Sunday, July 5, 2009

Trails, Rails and Transit Linking Past, Present and Future

Over the past several months since my last post, I have been working with other individuals and groups to help create a concept plan that links together the past, present and future through the celebration of the social, economic and environmental impact of trails, rails and transit.

For the past 120 years, it has been the movement of people, goods and resources that has made the city of Red Deer and surrounding municipalities major distribution hubs for agriculture, natural resources, manufacturing, business and tourism. It will be our approach to the efficient and eco-friendly movement of people, goods and resources that will determine the region's future.

The catalyst for much of this development in the past has been the railway. In fact, the very existence of the city and many regional communities were totally dependent on the location and decisions made by various railway entrepreneurs. Although there are several icons in the region that represent that heritage, nothing represents it more than the humble and lonely bridge pier along Taylor Drive in Red Deer. That pier is symbolic of the entrepreneurship and vision of a group of Red Deer businessmen to create a transcontinental railway with its base in Red Deer.

At the same time a century ago, the city looked like it was on the threshold of becoming the railway hub of Alberta with planned lines radiating in nine directions from the city centre. Although a major recession and the outbreak of the First World War put an end to much of that vision, Red Deer was, and still is, the railway centre of Central Alberta, although much of its impact has been forgotten.

What will sustain the economic future of the city and region will be, to a large extent, our approach to inter-community linkages that not only include efficient road networks, but public transit and trails, and ultimately high-speed rail. Sustainability will also include our capacity to link the past with the future, celebrate the impact and opportunites of mobility today and share that celebration with the world.

It's interesting how things tend to come full circle. It was trails that first opened up the region. It was the railways that populated it, provided the means for economic prosperity and growth and allowed the region's people to connect with the rest of the world.

With the advent of the private automobile, roads and highways replaced trails and rails as means of personal mobility. Today, the disadvantages of producing a culture based on the car are becoming more evident with traffic stress, pollution, health concerns, the enormous cost of constantly-expanding road capacity, and the decreasing sense of community.

As a result, people are increasingly looking for active and leisurely mobility with the renewal of trail development as a focus of community pride. On the other hand, people are also looking for a stress-free, eco-friendly and productive means of rapid transportation between urban centres resulting in an increasing interest in regional transit and high speed rail.

The concept plan will pull together the past, present and future around themes of trail, railway and transit heritage, sustainable future transportation, interactive education and entertainment for all ages, community spirit and a world-class attraction centred in downtown Red Deer radiating throughout the region.

More on this exciting, authentic and magnetic concept to come.

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