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Sierra Club questions lack of accessibility in Edmonton’s river valley plan

Click to play video: 'Task of maintaining Edmonton’s river valley trails' Task of maintaining Edmonton’s river valley trails
WATCH ABOVE: It's one of Edmonton's most prized attractions, but millions are needed to keep everything in working order. Vinesh Pratap has more – Nov 28, 2017

City councillors showed an appetite Tuesday for at least doubling the amount of money invested in rehabilitating the trail system in Edmonton’s river valley. However, they may actually ask to do even more a year from now when the next four-year capital budget comes to them.

A report reviewed by executive committee recommends spending as much as $3.5 million a year on the trails, between 2019-2022.

“That seems remarkably low to me,” Councillor Michael Walters said.

The report was strongly criticized by the Sierra Club because “not one word” about accessibility was mentioned. Sierra Club’s urban issues co-ordinator, Charlie Richmond, told reporters it’s an issue they raise on a continuous basis.

“It’s a big thing for us because we think it’s so important for everyone to have access to nature,” he said, urging councillors to think of those in wheelchairs and others who have trouble getting around when writing future plans. “Can the city just do it? It’s that simple. It’s just some words, one sentence maybe.”

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READ MORE: Edmonton’s river valley funicular project nearing completion

Richmond showed councillors problems with the asphalt trail system where tree roots emerge. He said the city’s solution is to mark them with orange spray paint.

Jason Meliefste, the city’s branch manager for infrastructure planning and design, told the committee they’re not marking trip hazards when crews do that, they’re flagging deficiencies.

He said they’re aware of the condition of the 179 kilometres of developed trails, and have a multi-year plan to address priorities.

“It represents a significant improvement, upwards probably of double the investment that we’ve had in the last four years,” he said of the proposed $14 million investment.

“We’d probably see a lot of the same types of trails, just in better condition.”

However, Meliefste said they also will realign some trails as they try to strike a balance between bringing nature walkers close to the river because of the sightlines, while also keeping them a safe distance away because there are high-risk areas with constant flooding.

READ MORE: Ribbon cut on new trails connecting Sturgeon County, Edmonton river valley

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Mayor Don Iveson said he anticipates council will approve the four-year budget in 2018 because, being 22 times the size of New York’s Central Park, the river valley is something to brag about.

“We’ve got these assets,” Iveson said. “I think Edmontonians love the river valley and it’s a competitive differentiator for us. We’re going to have to invest in it.”

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