The wheels of inter-municipal plans to move forward with a project to link Calgary and Airdrie with a bike path appear to be rolling along.
Airdrie city council received the results of a feasibility study commissioned last fall to determine the possibility of a bike path linking the two municipalities via a Trans Canada Trail extension during their regular meeting on Oct. 17.
The study, conducted by Associated Engineering, was paid for by a match-funding agreement between the City of Airdrie, Rocky View County, and the City of Calgary. Each contributed $13,333 toward the feasibility study from their operating budgets, while Trans Canada Trail contributed the remaining $30,000 towards the $70,000 total required for the study.
Council’s decision to move forward with the project follows early conversations held in early 2021 about the possibility of a path linking the two cities. The discussion came through council due to correspondence from a Calgary photographer who occasionally commutes to Airdrie from Calgary on his bike for work.
“I started biking for work a couple of years ago and I realized that Airdrie wasn’t really that far – only about 30 kilometeres – from downtown Calgary,” Matthew Hicks, real estate photographer, said in an interview. “So, I said, ‘Why not try biking there?’ and it turns out it’s a really nice, easy bike ride – except for the cars.”
According to Hicks, both Airdrie and Calgary have well-established pathway systems that are not far from one another. When mapped out, the trails are less than 12 kilometres apart.
“This is low hanging fruit – we could have this great community pathway that could go in between the two,” Hicks said of the missed opportunity thus far to join the two communities with a bike path.
After Hicks presented his proposal to the City of Airdrie in 2021, mayor Peter Brown and the rest of council advised Hicks he would need to do some digging to determine the cost of a pathway project before they could consider the venture's viability.
“I figured out it wasn’t going to cost more than a few million dollars, which in the grand scheme of things is not that much, especially when it’s split between three municipalities,” Hicks said.
According to the photographer, in September 2021, Airdrie's council took the information he had provided and resolved to undergo an official feasibility study to consider options for the pathway.
During the Oct. 17 council meeting, Judy Yu of Associated Engineering presented council with the results of that feasibility study, including four alignment options to connect Calgary's trail to Airdrie at various points in the east and west quadrants of the city.
According to Yu, the first option included a connection to Airdrie’s 8 Street, while a second option would run along the train tracks connecting to Airdrie at the southeastern tip of the community of Hillcrest.
Option three, which was deemed the most viable and scenic of the routes, offered a connection to Airdrie by making use of Nose Creek on the east side of Highway 2.
A fourth option proposed a pathway through the Balzac community of Sharp Hill connecting to Airdrie’s southeast communities of Lanark Landing and King's Heights.
The project manager said the third option may also save the municipality money in the long run.
“In the southeast Area Structure Plan, there’s a statement that talks about a buffer that goes right around Sharp Hill,” Yu said during the meeting. “It doesn’t call it a pathway, but right now I believe (the City of Airdrie) are in negotiations to make it so.
“If that’s the case, then Airdrie’s costs go to zero for option three with what the boundaries represent today.”
The study touted options one and three as the most feasible through a triple bottom line approach, assessing each alignment based on its environmental, social, and economic impact.
Hicks said he had considered both options in his original proposal to council, but determined the third option may be the most viable due to the location of CrossIron Mills mall in Balzac.
“People [wouldn't] have to drive to CrossIron anymore if they don’t want to,” Hicks said of the ideal pathway location. He added a drawback to the location may be the pathway’s proximity to Deerfoot Trail, bringing with it “loud and smelly prevailing winds.”
“But there’s already some nice pathways [at] CrossIron Mills, and with the new overpass going on, you can connect to that pathway from either side of town.”
No matter what location council ultimately decides on, Hicks said he hopes the pathway will serve as a useful trail for multiple groups of people.
“Airdrie has such an amazing pathway system and every home has a bunch of bicycles in their garage because everyone goes out and bikes for fun,” Hicks said.
“We want to make sure that you can take a ride out of town on it with your kids and have a little adventure without going very far.”
The cycling infrastructure advocate added he also hopes the pathway would be useful for business people, and commuters travelling between Calgary and Airdrie for their jobs.
“[I hope] it actually goes from point A to point B relatively quickly,” Hicks said. “One of my biggest concerns with [the third] alignment is the lack of a good connection in Calgary right now.
“I think that’ll have to be Calgary that picks that up, but we’ll see where it goes.”
Hicks also suggested council may consider the option of constructing two pathways – one connecting Centre Street in Calgary to 8 Street in Airdrie (offering a level connection between both cities), and another that would touch base at CrossIron Mills.
Following the presentation, Coun. Tina Petrow and Ron Chapman voiced their support for the third trail option, and Coun. Al Jones remarked he felt it was the route with the most potential.
“(There would be the ability) for cross-country running, or cross-country skiing in the winter time,” Jones said during the meeting. “The fact that it would be a much more picturesque route, there’s the ability to perhaps use it for tourism purposes."
Ultimately, council accepted the feasibility study for information while directing City administration to continue to work with various stakeholders to develop a strategy to move forward with the trail project.