Mechanized River Valley Access

Connecting Downtown Edmonton With Nature

Bridges & Urban Infrastructure

The Mechanized River Valley Access connects Edmonton’s downtown with its spectacular river valley. The delightful journey includes a funicular, staircase, promenade and park, pedestrian bridge, lookout, and elevator, allowing people to overcome the steep riverbank slope. Not only a major infrastructure and accessibility project, this is a remarkable urban space defined by placemaking and an engaging public realm.

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Edmonton, AB
City of Edmonton

Graham Construction
Thurber Engineering

DIALOG Services

Electrical Engineering
Landscape Architecture
Mechanical Engineering
Planning & Urban Design
Structural Engineering

The large elevation difference and steep slopes of Edmonton’s river valley are part of its great beauty, but makes access difficult for users with mobility challenges.

The Mechanized River Valley Access addresses this challenge with a funicular, staircase, promenade, park, pedestrian bridge, lookout, and elevator.

The top promontory provides panoramic views of the valley and offers places to sit and take in the view, or wait for the funicular.

A funicular—essentially an inclined elevator—allows people in wheelchairs, cyclists, families with strollers, and people with mobility challenges to safely traverse the steep slope.

Parallel to the funicular is a broad staircase with ample seating—a place to actively traverse the slope or take a relaxing break.

A promenade takes people along a midpoint park space. Dynamic public art incorporated into benches evokes river waves and curving valley contours, while providing more opportunities to relax or play.

The gently sloping pedestrian bridge carries people over the roadway, with rest areas and seating along the way.

Frederick G. Todd Lookout rises above the forest with the river valley in full panorama. It is an immersive experience that you can’t get anywhere else in Edmonton.

A glass elevator acts as both a structural support for the pedestrian bridge and a direct connection to the trails below.

In only five minutes—or longer, if you linger along the way—one goes from the urban core to nature. The experience is intuitive, graceful, and delightful throughout all seasons.

The Team

A beautifully-conceived ensemble of built structures, open spaces, and public art that successfully connects Edmonton’s downtown to the river valley. The juxtaposition of landscape attributes and the architectural details and materiality of the downtown milieu are compelling.

National Urban Design Awards Jury Comment

It all started with a sketch.

Not only an infrastructure and accessibility project, the design team saw this as an opportunity to be a remarkable urban space defined by placemaking.

Many barrier-free options were explored, considering the steepness of the slope, vegetation, geotechnical characteristics, construction access, and trails.

The alignment is the safest route for pedestrians while maximizing views and creating gathering places along the way.

Winter use was considered throughout the design process. Elements like lighting, wood-clad benches, and orientation towards the southern sun create a pleasant journey year-round.

Funicular Facts

Edmonton’s funicular is one of a kind. It’s one of only a handful around the world that doesn’t require an on-site operator. It can hold up to 20 people at a time and is long enough to accommodate an adult bike with child trailer. Users maintain the same direction of travel—they just walk or wheel in then continue in the same direction as they exit. Its maximum speed is about 2m/s. When the cabin is moving downhill, it rotates the motor and generates electricity that is returned to the grid, lowering the overall energy usage.

Elegant and Sustainable Materials

The materiality and overall form of the project is heavily influenced by the existing connective infrastructure of the city’s river valley system. The river valley is connected by a series of meandering wood stairs, boardwalks, and weathering steel foot bridges and this is an experience that is reinforced through the design. Kebony wood is used on the boardwalk and architectural cladding. Not only does it look beautiful and provide warmth, it has excellent dimensional stability and resistance to rot, expected to last 6 times longer than pressure-treated.

Construction Challenges

The design team limited the impact of the project’s ecological footprint in the valley in terms of the physical footprint and the construction method. The foundation system includes groups of micropiles or screwpiles, and was selected to minimize earthwork and equipment access. Deep cuts into the slope were avoided to maintain slope stability, and experienced operators were required to handle equipment in this challenging environment.


2018 Lighting Award – Exterior Lighting DesignIlluminating Engineering Society (IES)
2018 Award for Transportation InnovationAlberta Minister of Transportation
2018 Excellence in Hot-Dip GalvanizingAmerican Galvanizers Association
2019 International Architecture Award – Bridges and Infrastructure category The Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture Art and Design & The European Centre of Architecture, Art, Design and Urban Studies
2019 Alberta Steel Design Award of Excellence – EngineeringCanadian Institute of Steel Construction (CISC)