Perhaps Matt Gibbs’s idea for a seven-mile ice skating trail–a.k.a. the Freezeway— is a bit mad. But he makes a pretty good case for why the project should go ahead.
Gibbs is from Edmonton, North America’s most northern major city, and it gets very cold there in the winter. It’s below freezing most of the time, and there’s only an average of seven hours of sunlight a day. Gibbs says there’s “so little to do for five months a year” and people become sedentary, sticking to their cars or homes and not venturing out much.
The Freezeway could bring people together to do something active. “We all know we are not getting enough physical activity. Now imagine living in a city with abundance of cold, snow, and darkness,” he says. “This is a transportation network that would get citizens excited about the winter.”
Gibbs, a landscape architect, imagines the Freezeway as part commuter network, part tourist attraction. In the summer, it would be a conventional bike lane. In the winter, the trails would be frozen over and maintained with a Zamboni ice-cleaning machine. He guesses it would take about an hour-and-a-half to skate around.
The idea isn’t completely without precedent. Ottawa has the five mile Rideau Canal Skateway. Winnipeg has The Forks. The Dutch have the FlevOnice. And Gorky Park in Moscow has miles of ice-bound trails.
The difference with the Freezeway is that it would be
built on uneven ground and be an active transportation corridor, not just something people have fun with on weekends. That raises the stakes and probably make the idea more expensive and difficult to manage.
Some in Edmonton have labeled Gibbs a lunatic. But he’s undeterred. He just thinks it will take a while to convince people. “The Highline in New York didn’t happen over night. This project could be developed incrementally, starting in the used spaces on either end of it,” he says. “It’s a big idea, but it would revolutionize the city creating a tourist attraction that existed no where else in the world.”