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Life in Edmonton
By: Jay Palter
The magnificent bridges and bicycle trails of Edmonton’s river valley
Edmonton’s river valley is by far its most compelling natural attraction and one of its best kept secrets – even among many of the city’s own residents.
The great North Saskatchewan River snakes its way from the southwest to the northeast of the city, spanning an average of 300 meters across and creating some of the city’s most scenic vistas.
Boasting an area 22 times the size of New York’s Central Park, Edmonton’s river valley offers cyclists of all kinds (and pedestrians) hundreds of kilometers of trails and paths to enjoy.
Bridges are Edmonton
As I’ve discovered the bike trails in the Edmonton river valley over the past several years, I’ve become more and more interested in the bridges. I’m not really sure why. I’m not an engineer, nor am I particularly knowledgeable about bridges. I’m just curious – and grateful, frankly, to the people whose vision and labor helped to create them.
A bridge, after all, is not only a practical structure erected to get from one side to another. It is also a symbol. Bridges are built to span otherwise impassable stretches. And they are built as much for future growth as for the present need. Some of our most significant bridges in this city have been around for a century and counting. Those old bridges are an invaluable gift from the past, just as our newest bridges are a gift to the future.
I think I love bridges because they are a physical symbol of the “pay it forward” ethos. In a way, the Edmonton I’ve come to know and love is a city imbued with a culture of bridge-building – something akin to the urban barn-building culture that Todd Babiak speaks of in his anthemic Make Something Edmonton story. Bridges are a great symbol for us.
So, starting at the southwest corner of the city and moving northeast, this piece will highlight some of the magnificent bridges and bike trails of Edmonton’s river valley.
Low Level Bridge
The Low Level Bridge is a bridge that spans the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Completed in 1900, this was Edmonton’s first bridge across the North Saskatchewan River. A railroad span was added circa 1912 to accommodate the Canadian Northern Railway track. After the construction of the High Level Bridge in 1913, it became known as the Low Level Bridge. In 1948 additional traffic lanes were added and the railway span was subsequently removed.
Suspended Pedestrian Bridge under the Henday
I’m in the west end of Edmonton and I often begin my rides heading west toward 184 St. Just south of Lessard Road, 184 St. is blocked to vehicular traffic but continues for cyclists down into the ravine on what must have been an extension of the road in earlier days.
Climbing the hill out of the ravine brings you to Cameron Heights and here you need to navigate to the EPCOR gates to E. I. Smith Rd. You enter the bike path to the immediate right of the gates (pictured below).
This is a spectacular downhill stretch to the pedestrian bikeway suspended under the Henday Bridge spanning the river. This is the time to turn on the jets and go!
After crossing the river, you will climb out of the valley by way of a nice switchback and find yourself in the Riverbend – Terwillegar area.
Terwillegar Drive Pedestrian Overpass
As you come out of the valley into Terwillegar, there are two options. Usually, I turn left and head through Henderson Estates and then along Riverbend Rd. following the general flow of the river.
Another option is to continue straight along the bike path, following the power lines. A gradual climb brings you to the Terwillegar Drive Pedestrian Overpass. While not a river crossing, this is a nice little award-winning and cost-effective bridge extending the trail over the roadway. It sits atop a relative high spot in the area and affords a clear view of the downtown Edmonton skyline.
Continuing on over this bridge and along the power line can take you as far as 111 St. or a bit farther. When I take this route, I usually wind my way down toward the Mill Creek Ravine.
Mill Creek Trestle Bridge
Technically, not found in the main river valley of the North Saskatchewan River, this historical bridge crosses Mill Creek which feeds the river valley.
The Mill Creek Trestle Bridge is a simple wood trestle construction built between 1900 and 1902.According to the Alberta Register of Historic Places, it is one of the last physical remnants of Edmonton, Yukon and Pacific Rail Line that served passenger traffic until 1928 and freight traffic into the 1950s.
This is a beautiful bridge for taking in the view and hydrating or enjoying a quick snack.
Fort Edmonton Footbridge
The newest bridge in the river valley is the Fort Edmonton Footbridge – a breathtaking and rare (in the prairies) suspension bridge.
The bridge connects the west Edmonton neighborhood of Wolf Willow with the southwest end of Fort Edmonton Park. There are no paved trails on the Wolf Willow side of the bridge and a rather steep and unpaved gravel path leads up to the homes on top of the bluff. You can also access the bridge from the west by travelling north along Riverbend Rd.
On the east side of the bridge, there is a paved “upper” and unpaved “lower” path around Fort Edmonton Park. Both paths connect near the Quesnell Bridge and the paved path continues along the river and up the old Keillor Rd. hill.
Laurier Walking Bridge
Completed in late 1959 at a cost of $41,000, the Walking Bridge or “Pink Bridge” owing to its original color was built to bring water and sewage lines west to Quesnell as well as to connect the Laurier and Quesnell communities.
Today, the bridge is a convenient short cut for cyclists or pedestrians into or out of Laurier Park, the Edmonton Zoo and the river valley. For more information on the bridge, see the Laurier Heights Community’s The Walking Bridge.
For the first two years that I lived in Edmonton, the Quesnell bridge was a construction site to be avoided.
