/River Crossing area.

A funicular, which will hold up to 20 people, including bicycles with child trailers, is a cable propelled system that essentially acts as a train going up and down a sloped area, and are widely used in Europe. The elevator will hold up to 10 people.


“Ultimately, we are in the business of building a great city,” says Jesse Banford, director for Facility Infrastructure Delivery with the City of Edmonton, adding the focus of the project is to help citizens have a better life in Edmonton.

“When we started this project in 2014 within our group, we knew it was essential to have as much public input as possible—because this project is for our citizens,” says Banford. “We also had to give great consideration to where the project would be located. How does this hug into the landscape? Where is the touch down spot at the top of hill and the bottom of bank? Will it interfere with utilities? These were just a few of the many questions we had to consider.”


Thus far, feedback has been exceptionally positive, which Banford credits to the exhaustive public consultation process at the onset of the project. “Public input was encouraged and became an integral component to the design; this is a project for the people of Edmonton, very much designed in alignment to the voice of the People of Edmonton,” he says. “We were very mindful and took lot of time in that development stage determining how to bring that vision to reality. It’s exciting, very exciting.”

The primary focus, says Banford, was to create inclusivity and connectivity to the river valley from top of bank to bottom of bank for anybody who would want to enjoy the river valley. “If you don’t want to do the hike, you can take a nice jaunt. You can do a long bike or a short rest. We made the travel time very accessible because we are quite aware [that people need a place they could go for a long or short time.”

The new Mechanized River Valley Access will also be a destination spot for people to come and sit and enjoy lunch, and Banford also predicts the site will be used as a spectacular site for wedding and special occasion photography. The Mechanized River Valley Access project is one of a wider picture of rehabilitation and growth projects for Edmonton, which includes a new Walterdale Bridge, a new LRT line, new libraries, recreation facilities, and more. The City has become very proficient at large-scale projects—the Mechanized River Valley Project happened with minimal disruption to the city, and required only two road closures, both on weekends.

I look at all the projects happening in this city, and it’s astounding the type of projects we are doing,” says Banford. “We are proud to deliver a legacy infrastructure project to continue our growth.”