Winter in snow-bound cities poses severe challenges for people to continue to get around via active transportation (cycling, walking, skating, wheel-chairing, etc.). Some respond with ingenuity, some don’t care, and some respond with admirable tenacity. Here’s a tale of active transportation in two cities – Edmonton and Boston.
In Frozen Edmonton, Canada
In Edmonton, landscape architecture student Matthew Gibbs has proposed constructing a Freezeway – essentially, an 11-km long skating route, so that people could skate to downtown Edmonton. The scheme is quite breathtaking in its ingenuity and ambition. It would knit together two old existing rail corridors, flat stretches of land that lead in the direction of downtown Edmonton. In winter, the route would be artificially flooded, frozen, and remain frozen – taking advantage of the fact that from October to April, the average daily temperature in Edmonton is below freezing.
It seems to me like an ingenious way to make the most of a very tough winter. Designer Gibbs says he only wishes something like the Freezeway was around when he was growing up.
“I wanted to look at what it would take to make people fall in love with winter. It would promote winter programming, active lifestyles, sustainable forms of transportation, social activity, and give Edmonton an iconic attraction to attract tourists.”
Given the culture of Edmonton, the Freezeway would be a perfect fit. As Councilor Bev Esslinger said:
“Everyone’s grown up skating. Skating, cross-country skiing – those are things we want to be able to enjoy.”
Given that Edmonton’s severe winters tend to induce lethargy and depression, this Freezeway is a brilliant idea. Kudos to Mr. Gibbs for thinking miles outside the box, and envisaging a future in which people could actually enjoy getting to work or school – even in winter. In the summer the route would be used for walking and cycling, so it would facilitate year-round active transportation.
Organizers hope for a pilot project as soon as next winter. Here’s a video about this grand scheme:
This kind of notion is not entirely unprecedented. In Ottawa, the Rideau Canal is a popular 8-km long winter skating route. Winnipeg has a 9-km long skating route called The Forks on the Red River. The difference here is that the Freezeway would be an artificial skating trail. Also, the grand plans include all kinds of exciting ideas, including plazas and restaurants alongside the rink, and beautiful lighting to alleviate the winter blues.
Councilor Scott McKeen supports the plan:
“Edmonton has not exploited to any great extent one of its greatest natural resources – winter. Like other North American cities in colder climates, we’ve tried to engineer our way out of it. … Even most of our hockey facilities are now indoors and heated.”
On the other hand, Councilor Mike Nickel called the Freezeway “the stupidest idea I’ve heard. Floating the idea out that we should spend money so people can skate to work just doesn’t seem to sit right with the local tax payer, at least not in my constituency. People just wouldn’t think that this is prudent.”
Some Edmontonians took to social media to disapprove, with one saying: “How about fixing all the broken things in the city first … roads, aging pipes, the homeless … then yes, a nice skate-way.”
Well, I think it is a brilliant idea, not a stupid idea, and also that if we wait till we fix homelessness before we build any infrastructure for active transportation – well then, we will just never have any infrastructure for active transportation. In the meantime, Edmonton will no doubt go on spending money on roads, so why on earth not devote some budget towards active transportation modes? Mayor Don Iveson announced a year ago that an additional $27.1 million would be spent on improving the roads of Edmonton. I think it is safe to assume that those improvements were not put on hold pending a solution to the problem of homelessness!
Meanwhile in Frozen Boston, USA …
Rather than bold and ambitious plans, there are bold people in Boston. Ari Goldberger was cycling home from work when he came across a giant impediment right in the Wellington Greenway, a biking and hiking path that goes from Boston’s inner harbor into Medford. He says:
“One night I’m coming home and suddenly there’s this huge mountain of snow in the way. So I carried my bike over it and took a picture with the bike in front for comparison.”
It seems that the snow had been ploughed from an adjacent parking lot and just dumped onto the cycle path. This kind of thing happens a lot – recently I found my own route home blocked by ducks!
Not nearly as serious an impediment, but just another example of how bike/walk routes are not seen as important infrastructure.
In any event, Ari tried to get the problem fixed by contacting the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority). But the MTBA blamed the parking lot owners, and the parking lot owners blamed the MTBA.
Rather than waste his time trying to get someone to take responsibility and fix it, Ari and a few friends decided to take matters into their own hands. Ari, Shadron Davis, Matt Carphree, Anna Tsykalova, and other members of the Boston Bike Party picked up shovels and started digging their way through the mountain of snow. After several days of digging they ended up with this awesome 40-foot long tunnel.
Digger Davis said: “I’m somewhat in disbelief that we completed it. We didn’t run into any impregnable ice, have a cave-in, or give up. That’s the crazy part!”
Here’s a video that shows cyclists going through the snow tunnel:
Of course, this tunnel was hardly the safest thing on earth, but it was better than an impenetrable barrier. Goldberger agreed that it was not the safest tunnel, but hoped that whoever has done a stellar job of maintaining the Wellington Greenway up till now would step in to provide an alternative – now that the need had been so clearly demonstrated. The tunnel was used for a short time, but then on Saturday someone knocked it down and blocked it with a large boulder of snow.
Undeterred, the shovelers simply picked up their shovels and cleared the path again!
The snow shovellers came up with another way through – this one a lot safer.
I say hats off to Ari Goldberger and the Boston Bike Party – this was an awesome demonstration of people refusing to give up their right to active transportation, even under the most adverse conditions! And hats off to Matt Gibbs and the Edmonton councilors who support him, for being positively visionary about developing active transportation.
Sources: BDC Wire; BBC News Magazine; the Edmonton FREEZEWAY (YouTube)
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