February 25, 2015
Edmonton Wants To Create 7-Mile 'Freezeway' So People Can Ice Skate To Work

The city of Edmonton wants to create a new way for commuters to get to work in the most Canadian way possible --- by ice skating down a 7-mile long trail known as the Freezeway.

The idea of an Edmonton Freezeway is a couple of years old, first proposed by a University of British Columbia graduate student named Matthew Gibbs in 2012. Edmonton spends five months out of the year in below-freezing temperatures, so as part of an international design competition Gibbs proposed that the city create a long frozen trail leading to the city's center that people could ice skate on.

Now, the Edmonton Freezeway may turn from idea to reality. City planner Susan Holdsworth said the idea is gaining traction.

"We thought we'd have to push the snowball up hill. Instead, it's like we're riding downhill, gaining momentum, going faster all the time," she told the BBC.

The idea for the Edmonton Freezeway actually originated thanks to an offhand joke from one of the city's elected officials. City council member Tooker Gomerg once joked in the 1990s, "Why don't we just crack the fire hydrants open, flood the streets and let people skate to work in the winter?"

Matthew Gibbs decided to see what it would take to make it a reality. He looked at two existing rail corridors that have a clear path to downtown Edmonton and found that they would be perfect for the Freezeway.

"I found if we bridged these together, we could create a unified 11km route that people could skate on - potentially to work, to school or to the hockey game," Gibbs told the BBC.

Here are some of his design plans (via The Edmonton Freezeway)

  • Use buildings as windbreaks
  • Concentrate developments and plazas in sunny areas
  • Provide built-in snow storage to serve as traffic dividers and contain the ice
  • "Curbside skating lanes" that use rubberised crossings, which can be rolled up come spring
  • Set up skate rentals in nearby metro stops
  • two-hour walk, 45-minute bike ride, or 1.25 hour skate.
Gibbs presented the idea at Edmonton's 2015 Winter Cities conference, saying it would "promote winter programming, active lifestyles, sustainable forms of transportation, social activity," and give the city something unique to attract tourists.

Not everyone is behind the idea. City council member Mike Nickel called it "the stupidest idea I've heard," but his colleague Scott McKeen thinks it would help set Edmonton apart from other frozen Canadian cities.

"Edmonton has not exploited to any great extent one of its greatest natural resources - winter," said Mr McKeen. "Like other North American cities in colder climates, we've tried to engineer our way out of it. … Even most of our hockey facilities are now indoors and heated."

The Edmonton Freezeway still has a lot of hurdles to overcome and costs to figure out, but Susan Holdsworth thinks it could be a reality as early as next winter if everything falls into place.

[Image via The Edmonton Freezeway]