Monday 8 July 2013

Winnipeg Trails: The old and the new

Introducing Winnipeg's newest active transportation trail:

looking north
The trail joins Beaverhill Blvd in the Niakwa neighbourhood to the north with Bishop Gandin Blvd to the south, near the intersection with Royalwood's Shorehill Drive.

looking south towards Bishop Grandin
bridge over stormy water ditch
The path is called Shorehill Trail. It was paved and functional about two weeks ago and is currently undergoing some finishing touches. The provincially funded strip of 4-meter wide asphalt was budgeted at $720,000. At less than 300 meters long this new trail is not cheap, at almost $2500 per meter.

A large part of the cost is due to the bridge spanning the storm water ditch that runs along Bishop Grandin. The bridge seems over-engineered for a walking/biking trail to me. Workers have been building that bridge or whatever you want to call it for several months, and have constructed it much like a road bridge over a creek. Installing a prefabricated walking bridge likely would have cost a fraction of the half-million dollars or so that this thing cost, but perhaps they want it to be able to support vehicular traffic -- an ambulance in emergency situations, for example, or an escape route for Niakwanians trapped by a derailed crude oil train.

The primary purpose of this path is to allow kids to safely walk from their homes in Royalwood to schools in Southdale. Previously they would take a shortcut through the ditch or walk along the railway tracks if there was water in the ditch. Somebody who grew up in a small prairie town might say: 'what's the big deal? Just don't go on the tracks if a train is coming.' But I guess there is a new safety standard these days. Everyone is all like 'don't go on the tracks' or 'wear your helmet' or 'don't play with the guns'. Where will it stop? I don't know but I won't complain because this new path personally benefits me.

I run. I bike. I rollerblade. I use the trails in Winnipeg all the time, and I would love to see a network of functional paths connecting the city, allowing people to get around with minimal interaction with traffic, if such a thing is feasible. They need to be functional and well designed though. (Note: a two-meter wide path with a red-light camera stuck in the middle of it is neither ...)

We've made great strides in the past 5 years, but much like Winnipeg's roads, old trails crumble as new ones are built.
painful memories
This photo shows the approximate location of The Incident last week whereby my rollerblade wheels jammed in a crack in the path, slinging me down into the concrete, splitting open the end of my finger and gouging out a gruesome wound in my knee that could take months to heal.

This nameless path is less than half a kilometer from the spiffy new trail shown earlier. Sometimes older cracked paths are repaired temporarily with tar that gets soft and sticky in the sun and the heat. Sometimes paths -- those that are forgotten or deemed less important -- are simply left to break apart. Rarely is a path torn up and redone (although I have seen one example lately).

Even trails that were built only a few years ago have large cracks running through them. This is a reminder that, like our roads, we need to be able to maintain and occasionally rebuild the new infrastructure in addition to the existing stuff. As the network grows, this cost will grow too. It's not slowing down either, as new developments like Bridgwater Forest incorporate trail accessibility into their neighbourhood design.
All this trail building seems to be paying off. More people are biking to work than ever before, and even more are using the trails for exercise and recreation. It's a good thing. However, trails will never replace roads in a town like Winnipeg. They instead constitute a duplicate network of infrastructure. Your MLA may secure provincial funding to build a new path in your area, and pose for a picture in your local Canstar paper ... all of which is fine ... but where will the money for the upkeep come from down the road?

All things considered, I think Winnipeg Trails Public Works is doing a pretty good job. It can't be easy to stay on top of repairs to existing trails as all these new ones get built. However, the challenge for the city will be to ensure these hundreds of kms of paths are kept in good shape, and don't end up like this:



Unknown said...

Great post. Would you mind if I used it as blog of the week in the Free Press Sunday Xtra? Email me at or

Unknown said...

My advice to concerned provincial & municipal financiers: CANCEL RIDGEWOOD SOUTH!!

bwalzer said...

Speaking of cracking, some of the new bike paths didn't even last a year before serious cracking set in. The Yellow Ribbon Greenway in west Winnipeg is an excellent example of this.

Purple Rod said...

I'm sure you have heard me say this, but the city sure dropped the ball when it removed the north-south railway, between Taylor Ave and Brooklands.

It would have made a perfect cycling/walking trail. Instead they paved over it to make room for big box stores in the Polo Park area.

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