Trail can't come too soon
Walking along Beaufort Avenue amidst the shelter of maple trees, you can almost hear the whir of bicycles, the gentle footfalls of commuters and the panting of joggers.
Those are the sounds of the future as envisioned for the Halifax Urban Greenway, a proposed green strip for walking and multi-use trails along the CN rail cut between Chebucto Road and Point Pleasant Park.
The urban greenway came to public attention in 2002 at a number of community meetings, receiving a largely enthusiastic response. But there were reservations expressed by some South End residents whose properties abut the proposed route. Then the greenway issue dipped below the public horizon.
It's about to rise again.
HRM and its community-based partner, the Halifax Urban Greenway Association, will soon let a tender for detailed planning of the greenway portion between South Street and Point Pleasant Park.
"The municipality believes it's an excellent project," says Peter Bigelow, HRM's parks manager.
"It's needed. It will go a long way to fulfilling not only recreational needs, but also preserving a piece of green space and securing some alternative transportation (routes)."
The Halifax Urban Greenway would be part of a larger multi-use trail system envisioned to eventually encircle the peninsula and then hook up with other HRM region trails.
The greenway would include two parallel trails: a three-metre wide multi-use trail for cyclists and others, and a one-metre wide walking path.
In some locations - such as along Beaufort Avenue - it would be above the CN rail cut, while in others it might follow along the rail lines.
Bigelow says there have been a few meetings with CN officials, but it hasn't been determined yet whether the greenway would require a lease or outright purchase of some CN property.
"I think CN is looking at this positively," says South End Coun. Sue Uteck, "But you just don't know which minion you're talking to in Montreal."
Bigelow says the Halifax Urban Greenway is a long-term project that, given its need to be well built and the potential real estate costs, won't come cheap. It will require a phased approach.
"We anticipate that the benefits will outweigh the costs," he says.
Bigelow notes that surveys regularly identify walking trails as the No. 1 need of recreation users. The Halifax Urban Greenway would be close to a number of neighbourhoods, providing them with recreation or a commuting route.
The project would also be a natural link between Dalhousie University and Saint Mary's University.
A May visit to Ottawa and a day of biking along the Rideau Canal showed me the joys of people in motion - from bikers and strolling office workers to students - using multi-use trails.
Halifax already has a strong tradition of commuting by foot, bike and bus, but the greenway would heighten this by giving cyclists a safer route through the South End.
Still, some area residents have concerns, particularly those from Chebucto Road to South Street, who would see the the trail pass behind their homes.
Bigelow says there are fears about the trails becoming a "conduit for criminal activity." But he says that hasn't been HRM's experience with well-planned trails.
Uteck says developing the Beaufort portion of the greenway as the first phase would give residents an opportunity to see the trails in action, and would inevitably lessen any opposition.
Mark Poirier, president of the Halifax Urban Greenway Association, says the group hopes to get the detailed plan done by the end of the year, and to start some construction in 2005.
Given all the advantages the urban greenway offers, the sound of people in motion along a Beaufort Avenue multi-use trail can't come soon enough.
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