Calgary

A pathway to Airdrie? How a citizen's proposal captured the city's imagination

Airdrie, Rocky View County and Calgary would need to work together to make this pitch a reality.

Airdrie, Rocky View County and Calgary would need to work together to make this pitch a reality

Matthew Hicks bikes to Airdrie at least once a week to meet with clients for his photography business. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Airdrie is seriously considering a bike and pedestrian pathway that would connect the city to Calgary. 

Last week, the Airdrie city council reviewed a pitch complete with costs, stakeholders to engage, and a planned-out route to pave the path — and the idea, funnily enough, was presented by a Calgary-based photographer.

About a year ago, Matthew Hicks invested in an electronic cargo bike to cut his emissions for client meetings and shoots in Calgary. But he quickly realized that between pedaling and the extra electric-assisted power, he could push his bike range to Airdrie. 

The route he takes features rolling hills, prairies, and glimpses of the mountains. As you get closer to the city, Calgary's downtown skyline almost rises from the fields. 

With a tailwind, Hicks said he's managed the trip back home to Calgary in an hour or so. 

"That's from Airdrie to downtown Calgary. And if you think about it, if more people wanted to do that, would you rather spend an hour and 15 minutes on a bike or an hour on the QE2?"

Biking between Airdrie and Calgary can be quite scenic, with prairies, rolling hills and the city's skyline. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Right now, there's one big bump in the road: safety. 

"I feel like every time I bike out to Airdrie, there's an 'is this how I die' moment," he said. "But it's a gorgeous route otherwise."

At first, he figured the solution was to build up more space — shoulders on the back roads so vehicles didn't have to wait behind cyclists or risk passing too close. 

After talking to several of his Airdrie clients about his sketchy commute, Hicks learned that a pathway between Calgary and Airdrie had been discussed in the past but never put in motion. 

So, he got to work contacting the Airdrie planning department, seeking help from the Calgary Ward 3 office — even contacting contractors for quotes and landowners like CP Rail to find out if they'd allow a path. 

Matthew Hicks suggested a route, and future additions for a pathway that could connect Calgary to Airdrie. (Submitted by Matthew Hicks)

This is his first submission to any city council, Hicks added.

"For a pitch. You want as much evidence as possible stating that it's a good deal."

Hicks guessed the route he presented would cost between $250 to $400 per metre, along with roughly $500,000 for fencing along CP Rail land. 

There would be approximately one kilometre of the pathway in Airdrie, four in Rocky View, and seven in Calgary. 

Hicks guesses the municipalities can tap into funding from the Trans-Canada Trail, private sponsorship, and the federal active transportation funding that was recently announced.

The City of Calgary, which maintains approximately 1,000 kilometres of pathways, says connecting to pathways outside of city limits has been explored.

"The initial investigation identified some preliminary items — including private land ownership as well as water crossings — that would need to be resolved," said city spokesperson Sherri Zickefoose.

"The City of Calgary is receptive to this pathway idea and would welcome the opportunity to work with other municipalities and stakeholders to enhance our connectivity to towns outside of Calgary."

Airdrie Mayor Peter Brown has taken the idea and is running with it — this week he already reached out to Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Rocky View County Reeve Daniel Henn. He's hoping both will buy in and quickly create an inter-municipal task force. 

"I just think it's time like we are now on the crux of really regionalizing the area around Calgary and becoming really one voice," Brown said.

Airdrie Mayor Peter Brown is interested in moving forward with a pathway plan. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

Brown says the pathway is not just about commuting. He sees this as a tourism and recreation opportunity — especially for families. 

Depending on the costs, and buy-in from each municipality, he sees rest stops along the way and opportunities to add historical interest points and other destinations in between the cities. He likens the idea to a prairie version of the Legacy Trail that connects Canmore and Banff.

For those commuting from Airdrie to Calgary, or even to Rocky View, he thinks it will be another way to connect the communities.

"I mean, just drive on the rural roads around the city of Calgary and Airdrie. There are tons of cyclists," Brown said.

"Calgary has amazing bike paths to connect to as well because I've ridden on them. I mean, that's a full day if you want to go for a ride, and it's safe."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Helen Pike

Reporter

Helen Pike joined CBC Calgary as a reporter in 2018 after spending four years working as a print journalist focusing on urban issues and municipal affairs. You can find her on Twitter @helenipike.

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