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City rolls out new rubber walkways in pilot project

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The City of Calgary is testing a new alternative to concrete and asphalt sidewalks made from recycled tires in an effort to become more sustainable.

This fall, 300,000 square feet of rubber sidewalk was installed at three locations, a bus pad at 85 Ave. and 24 St. SE, a sidewalk in Kensington's commercial area and a pathway down Charleswood Drive from Crowchild Trail to Capri Avenue NW. The Charleswood pathway is the result of a transportation study the city completed in 2009 to determine the development of Brentwood.

"One of the recommendations was to build a multi-use pathway," said City of Calgary transportation engineer Blanka Bracic. "There were also some other suggestions such as to improve walking cycling traffic flow in the area."

Fifth-year engineering student Bryan Leedham lives in Brentwood and uses the new Charleswood path often. He likes the idea of the city being more eco-friendly but doesn't understand why it was put into place in an established neighborhood that had a usable sidewalk.

"If they're doing that in areas where they're just laying down sidewalk, I think it's beneficial," said Leedham. "I don't entirely see the point of tearing up the sidewalk to put it in, that seems like a bit of a waste of time and money to me."

Bracic said the city approved the project and then later decided to use the rubber materials as a way to also make the project align with Calgary's environmental policy, which aims to conserve resources and improve environmental performance.

Bracic said the city is looking at the material's durability as part the pilot project.

"What we're hoping to achieve by testing this product is to see how the public reacts to the product through the 311 centre and also how the product reacts over the winter into next year," said Bracic. "If it passes our pilot we would consider it a material that could be used for other sidewalks and pathways in the city."

The city said it isn't too concerned about the material's ability to withstand the winter months. Bracic explained the supplier, Eco-Flex-- located in Legal, Alberta-- has put the materials through quality testing. The material was also reviewed for use in the province by the Alberta Research Council.

"We reviewed those tests and we are confident that the materials are appropriate for Calgary," said Bracic. "But one of the purposes of the pilot is to observe how the materials perform over the winter."

Similar mats in Vancouver were submitted to a sub-zero research lab and then subjected to-37 C temperatures. The manufacturers reportedly then smashed the material with sledgehammers, resulting in no damage.

The cost of the rubber is comparable to concrete, but more than asphalt. Bracic said that over the lifecycle of the pathway the cost should be less because the rubber matting won't crack the way traditional materials do.

"Repairs are more quickly achieved with the rubber matting because a portion can be cut out if access is required to utilities underneath," said Bracic. "The same mat can be put back into place where as with concrete it has to be cut out and then repoured."

While he enjoys the widened path, Leedham said the walkway becomes more hazardous as it gets colder.

"I noticed it frosts over a little bit quicker than cement," said Leedham.

Bracic said the pathways have been approved for all-weather use and are supposed to be a non-slip surface. She also said most people have enjoyed the change.

"We've already heard from our 311 centre that it feels more comfortable for walking or running," said Bracic. "One bus passenger in Riverbend, where we're testing the material as a bus pad material, wrote to us to tell us the ground doesn't feel as cold to stand on."

University of Calgary EcoClub president Alexandra Pulwicki said the city is on the right track with the change and hopes to see the program expanded.

"We are definitely in favour of the project because anything that promotes sustainability, especially within the city is a very good thing," said Pulwicki. "I really like that they're trying these really weird things, I personally never would have thought to make a sidewalk out of rubber."

Pulwicki said she thought the U of C should look to use similar materials in future construction projects if the city's pilot is successful.

"They still have to test to see if it's good for Calgary weather because not all these initiatives are practical in all parts of the world," she said. "This project is definitely a great step forward and if the university can implement something like this it would be absolutely fantastic."

The City of Calgary will run the project through the year and may expand the use of the materials if it is successful.

"We might try it in a few other locations, we're already considering where, for example, a pathway has been recommended in an area where there are some mature trees," said Bracic. "This product, because of its flexibility may be a better fit in areas where there are tree roots.

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