Walking to the Global Transportation Hub
I’ve spent a couple of days researching and writing about the Regina Bypass. From the outset, the purpose of this road, it seems, was to get truck traffic to the Global Transportation Hub. That’s it. Construction on the Bypass started in the west, in stages, before the government decided to build the southern portion and then, even later, to fold improved interchanges east of Regina into the project. The expansion of the Bypass helps to explain how the cost ballooned, from $100 million at the very beginning to $2 billion now—but only helps. At least $600 million is going to VINCI, the French company responsible for operating and maintaining the Bypass for the next 30 years. Is that a good deal? From what I’ve read, nobody can tell. The point is that if I’m going to study the Bypass, I’m going to have to learn as much as I can about the Global Transportation Hub. I’ve been doing some research, but this morning I decided to walk out there and see what there is to see.
It’s a good thing I’m walking this morning. I woke up out of sorts, and I’m hoping that a walk will improve my disposition.Once again, I commit an unpsychogeographical act: I check Google Maps to see how far I’ll be walking. Not only does it tell me the distance, but it directs me to a route I would never have thought of, through a neighbourhood where I’ve never walked. I put on my boots and set out. After the past week’s cold weather, this morning’s warm sunshine was a revelation. The elm trees are leafing out; there is a scrim of green on their branches. An old woman is raking straw at the vegetable garden in front of the Anglican church, and a bumblebee is fumbling about on a lawn covered in dandelions. A spindly shrub is starting to put out pink blossoms. Next to the sidewalk, I see a plot of rhubarb, raspberries, and horseradish.
I turn down an alley, but it’s blocked by a Bobcat dumping dirt into a truck, so I turn back. A train horn sounds at the level crossing on Elphinstone. I decide to try a different alley. I see an old AMC Rebel, not much different from the one my mother drove when I was in high school. I see a baby robin in its nest waiting for a snack. On the corner, three men are tearing down an old wooden fence and loading it into a truck. Grackles creak. Robins sing. A house sparrow is resting on a purple martin house. A letter carrier climbs into his van and drives away. Dogs bark at my presence. In the back of a pickup truck is a pile of red tomato cages. A pair of jeans lies beside the curb.
A red-winged blackbird trills behind me. I see an abandoned pair of winter gloves on the sidewalk and hear another Bobcat digging behind someone’s garage. A guy is fixing a flat tire. Dandelions are poking up next to a yard covered in Astroturf. I push the begging button at Lewvan Drive and wait to cross the highway. When the light turns, it gives me less than 30 seconds to walk across six lanes of traffic. I turn north and follow a sidewalk under the railway tracks next to the busy road. I had no idea that sidewalk existed. I stop under a poplar and inhale its scent. A cyclist passes. Later, I see the same cyclist come up off the Bypass and head back into town along Dewdney, and I wonder if he rode all the way around the city.
At the corner of 11th Avenue, a portable sign directs people to a Covid-19 testing site. A woman standing in an alley blows her nose. Three men are roofing a garage across from a large seniors’ complex. A sign warns of slow moving equipment, and as if on cue, a Bobcat trundles towards me. A robin scuttles past a “No Trespassing” sign; it doesn’t apply to him. In the other direction, a city crew is patching potholes. A jogger runs past with a border collie on a leash. A mother and her two children cross the road. The infield of a baseball diamond is yellow with dandelions.
I turn west on Dewdney, a long straight plod towards the Global Transportation Hub. I cross Wascana Creek; red-winged blackbirds are singing in the willows on the bank of the creek. A train sounds behind me. A single goose floats on the water. At the RCMP’s Depot Division, the sidewalk ends, but I keep walking on the lawn, green from recent rain. I notice the beginning of a desire path and think of Richard Long’s A Line Made By Walking. In the ditch, a crow pecks at something red; when I fumble with my camera, it flies off to join another, complaining. A sign from last year’s election is lying beside the road.
