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The SJAM Winter Trail: About health, happiness, and sustainability
By:  Karl Saidla   (2016/10/25)


There is very little doubt that the SJAM Winter Trail is a project with important potential with respect to health, happiness, and a cleaner environment.

You can read about the SJAM here and here. The project involves the winter maintenance of a long stretch of the multi-use recreational path (with several additional loops) along the Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway (which runs west from the edge of downtown Ottawa) for winter activity. Most people will likely think of it as a cross-country ski trail (and there is no doubt that it will be great for that) but the grooming will create both normal ski tracks and a wide compact surface that can be used for snowshoeing, walking, and winter cycling.

The SJAM is unique and exciting in several ways. It is completely free of charge, highly accessible to large numbers of people, and provides an opportunity for winter physical activity in a scenic recreational corridor that is underused in winter. Finally, it can also be used for practical and healthy transportation.

The fact that Canada has a major physical inactivity problem that contributes to huge losses in terms of both quality of life and money does not receive a lot of attention. The number of children and youth who meet our nationally endorsed physical activity targets is 7 per cent. They spend twice as much time in front of screens as they do engaged in physical activity. The number of adults who meet these targets is not much better, at about 15 per cent. In addition to the obvious and important associated quality of life concerns, the economic cost of this problem for Canada has been calculated to be $6.8 billion per year.

One good way to make help increase physical activity levels is to make appealing opportunities for activity more easily available. The SJAM clearly accomplishes this. It is very close to important residential and business areas and will be accessible by both the Trillium and Confederation light rail lines.  Importantly, it doesn’t cost any money and people can use it whenever and (more or less) however they want. This clearly represents efficient use of a highly valuable and beautiful public asset that would otherwise see very little human traffic during winter months.


Finally, the SJAM provides unique potential to promote practical, active and sustainable transportation in winter. The route follows what is a major cycle commuter route in the summer, and links neighbourhoods west of downtown to each other and the city’s core. Furthermore, the Trillium line connection adds a large number of people from further neighbourhoods who could potentially take advantage. Skiing and cycling to work or other amenities downtown and along the route are real possibilities with the SJAM. At the moment, about 70 per cent of commuting in Ottawa happens by car. When you consider the associated pollution, inactivity, isolation and congestion, it’s fairly obvious that creating more opportunities for people to leave their cars at home makes sense.

The fact that the SJAM runs on a practical and scenic route that is completely separate from traffic means that it is exactly the kind of facility that appears most favourable to increasing winter active transportation. Oulu, Finland, for example, has what is arguably the highest rate of winter cycling in the world. In fact, Oulu has about 3 times more cyclists in the winter (which is very cold and snowy like ours) than Ottawa has in the summer. While Oulu’s success is the result of a variety of factors, part of the explanation is that its extensive cycling network is generally separate from traffic and maintained during the winter months. Evidently Ottawa has a large number of multi-use pathways that would be ideal for winter commuting that so far are mostly not maintained.

For all of the above reasons, while the SJAM project is highly worthwhile as a standalone project, it also represents a very useful model for additional efforts of this type both in Ottawa and beyond. I am looking forward to witnessing what is bound to be a very successful winter for the SJAM.

Interesting Reading. . .
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