Construction is now complete and there is a nice wide bikeway (marked in the image above with red arrows) protected by concrete barriers alongside the roadway.
Beyond connecting the Fort Edmonton area to the neighborhood of Laurier, this bridge is nothing to write home about. It’s conveniently located and provides options for looping back or crossing over the river, depending on your route.
But it also marks the location of some of the finest public art in the city – the Talus Dome. A visit to the Talus Dome is worth the trip all by itself.
Hawrelak Park/Buena Vista Park Pedestrian Bridge
On a beautiful day in the valley, you will find this bridge to be a busy collection point for pedestrian and bike traffic. Oh, and dogs, lots of dogs.
Connecting Hawrelak and Buena Vista Parks, this $2.8M bridge was completed in 1996 with the strong support of then mayor, Jan Reimer. (Read Paula Simons’ thoughts on how bridges link us to our past.)
On your way to the Buena Vista side of the bridge, there is a hard packed gravel trail that leads through the off-leash dog park. Beware of off-leash dogs. Though the path is generally wide here, the dogs roam freely and can be erratic.
On the Hawrelak Park side, this bridge delivers you to a variety of trails and paths through and around the park. During Edmonton’s famed Heritage Days, this bridge functions as a convenient back door for pedestrians and cyclists heading to and from the festival.
Completed in 1955 and spanning over 355 meters, the Groat Bridge is pure Edmonton functionality.
It has a separate bikeway, so it can be used for crossing the river. But I find I rarely cross it. Mostly I cross under it on my way to/from Emily Murphy Park from Hawrelak Park.
High Level Bridge (109 St.)
The High Level Bridge is 100 years old and a fixture in Edmonton’s history. There’s even a short film that’s recently been made about it called The High Level Bridge.
Located next to the Alberta Legislature, the High Level Bridge was completed in 1913 to connect Edmonton with the then separate town of Strathcona on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River.
Today, the High Level Bridge carries 2 lanes of vehicular traffic southbound via 109 Avenue and a historic streetcar on top during summer months. There is a dedicated bike path and pedestrian walkway alongside the cars making this a safe way to cross the river.
Again, I find in my own riding in the valley that I traverse under the High Level bridge more often en route to the LRT bridge because it is linked to the riverside bike paths.
Dudley B. Menzies Bridge (LRT Bridge)
Often simply referred to as the LRT Bridge, I didn’t even know this bridge had a formal name until I wrote this post.
The Dudley B. Menzies bridge is 600 m in length and was completed in 1992. In addition to carrying the LRT across the river, this bridge has a bike and pedestrian path suspended beneath it.
Connecting the directly with the bike path alongside the river near Victoria Park on the north side and Emily Murphy Park on the south side, this is a common crossing point when starting a ride in the west end. I love the circular on and off ramps on this bridge and the blue railings really give it a stylish and distinct look.
This is definitely a place to stop and catch your breath while drinking in the beauty of the valley.
The Walterdale Bridge is another landmark Edmonton bridge of almost 100 years, but it won’t be around for much longer. Plans for the new Walterdale Bridge are already underway and the new bridge looks to impart of more contemporary image on the city.
Some lament the loss of this piece of history – an argument with which I would usually sympathize. But in this case, I’ll be glad to see that ugly old green bridge go. The Walterdale Bridge is so 100 years ago, literally.
We need something newer and better for Edmonton in the 21st century. Something just like this!
As a bike crossing, I avoid the Walterdale bridge almost at all costs. And as long as the construction is underway for the new bridge, the whole area will likely be a bit disrupted. But I can’t wait for the new Walterdale bridge in 2015 and the accompanying dedicated bike and pedestrian bridge.
Cloverdale Pedestrian bridge
The Cloverdale Pedestrian Bridge connects Louise McKinney Park and the Henrietta Muir-Edwards Park.
This is a frequently used bridge because it connects to bike paths on both sides of the river. On the south side of the bridge, the path goes in both directions along the river or up the Mill Creek Ravine to the trestle bridge (see above). On the north side of the bridge, more riverside paths.
Development plans see this bridge also being replaced in coming years with another LRT bridge crossing with a suspended pedestrian and bike path.
The Dawson Bridge is named after H. L Dawson of the Dawson Coal Company who, according to the history, gave the city council of his day the kick in the pants they needed to start building the bridge. Completed and opened to traffic in 1912, the East End Bridge (as it was then called) was wider and longer than the Low Level Bridge completed 12 years prior.
I rarely use this bridge for river crossings, but will likely explore it more in the coming season.
Capilano Pedestrian Bridge
This is the easternmost pedestrian bridge in the river valley and it aligns with 50th St. I have never ridden across this bridge but it is on my agenda for this season as well.
More information on riding in the Edmonton River Valley
The City of Edmonton offers a comprehensive map of bike lanes and paths throughout the city, including the river valley (PDF).
The River Valley Alliance offers a nice set of Edmonton river valley biking and walking trail maps(PDF). And I have compiled my own map of my preferred trails and all the bridges listed in this post(Google Maps). You can see that I am passionate about cycling in this city and I welcome any corrections or additions to the post, should you be inclined to share them.
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