Cycling and Mountain Biking in the Gatineau Park

A few weeks ago I was driving home from mountain biking along the Gatineau Parkway when I noticed just how little room there was for cyclists and motor vehicles to share the road. If I wanted to pass a cyclist I had to hug the yellow line, a dangerous thing to do if traffic is approaching me and only possible if the oncoming traffic sees the cyclist on my side and moves over to give me room, and impossible if there are motor vehicles and cyclists on both sides of the road. At one point I just had to follow behind the cyclist till it was safe to pass, fortunately he was moving at about 40 km/hr.

This can create very dangerous situations, especially if there are impatient drivers. Drivers should, however, be aware that, although used as such, the parkway is not a commuter route, it is a scenic route for tourists and residents to use to enjoy the park scenery and has a speed limit of 60 km/hr.

In many ways the Gatineau Parkway is a wonderful route for cyclists, scenic, winding and hilly. It could be a world class cycling route and a major tourist attraction and economic benefit to the region, if the safety problem was solved.

The answer of course is simple - put dedicated bike lanes along both sides of the parkway. Yes, it will take up some green space but only along the parkway corridor, doing much less damage than building superhighways through the park which the National Capital Commission (NCC ) thinks is appropriate. These bike lanes should be double lanes, not to encourage riding double which cyclists do now adding to the safety problem, but to allow faster cyclists to pass slower ones without having to enter the motor vehicle portion of the parkway.

Perhaps if the NCC undertook a project such as this it would divert their attention from turning single track trails into gravel roads. Which brings me to the other aspect of cycling in the Gatineau Park - mountain biking.

The NCC, in it’s wisdom, has decided that mountain bikers should be second class citizens in the park. If they want to ride single track trails they are relegated to a small section of the park (Camp Fortune) run by a private operator where fees are charged. Meanwhile hikers and trail runners have free reign over all of the public trails in the park at no charge, including the wide trails designated for mountain biking.

I appreciate having the wide gravel trails to ride, they are fun, but mountain bikers, like serious hikers, love rough natural technical single track trails, which are a lot more environmentally friendly than widened gravel roads, which the NCC loves to build and call trails.

There are two arguments for keeping mountain bikers off single track trails - user conflicts and environmental damage. However, neither of these arguments holds up to scrutiny.

In various places, including the NCC’s own greenbelt (where bicycle use is against NCC regulations but the regulations are not enforced), hikers and bikers regularly share the trails with each other with few problems. I can personally attest to never having had a conflict with hikers on the greenbelt trails while riding them regularly (several times a week). I can also attest to hiking and mountain biking in the South March Highlands and always having other trail users treat me with respect, whether as a hiker or a biker.

As to the environmental impact, the overwhelming scientific evidence indicates that hikers and mountain bikers have equivalent impacts on trails. See, for example, the reviews done by the International Mountain Bicycling Association and the New Zealand Department of Conservation.

For more information on mountain biking see the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) website and the Ottawa Mountain Bike Association (OMBA) website.

Since there are no reasons to treat them differently from other trail users, what should the NCC do to ensure that mountain bikers receive equal treatment and trail access in the Gatineau Park.

First they should enter into an agreement with the operator of Camp Fortune to replace the cross country trail fees paid by individuals with a fee paid by the NCC. I suspect the impact of this on the NCC budget would be minimal. This would ensure that mountain bikers do not have to pay access fees that other trail users do not have to pay.

The next thing they should do is to provide mountain bikers access to the rest of the single track trails in the park. This may require a short transition stage for public education and signage and perhaps some trail maintenance. There may even be a few trails that for specific reasons should not have mountain bike access. The NCC should take advantage of OMBA and IMBA’s sustainable trail building expertise during this process. In the interests of equality, this process should be expedited.

The NCC has an opportunity to make the Gatineau Park an internationally acclaimed location for both road cycling and mountain biking. Let us see if they are up to the challenge.


Paul Bell said...

I'm gonna have to say that I don't agree on bike lanes.
You state that it is dangerous because of impatient drivers. I think driving is a privilege and you don't have a right to be impatient due to slower vehicles on the road.
If we are in a world crisis for resources such as oil(which we are) then I do agree that we need to do something about it. This to me is put more bikes on the road and less cars. Putting in a bike lane so people can keep speeding by in their car is only a patch IMHO and could lead to higher speed impacts on roads such as those in the Gatineau park. Adding bike lanes does not discourage car use. It only says, IMHO, that cars have more right to the road than other modes of transportation , such as biking, walking, running, blading etc.
You also state the park is supposed to be a tourist route as well as for enjoying the park. Simply put in a 35km/hr speed limit or similar such as in school zones. This should help keep the people off the road that are using it for a short-cut on their daily commute in their car. No need to spend money on a wider road. Put the $$$ in making the park more enjoyable.
Just my 2 cents worth.

Paul Bell

Anonymous said...

I recommand full closure for cars of each promenade of the Gatineau parc . Put a navette system ,like electrics buses for tourist . Anyway the target for the tourist motorist is always to go to the Champlain lookout , leave their cars 15 minutes and return downhill . The CCN could make some money too with charging minimal fees to take theirs bus .