Monday, March 8, 2010

Destroying What is Unique

Proposed bike bridge in Wolsely over Omand's Creek on your way to cross the footbridge over the Red River demonstrates what I consider a modern tradegy.

The particular site in question is a bike path that exits Wolsely/Raglan, enters a steep decline down to the creek, crosses a short footbridge, and begins a moderately steep incline about 100 metres long up to a level surface overlooking two baseball diamonds. I am overly familiar with this site because my running club uses this hill in spring and cross-country training. If you ever see a bunch of crazy people sprinting up this hill like it was no big deal, that would be us.

This is a neat place. It's a diamond in the rough. The scenic, winding trail weaving in and out of trees and over the creek is something of a rarity here in Winnipeg. Lest I forget to mention the two HILLS. Yes, hills. If only because the path goes in and out of a creek bank, hills nonetheless to us here on the prairies.

So what do they plan to do, to "upgrade" this well-travelled and scenic section of cycling infrastructure? Build a giant bridge over it of course, sending concrete piles into the creek bed and replacing a weaving, scenic trail with a boring, perfectly level, sterile, bridge. No doubt hacking down a few trees along the way.


Modern sterility practices involving "upgrades" to pedestrian-orientated infrastructure bothers me.

Let me float a better example, if I may, as I'm sure few are very familiar with this Wolsely location, Birds Hill Park.

At BHP, there is a 7-kilometre trail that goes around the inside of the park, around the lakes, in and out of the cedar thickets and up and down a couple hills. It was wonderful, amazing, and for a 15-minute-rollerblade-per-lap I get far more than I could ever hope for out of that trail. It is perfectly placed, perfectly designed.

However over the years the old tarmack surface became nearly unbearable and everyone started to wonder, hmm, when oh when will they ever resurface this wonderful trail?

Well, they did it last year.....except that they didn't only resurface the trail, they sterilised it. Made it boring. They cut down trees, they made it wider. They lowered the grade of the hills, they lessened the curves of the formerly winding trail. There is now, where there used to be not, a "buffer" zone of nothing a few feet from each side of the trail, where the trees and grasses used to come right up to the trail, making you feel like you were only one step removed from a hiking trail, it now makes you feel like youre on some superspeed highway down the #1. It makes you feel like you're not even in Birds Hill Park at all, any more.

Modern engineering and "planning" and "upgrades" seem to do their best to ignore what is unique to a particular location rather than working with it. Instead we end up destroying what makes a place unique and place something boring and souless in it's stead.

I will most definitely show up to this "open house" to voice my opinion and go further than that if need be. I'll also try to get out there to take some pictures of this wonderful location the City feels the need to Upgrade and Destroy.


jonathan said...

You don't make any allowances for admitting a bad design decision and trying to find a way to fix it? Because in any city, a bridge that is under water for several weeks a year, and not just in spring but often after a big rainfall, is not at the right level.

Also, for a trail that is used (and is intended for use) year round by cyclists, the turn at the bottom of the hill on the east side of the creek is a bit hairpinny, especially given the slope.

I think there is room in between "sterilizing the urban environment" and leaving in place what is not practical a lot of the time.

Ed said...

Engineers aren't taught to think any other way. That's where the process is supposed to come in. Unfortunately, you may have noticed we struggle with that side of things a bit in this city.

Anonymous said...

Aren't you missing the whole point. Cycling isn't an activity its a form of transportation. Hills and exciting paths are not supposed to be part of a mode of transportation.

I missed the point, I always thought cycling was an activity.

My Left Nut said...

My wife and I would ride that path to cycle to Assiniboine Park, (leisure activity). We'd always stop and hang around there and it is seriously one, if not THE hidden gem of Winnipeg. You don't even feel like you're in a city when you're down there. Sometimes kids would be fishing. If this plan goes thru it's a damn shame.

Graham said...

@ jon

I would challenge you on "several weeks."

Also, if cyclists do not know how to use their brakes or how to change their gears, I'm not sure they should be cycling. So in all of Winnipeg there is one impractical hairpin turn on a trail winding through a creek bed and we should see it as a safety issue?

@ Ed

That is very the engineering process involves a bunch of guys going to this site and thinking of the best possible bridge design. Natural landscape features are not part of their process or anything? Do no engineers ride bikes in Wolsely?

I find it hard to believe that there are no engineering practices that involve working with the landscape or creatively using the landscape. I guess as far as the City goes they only hire engineers and neglect to hire architects or landscape designers?

jonathan said...

I don't want a bridge at street level. But I stand by my "several weeks" remark. This was the case last year for sure, as I had to alter my regular commute for two full work weeks. Bridges are meant to be over water, not under.

That said, the proposal as outlined is ridiculous. I don't think a new bridge in a different location at a slightly higher level would do much to harm this current urban gem.

The latest reader comment on the Free Press site, by a "Kilgore Trout", more or less nails it.

Reed Solomon said...

I hate tradegy's

Jason Ross said...

In my eyes there is a solution. I do believe that a new bridge is a good idea. However the one they're proposing is ludicrous. There is a location closer to the river that would be ideal. I will be at the meeting tonight OPPOSING their proposed bridge, but I do intend to offer my solution as well.

Just because there isn't a building on that hill doesn't mean it's not a historic site. It has a history more than a century old that doesn't need to be paved.

Graham said...

@ Jason

Good comment. I will be there as well, hopefully we can meet and talk for awhile.

@ Jon

I still contest "several weeks," last year was of course, a flood year. But your point stands, the bridge DOES flood, regardless of the actuall average amount of time the bridge is under water.

evision said...

Michael said...

Wolseley... that's W-O-L-S-E-L-E-Y (with 2 e's).

We need a bridge. The present one does not meet minimal accessibility standards. A new bridge would increase accessibility for all forms of mobility, not just the healthy runners and cyclists.

Most concerning about this whole issue is the decisions that are being made behind closed doors. This is scary!