A few weeks ago when a massive winter storm managed to close large parts of the northeastern states of the U.S. and cause mayhem from the midwest as far south as the Texas Panhandle, many news outlets in the U.S. were acting as if they’d never seen snow before.
North of the 49th Parallel however, Canadians are used to harsh winter weather and the kind of heavy snow fall that would make most countries cower in fear. And with many Canadian cities averaging sub-zero temperatures for more than five months a year, dealing with snow and ice has become part of everyday life. As a consequence, driving or walking in snow is a no-brainer, and most people at least know how to either ski or skate.
It’s no surprise then that one Canadian is proposing that the city of Edmonton, Alberta builds a special 6.8-mile ‘freezeway’ alongside some of its popular commuter corridors to let residents commute by bicycle during the summer and ice-skates in winter.
As Wired explains, landscape architect Matt Gibbs first explored the idea of an urban freezeway two years ago when he was a masters student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Having discovered a comment made in 1990 by then Edmonton city councillor Tooker Gomberg about turning on fire hydrants to let them freeze the streets and allow residents to skate everywhere, Gibbs decided to refine the idea into a specialised, dedicated commuter route.
“I started this project just looking at the problem that we’re not getting enough exercise and looking for inspiration and ideas,” he told Global News. “I ultimately came across [Gomberg’s] 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 it was a really fun idea.”
Using two existing transportation corridors — one of which is an abandoned railway line — Gibbs’ proposal would involve a construction processes similar to building a segregated, specialist urban cycle route. First, a path would be laid using conventional hard-wearing materials, with low curbs providing a natural boundary to the path during summer and a natural barrier to hold the ice during winter.
During summer months, the path would be used to encourage residents to cycle or walk to work, while at the first sign of winter cold, the path would be flooded with water and allowed to ice up, allowing people to skate to their heart’s content. A more complex version of the same plan could even include underground cooling elements, allowing the freezeway to operate outside of super-cold weather to provide all-round skating.
During the summer, Gibbs says the entire route would take two hours to walk or 45 minutes to cycle, with a winter skate estimated to take around 1 and a half hours. And while the idea might seem as crazy as it first seemed back in the 1990s to some, Gibbs says he’s actually getting some serious interest from city councillors.
One of them, Sudan Holdsworth of Edmonton’s WinterCity Strategy believes there’s some merit in the idea.
“It would be great to have,” she said. “We are trying to make the most of being a winter city and our norherness and it’s a great way to do it.”
At the moment, the city has no plans to implement Gibbs’ plan in its current form, saying it believes the routes chosen by Gibbs wouldn’t necessarily lend themselves to the project. But with increasing national pressure to increase winter activity among Canadians and reduce carbon emissions, the plan might just end becoming reality — as it already has on a smaller scale in some scandinavian countries.
Would you like to skate to work? Can you skate? And would you consider it an option if your city spent five months a year at below-zero temperatures? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
You can also support us directly as a monthly supporting member by visiting Patreon.com.