As weather warms, advocates call on Fredericton to finish ‘dysfunctional’ trail that crosses city

New Brunswick

A section of multi-use trail linking Fredericton's west and east ends has remained unfinished for years, and as spring nears, advocates are calling on the city to finish it before someone gets hurt.

New Brunswick's capital city is known for its network of non-motorized trails, which span over 120 kilometres and link both sides of the St. John River.

But try using it to get from one end of Fredericton's south side to the other, and you'll find portions of narrow gravel paths, spots where cyclists need to leave the trail for the roadway, and one odd island of trail, which abruptly begins and continues for one block before suddenly coming to an end.

It's known as the Crosstown Trail, and for years the city has said it would develop it to the point where users can walk or bike the roughly two kilometres from the University of New Brunswick to the New Brunswick Provincial Exhibition grounds.

But that hasn't happened, and now local advocates are pushing the city to finish it before someone gets hurt.

"I'm sick at the thought of having to run outside here at Smythe Street and Argyle [Street] and dial 911 for a serious injury from a cyclist trying to figure out how to get from the Valley Trail to the lone segment of the Crosstown Trail," said Mark D'Arcy, who lives at that intersection.

Mark D'Arcy lives near the western end of the Cross Town Trail at the corner of Smythe and Argyle streets, and says he's worried someone will get hurt trying to navigate the incomplete trail.(Shane Fowler/CBC)

"This is a safety issue and someone will get seriously injured or killed. It's just a matter of time, and these segments have to be completed."

The trail's completion isn't just a concern for cyclists.

Randy Dickinson is an accessibility advocate and has navigated that part of the downtown in his power chair.

He said it's risky and inconvenient to have to repeatedly go from sidewalk to trail and back to sidewalk in order to use the route.

Making it worse, he said, is a lack of signage directing users on how to properly connect to either the Valley Trail in the west end or the Lincoln Trail in the east end.

Randy Dickinson, an accessibility advocate, said the Cross Town Trail is currently difficult and confusing to navigate due to it starting and ending at multiple points, along with a lack of signage.(Submitted by Randy Dickinson)

"You just sort of have to intuitively guess which way to go in order to continue your journey, you know, depending on where you're starting from and where you're headed to," Dickinson said.

"And again, this is inconsistent with the many other kilometres of trail system that Fredericton has in and around Fredericton and through the Trans-Canada Trail system, and it puzzles me greatly that the city has dropped the ball on this in the years that have passed already."

CBC News asked the City of Fredericton for an interview with someone on staff about their plans to connect the trail.

Instead, city spokesperson Shasta Stairs said in an email that staff are working on a plan that's expected to be presented to the city's mobility committee this summer.

"More detail will be available once the presentation has been made publicly," she said.

Connecting the gaps

Converted rail lines form the foundation of Fredericton's network of multi-use trails, including the iconic Bill Thorpe Walking Bridge, which used to serve as a train bridge.

D'Arcy, who's been a decades-long advocate for the continued conversion of rails to trails, said just two of more than 200 blocks of former rail line have yet to be converted to trails.

Those are along the Crosstown Trail, and include the gaps between York and Westmorland streets, and Northumberland and Smythe streets.

There are currently two gaps in the Cross Town Trail, between Smythe and Northumberland streets, and Westmorland and York streets.(Google Maps)

D'Arcy said the city should connect the gaps using the footprint of the former rail line. However, one of the obstacles is the fact that portions of those gaps have since been acquired by private owners.

D'Arcy said he's aware of that issue, but adds that the city's municipal plan states that "council shall actively seek to acquire" abandoned rail beds to be developed for public use through land dedications, easements, purchase or other methods.

"[The City of Fredericton] must stick to the same standard of care [as they did] for the other several hundred blocks of rails-to-trails conversion here in the city of Fredericton," D'Arcy said.

"It's a world-class trail system because they've taken extraordinary time and expense to make sure that all of the segments of the former rail corridor have been preserved for trail development."

The gaps in the Crosstown Trail are an issue the Fredericton Trails Coalition has also been pushing the city to fix.

"The way the Crosstown Trail is right now is quite dysfunctional," said president André Arseneault.

Arseneault is also cognizant of the land ownership issues, and for that reason said he'd be happy to see the gaps connected even if they don't follow the old rail bed.

André Arseneault is the president of Fredericton Trails Coalition, and said there's more people using the trails now.(Gary Moore/CBC)

"From the trail coalition's perspective, what we want is… a clearly marked safe trail-like way to get from… one point to the other on the Cross Town Trail," Arseneault said. "We're not as committed to what I'll call the historical footprint [of the rail line]."

Aside from the land ownership issue, Arseneault said using the former rail line would require creating a diagonal crossing at a street intersection. Such a feature would be unsafe and discourage people from using it, he said.

"So what we said to the city two years ago was, 'OK, it's time to fix this, and it's time to find a solution to get from point A to point B safely and clearly so that we bring the quality of that trail up to standard of the remainder of the trail [network]'."

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