Multi-Use Trails Are Not AAA (All Ages and Abilities) Infrastructure

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A multi-use trail beside a very busy arterial road in central Edmonton
The way it typically goes is this: there is some new park or river valley facility being discussed in Edmonton, and the plans are revealed to display a shiny new multi-use trail as the way in which people will get around as they enjoy nature and the outdoors. The multi-use trail is taken for granted as a gift to walkers and wheelers alike, the ultimate response by the city to further its active transportation goals.

But as the new suicide barriers on the High Level Bridge highlighted last year, the lived experience is significantly different.  A multi-use trail (MUT) does exactly what its name implies: it squeezes people getting around in different ways and at different speeds onto a single facility. In remote locations, where usage is low, that may work just fine. But increasingly, as bike ridership skyrockets (with 30% growth in the last two years alone) and Edmonton’s population increases, the conflicts that are baked into the entire concept of a multi-use trail are becoming obvious.

As the city begins to awaken from its multi-decade car-first-and-only slumber, it needs to acknowledge and respond to the fact that MUTs put people into conflict with one another and create dangerous situations. The way we casually put them beside extremely busy roads with very fast-moving vehicles on them needs to be examined as well. Only a few days ago in Toronto, a 5-year old was killed when he fell off his bike on a MUT that looks scarily like the heavily-used one on Saskatchewan Drive in Old Strathcona (pictured above).

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The MUT in Toronto where a 5-year old died on May 28, 2017 (source)

The city of Edmonton needs to make changes in how it designs and builds multi-use trails, and it needs to start retrofitting the busier ones to make them safer and more comfortable for Edmontonians who are increasingly choosing to get around in active ways.

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