At Courtney Street, the grass ends and I start walking on the paved shoulder. There are no more mature trees and the traffic seems louder here. There’s a park to the left, but a sign announced that the city has received an application to turn it into a “mixed use neighbourhood,” whatever that means. In the park, a fellow is practicing his golf swing and a woman is walking her dog. I see small footsteps in the wet gravel beside the paved shoulder. Meadowlarks and red-winged blackbirds are calling, and a family cycles on a path through a fallow field between the park and the new Westerra development. A sign invites me to build my freedom. Someone is throwing dirt over a fence into the ditch; at first I mistake the flying dirt for birds. I see the flattened remains of a rabbit in the road. Ducks take to the air. Another cyclist heads west.
The strange windowless bunker that belongs to the city is still howling. I can see the Bypass now; the traffic on the horizon, the overpass ahead, just west of Pinkie Road. I notice a sign announcing the Saulteaux Crossing Business Park, which is owned by Zagimē Anishinabek First Nation. A liquid petroleum gas storage terminal is on the other side of Dewdney Avenue. Meadowlarks are singing; their song accompanies me for the rest of the walk.
From the overpass, I can see that an interchange has been built to funnel trucks right into the Global Transportation Hub without having to travel on Dewdney. I can see the massive Loblaw warehouse facility in the Global Transportation Hub, too. Frogs are singing beside the Bypass. I look down at the highway. There seems to be as much traffic on Dewdney as there is on the Bypass. A raven croaks. Next to a cell tower, a strange black steel contraption sits; there are straps with heavy steel hooks on the end suspended from its vertical pipes, and the wind catches them, banging the hooks against the pipes with a clanging that sounds like church bells in Spain. I turn and look back towards the glass towers of downtown.
I turn right and walk into the Global Transportation Hub. There is a lot of vacant land here. I realize that I’ve never liked the use of the adjective “Global” to describe this project. There’s a naive Babbitry in that word, a foolish boosterism, even a kind of ignorant hubris. In a globalized world, every transportation hub is global; every place is connected to every other place. A gopher whistles. Some politician came up with that name, someone who imagined that the word “Global” has some kind of talismanic power—someone who saw Field of Dreams too many times and thought, if we build it, they will come. Mostly they have stayed away. I think about Jane Jacobs’s description of “depot centres.” Regina has always been a depot, taking things made elsewhere off of trains and putting them in storage. How is the idea of the GTH an improvement on that notion? At the entrance, I see a sculpture: a tan shipping container stacked on a white one, its plinth. It announces the purpose of this place more eloquently than the sign, which announces “Canada’s Premier Inland Port.” I take a closer look at the sign. It includes a map of the development. Empty lots are coloured in to look like they are occupied. Maybe it’s just that the scale of the drawing is way off. I can’t be sure. Anyone looking at the sign could see all around it the empty lots it identifies as warehouses. It looks like a childish attempt at bending the truth.
The warehouses here are featureless boxes without windows. They look temporary. Perhaps they are: structures that are bolted together can be unbolted again. When warehouses were built downtown, before the First World War, they were sturdy buildings made of brick and stone. Those buildings made an implicit statement: we are here to stay. Now that kind of brand identity is unnecessary. The point is to keep construction costs low. Besides, few people will ever see these buildings. Outside the Global Trade Exhibition Centre, a guy takes a handcart out of a van.
There are dozens of trailers parked in the loading bays at the Loblaw Distribution Centre, and a row of white semis waits by the road. That building seems to house the only going concern here. Occasional trucks pass. It’s quiet. Maybe that’s because of the pandemic. A truck repair shop sits silently. A killdeer warns me away from her nest. On the other side of the Canadian Pacific Intermodal Yard, a long train loaded with containers is heading west, towards Vancouver. Geese sit in the empty fields of grass. Unlike the Intermobil terminal on the other side of town, the Canadian Pacific Intermodal Yard has no gantries. Instead, large tractors—like forklifts, except that they grab containers from the top with a giant claw—are moving cans around. Perhaps there isn’t enough traffic here to justify building a gantry. The road ends at the yard. Signs warn against trespassing. I think about the stories I’ve heard about railroad bulls and decide to turn around. I start walking north. Another tractor is moving cans around outside the Loblaw warehouse. A goose rests on the shoulder of the road.
I turn back towards the city. Grackles are poking around on a recently seeded field. A dead jackrabbit, wearing its white winter fur coat, has been thrown into the ditch. The meadowlarks are still singing.