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  • Writer's pictureMatthieu Gagnon

It's time to stop sharing the path

The Ottawa River Pathway is a glorious piece of infrastructure that undeniably makes living in Convent Glen much better. It was a key reason why my family decided to move to the area from Fallingbrook and it probably saved my family’s mental health during the COVID pandemic (my then 2 year old who insisted on dressing up as a blue monster probably helped the mental health of countless others). Unfortunately, a lot of the enjoyment of the path is under threat because it is the only safe route for non-car and non-public transportation commuters going downtown . With the advent of e-bike and other electrified personal mobility devices, the notorious unreliability of our public transportation, an affordability crisis and supply chain issues making car commutes unaffordable to many and a growing environmental conscience, a lot of people are using this piece of recreational infrastructure for transportation.

I have been using the path for my commute over the course of the last year and I really think that e-bikes are the cheat code to commuting in Ottawa. It takes me about 35-40 minutes to get from my house to the office with my e-bike compared to over an hour by bus and train. The ride is great with the wonderful landscape the pathway has to offer and the fact that a good portion of my commute is far from cars. I do realize however that my commute has an impact on people. Following the 20 km/h speed limit would make the commute unviable to me since it would bring the time to over an hour. I generally go to the 32 km/h that my e-bike allows me to easily do and slow down if I have to pass people walking. I try to be nice by passing as far from people as possible, often on the grass, and to ring my bell when it’s not made useless by my pogies. However, I recognize that by cycling on the path, I have an impact on other people’s enjoyment of the path. I also see people who are not so nice to people walking. Based on my experience, recreational users of the pathway should not have to share it with people using it recreationally.

The pathway is a symptom of what we see elsewhere in our society where all the infrastructure funding has gone to building car infrastructure while other modes of transportations have been starved. If you want to go west from Orléans by car, you can take the highway, the Georges-Étienne-Cartier Parkway, Innes, Montréal Road and countless other roads that have been built exclusively for cars with at most a token nod to other modes in the form of narrow sidewalks and painted bicycle gutters. If you look at the Strava bicycle heat map of eastern Ottawa, you can see that the pathway is by far the most popular way west which makes sense considering that only people who are very comfortable riding with cars would willingly choose another route. As a community, we should seek to redress this balance by building a good commuting route for those who want to use alternatives to cars especially while we sort out this whole LRT fiasco.

Map of Eastern Ottawa centered on the Greenbelt showing a lot of bike traffic on the Ottawa River Pathway and significantly less traffic on other east-west routes.
Strava Heat Map of Eastern Ottawa showing only bike traffic

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