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Rehabbing Winnipeg's outdoor tracks should be in the running for "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects as the province looks for ways to restart the economy, a city councillor says.
Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital), an avid runner, has spent some of the spare time he’s found due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions visiting 25 walking/running tracks around the city. Mayes said the result of his "tour de track" is an informal report, recommending repairs/upgrades to eight sites at a total cost of $3.2 million.
"Part of this debate should be the tracks that we have," he said Tuesday. "I had some time; I’ve been able to go around to these different tracks, places I’ve never been in the city."
The pandemic has pushed people outdoors, and when officials are rethinking infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists, tracks should be included in the conversation, Mayes said.
"You can go on them if you’re a walker or a runner, and you won’t get hit by a bike, you won’t get hit by a car. They’re safe spaces."
Repair sites suggested include: rubberizing tracks at Rick Hudson Park and River East Collegiate, at an estimated cost of $800,000 each; resurfacing asphalt at Grant Park, Westwood and St. James, at $400,000 each, and College Beliveau at $300,000; and renewing gravel at Fort Richmond Collegiate for $200,000 and Bernie Wolfe School at $120,000.
Mayes said his goal isn’t to demand the city pay up for the entirety of the project — the funds aren’t available, and not all of the tracks suggested for repair are on City of Winnipeg property. Several would require co-operation from school divisions, as well.
"Largely this would be, if there’s provincial or federal money coming to do some recreation projects, sure, let’s do some bike paths but let’s not put it all into that — let’s take a look at some of the other walking spaces we have," he said.
The province recently added $500 million to its $3-billion stimulus commitment to infrastructure projects over the next two years.
Premier Brian Pallister has put a focus on "shovel-ready" projects, or projects where construction can begin relatively quickly.
Mayes said walking/running track revitalization fits into that box easily.
"To me, it seems relatively simple. The maintenance isn’t onerous, if you’re just resurfacing a track. There’s not a lot of design issues, there’s not environmental concerns," he said. "This could be done pretty simply, pretty quickly."
Mayes said he has discussed possibly getting funding for revitalizing tracks from an accessibility standpoint, as some of the tracks are not easy to utilize for those with mobility issues.
"You go out, you can not run a wheelchair on (College) Beliveau… it’s dirt, it’s gravel, you can’t run a wheelchair on that in normal times, and certainly if there’s any rain," he said.
"If you even get it to asphalt, that at least helps, and if you get to the rubberized surface, then it really is accessible in all weather."
Manitoba Wheelchair Sport Association executive director Samuel Unrau, who is a wheelchair user, called the idea "a great endeavour" and said the more opportunities to improve accessibility are taken into account, the better.
"This might be the opportunity for somebody with a disability who previously did not have an accessible community facility to go train at, or to go wheel on... a track, and one day decide, you know what, this is something that really interests me," he said.
"Any time we can improve community infrastructure to increase accessibility, to be more inclusive to different populations including wheelchair users, it’s the correct choice."
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.