Freezeway would allow Edmontonians to skate to work

Watch: If you could ice skate to work, would you? Jessica Kent has the details on a proposal for a skating ‘freezeway’ downtown.

EDMONTON — In a winter city like Edmonton, which experiences temperatures below freezing for months at a time, people are always coming up with new ways to embrace the season.

The latest idea: creating a “freezeway” that would give Edmontonians the opportunity to skate to work, the downtown arena or just for fun. The Make Something Edmonton initiative is the brainchild of landscape architect Matt Gibbs, who came up with the project for his final design thesis at the University of British Columbia.

“I think it’s a big opportunity for us to finally hone in on the niche that we are a cold climate,” said Gibbs, “as well as an iconic identity about this city of people who are so tough that they skate to work.”

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The Edmonton Freezeway would consist of 11 kilometres of trails, which would wind through Blatchford, the arena district, the Grant MacEwan campus and up near Northlands.

Proposed route for the Edmonton Freezeway. Credit, The Edmonton Freezeway

The multi-use trails would be open to cyclists in the summer and skaters in the winter. The trails would be used by pedestrians year-round and lined with places to warm up, shop or grab a drink.

“I thought skating would be an exciting way for people to be exploring the city, engaging in recreation, but as well as transportation,” said Gibbs.

READ MORE: City encourages Edmontonians to embrace winter

The idea may sound oddly familiar to many Edmontonians. In the 1990s, then-city councillor Tooker Gomberg, a well-known environmentalist, suggested the city flood the streets so people could skate to work.

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Gibbs admits Gomberg’s idea was actually a bit of an inspiration.

“I started this project just looking at the problem that we’re not getting enough exercise and looking for inspiration and ideas,” he said.

“I ultimately came across his famous quote about why don’t they just crack the fire hydrants open in the winter and flood the streets so people can skate to work. And I thought that was a really fun idea.”

READ MORE: Grassroots movement urges Edmontonians to ditch cars and ski to LRT

While it’s still just an idea, Susan Holdsworth with the city’s WinterCity Strategy believes the freezeway could help with neighbourhood revitalization and lead to healthier, more active communities.

“It would be great to have,” said Holdsworth. “We are trying to make the most of being a winter city and our northerness and it’s a great way to do it.”

But while she thinks the freezeway could work in Edmonton, it likely wouldn’t work in its proposed location.

“It’s more doable in areas that aren’t developed yet,” she said. “I think that we’re just looking forward to finding opportunities where it could work and maybe learning from other places that have done it successfully.”

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Gibbs is open to suggestions and says the location isn’t set in stone. He just hopes his idea comes to fruition, transforming the way people live and move in a winter city.

“I think it would be something that could change people’s lives in Edmonton on a daily basis,” he said. “And in that way, come up with a way to show the world how resilient and how hearty we all are.”

Gibbs hasn’t worked out the cost of the project. For more information on the Edmonton Freezeway, head to Make Something Edmonton’s website or watch the video below.


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