Future bike trails: Let’s grab abandoned rail lines – September 23

September 23, 2009
By: Bartley Kives, Winnipeg Free Press

Winnipeg should gobble up as many abandoned rail lines as possible to build
more bike-and-pedestrian trails, Mayor Sam Katz says.

The popularity of the Northeast Pioneers’ Greenway — a 6.7-kilometre
commuter path built over the former CPR Marconi Line — has led Katz to
believe the city must work more closely with railways to purchase unused
lines as soon as they become available.

“If it’s abandoned, the city should be grabbing it. They make ideal
active-transportation routes,” the mayor said Thursday in an interview.
“Nothing is more obvious than what we did with the Northeast Pioneers’
Greenway. If you go there you’ll see it’s used by all kinds of people for
all kinds of reasons, on foot, on bikes (and on in-line) skates.”

Winnipeg acquired what’s now the Northeast Pioneers’ Greenway in 2006, when
philanthropist John Buhler bought the Marconi Line from the Canadian Pacific
Railway for $1.5 million, flipped it to the city at the same price and
kicked in $150,000 to help pave the trail, which runs through East and North
Kildonan.

City documents show Buhler was able to whittle down the asking price from
almost $4 million. Katz said the city could avoid tough negotiations in the
future by working with railways to ensure the city always gets the first
crack at abandoned lines.

The city’s failure to secure unused lines in River Heights that eventually
fell into the hands of real estate developers was “a major, major blunder,”
Katz said.

But the city has experienced rails-to-trails successes, most notably the
community-led acquisition of Charleswood land that led to the creation of
the Harte Trail, said Janice Lukes, executive director of the non-profit
Winnipeg Trails Association.

Land acquisition is the most difficult part of creating any new trail, so a
concerted effort by the city to pursue railway property will go a long way
toward future trail-building efforts, she added.

“There are a lot of pieces we should be grabbing right now. There are little
bits and pieces all over the city,” said Lukes, who praised Katz for the
unexpected policy statement. “That’s fabulous. I’m practically having a
heart attack.”

Katz declined to say which abandoned lines the city plans to purchase next,
claiming the identification of specific properties might drive up prices.

Winnipeg is in the midst of the most aggressive trail-building spree in the
city’s history. Over the past four years, the city has more than doubled the
size of its network of multi-use pathways, bike lanes on streets and
sharrows, adding 159.5 kilometres to an active-transportation network that
now stands at 274 kilometres.

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