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Happy trails

Mike Fleury likes trailblazers.

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The Halifax Urban Greenway is quite possibly one of the nicest projects you've never heard of.

Essentially, the Greenway involves two parallel trails—a three-metre-wide trail reserved for cyclists, skateboarders and other non-motorized wheels, and a one-metre-wide walking path—that would follow the edge of the Halifax peninsula. The Urban Greenway would connect Chebucto Road to Point Pleasant Park, but it's designed to link to a much larger multi-use trail system that would encircle the peninsula—picture a trail from the Armdale Rotary circling around to the Harbourfront, and you get the idea.

Following a path cut by CN rail, the Greenway would take advantage of a belt of green space that has been preserved on either side of the rail line, several dozen feet above the tracks.

It's the kind of public trail that Halifax is lacking, and desperately needs. The Greenway concept was first proposed in 2002 and was met with a mostly positive response.

So, why haven't you heard of it? And, more importantly, why isn't such a fantastic project already framing the city? Well, the thing about progress is, it's slow. Over the past five years, the Greenway has been in and out of the news—securing funds, securing land, tweaking the exact route.

Fortunately, this past week, the Greenway received a significant boost—the province and the feds agreed to commit $600,000 towards the project. According to Kevin Conley, an HRM parks manager, that commitment means that at least part of the Greenway will actually be built in the coming year.

"It's not exactly finalized, but this should allow us to build from South Street to near Saint Mary's."

The next major step would be constructing a pedestrian bridge to connect the section of the trail near Saint Mary's University to Pine Hill and then to continue the trail up to Point Pleasant Park and beyond.

Mark Poirier is the president of the Halifax Urban Greenway Association: He's been talking about the Greenway since 2000. After so much talk, finally breaking ground on the trail is an exciting prospect.

"It's long overdue," he says. "For five or six years we were just looking at a vision and some parts were still quite vague. We would say, "Oh, I guess it will connect up with something, but I don't know what.' Now, we're starting to get an idea of how it's going to connect at either end."

The $600,000 does not mean a network of multi-use trails will appear in Halifax overnight—Poirier estimates that the proposed footbridge connecting SMU to Pine Hill will cost $300,000. And as the trail spreads further across the city, the planning gets more ambitious.

"The major challenge in the northern part of the route, for example, is how to get past Quinpool Road," explains Poirier. "There's been work on a concept study on the engineering of how to get underneath Quinpool—that's a bit off yet, but it would be the most expensive trail project in Nova Scotia, however they end up doing it."

If passing underneath Quinpool seems a bit far-fetched, fair enough—but in the meantime, completing any section of the Greenway is a step in the right direction.

"I live on the peninsula, and when we'd go biking as a family, we'd load our bikes into the car and drive out to Musquodoboit Harbour," says Conley. "This trail seems like the right thing."

Beat a path to your keyboard. Email: mikef@thecoast.ca

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