April 2, 2012
BY: NICOLA MACLEOD
The use of Fredericton’s trails has increased by 68 per cent in the past five years.
In 2006, the city measured that 62, 233 people used the trails between May and October. By 2011, that number had increased to 104,826 people.
The influx in trail users cannot be attributed to one cause, said Mike Glynn of Fredericton Parks and Trees.
“We saw an increase starting in 2010 and that may be due in large part to the fact that there was some construction on the Princess Margaret Bridge,” said Gynn.
The Princess Margaret Bridge Rehabilitation Project forced the closure of the bridge in the summer of 2010 and 2011. The 55 year-old bridge had to be renovated after the Department of Transportation was forced to lower the bridge’s load limits to prevent overstressing.
The Westmoreland Street Bridge could not accommodate the traffic from both motorized passes across the Saint John River.
The City of Fredericton recommended that people look into transportation alternatives during this time. They suggested people use the trails and public transit.
The trails saw a 29 per cent increase in usage the first summer the bridge was closed. The next summer, they saw a 10.5 per cent increase.
“It was actually a mixed blessing,” said North Side resident Michelle Lafrance. “It was easier and faster for me to bike over and I realized how not far it was to get over to the other side and I really should be doing it.”
Lafrance said she will not go back to driving this summer.
“With that bridge being closed completely last summer, it became more of a feasible option to cross the walking bridge,” said Glynn.
Fredericton Tourism Coordinator Stacey Russell thinks that the increase in trail usage will continue even though the bridge is staying open this summer.
“A lot of people might not have been using the trail system as much before, but last year they were in some ways forced to”, said Russell. “The awareness will continue to grow for the trails and we hope to see a lot of people out on them.”
Many of Fredericton’s tourists are attracted to the region because of its culture, history and nature. People looking to see the nature will continue to use the trails all summer, says Russell.\
The city promotes the trails by offering bicycle and inline skate rentals through the Lighthouse on the Green Downtown. This past summer produced record high bicycle rentals.
The trails are popular amongst citizens because they are open year round. In the winter, some trails are cleared of snow for cyclists and pedestrians while others are groomed for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
The closing of the Princess Margaret Bridge is only a small contributor to the trail’s user increase, says Fredericton Trail Coalition President Anne Dunn. Many Frederictonians are making an effort to live a more active and environmentally conscious lifestyle.
“People are becoming aware that they need to get out and about and get more active, more healthy,” said Dunn. “People are more aware that the trail system is very extensive. You can use the trails to get to places.”
The city has noticed an increase in trail usage every year except for 2009. Glynn says it is difficult to explain the 2009 decrease of 18 per cent.
“That can be any number of factors, most likely weather related. If we had a particularly wet summer or spring, the numbers tend to drop,” said Glynn.
Parks and Trees have no plans to add to Fredericton’s existing 80-kms of trails, but will continue to pave trails to make them multi-functional. The paved trails can be used by those disabled and in a wheel chair, as well as being bicycle and roller-skate friendly.
In the past few years, trail centre staff have seen an increase in skateboarders and rollerbladers. The trail users are mostly cyclists and pedestrians.
The statistics collected at the Trail Visitor Centre are only a snap shot of the trail’s use. Users are only counted during daylight hours between May and October.
The rate of trail users will continue to be monitored this summer.