Friday, 8 May 2009

Gatineau Parkway: A Cyclists Dream or A Drivers Nightmare

In an earlier Fifth Column I stated:

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 National Capital Commission and The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are also aware of the safety problems and they have announced their solution, according to an article in the Ottawa Citizen which states:
Don't ride your bicycle in double file, in "packs" of more than 15 or speed through stop signs this summer.

The National Capital Commission and police are cracking down on cyclists and motorists in Gatineau Park as part of a share the road campaign prompted by the increasing number of traffic violations in the park each year.


RCMP Const. Suzanne Lefort said cyclists who ride in double file or in groups of more than 15 face $95 fines. Cyclists who run through stop signs face $15 fines, plus the loss of three demerit points if they have a driver's licence. Also, cyclists were warned about speeding last year, but this year they will be ticketed.

Drivers who exceed the speed limit by more than 40 km/h could have their vehicles impounded for seven days.
This has led to considerable reaction from the cycling community, including Letters to The Editor from Mike Abraham, Matt Surch, Alex MacKenzie and Avery Burdett.

Matt Surch describes the Gatineau Parkway as a road cyclists haven:
Cycling is a healthy practice with a rich tradition in the Ottawa Valley, home of the country's two oldest bike clubs, dating back to 1882. More than just a sport, cycling affords pleasurable movement through the city and its surroundings.

On any given day, hundreds of cyclists, many in their retirement years, seek the challenge of the hilly Gatineau Parkway to recreate, to live, on the bike. Many users ride the parkway more than once a week, for years.

Some ride alone, others in groups. By riding side-by-side, conversation flows. Other groups with a more competitive bent enjoy the parkway for its promise of training gains and the opportunity to practise road tactics such as drafting, working together as a group.

Yes, road cycling is in fact a team sport; working together to cover ground faster is the magic of cycling.

The parkway is special -- it is a haven for cyclists because it is a parkway; low car speeds are appropriate. Cyclists outnumber any other user group in the summer, including drivers. We feel like the parkway is our oasis in an otherwise hostile cycling environment.

Unfortunately, the NCC does not acknowledge cyclists on the parkway as a recreational user group. Instead, we are being treated just like traffic.
As the last quoted sentence indicates, the NCC does not see it that way, and that is the crux of the matter – should the NCC Parkway be seen as just another commuter road or as a recreational route for cyclists.

Of course the Gatineau Parkway is not just another commuter route. You don't close down a commuter route for a whole season, banning cars, and let a recreational user group use it as their own. But that is what is done with the Gatineau Parkway in the winter for cross country skiers. That does not stop people from using their vehicles to access the ski hills or trails or other recreational facilities. And it certainly contributes to tourism in the National Capital region and the local economy.

The Gatineau Parkway already has the hilly terrain that serious road cyclists love to ride and train on. So why not apply the same logic to the summer season, ban cars from the Gatineau Parkway, and take advantage of an even greater opportunity to turn the National Capital Region into an international destination for cyclists, not to mention providing a wonderful opportunity for local cyclists to develop their skills. It is such opportunities and facilities that produce Olympic Gold Medallists.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I strongly doubt that the Gatineau parkway is closed in the winter purely for the benefit of cross coutry skiers. I suspect that it is a question of safety - it would be difficult and expensive to keep this road in "driveable" condition in winter.
I'm a cross country skier - I love using the park in the winter. I'm also a hiker, and I love using the park in the summer. Closing the parkway to cars in the summer would make a number of trailheads inaccessible to me. I do cycle, but I have found it near impossible to negotiate the steep sections of the parkway on my bicyle. Perhaps I don't have low enough gearing, or perhaps I am not in good enough physical condition. I suspect that a lot of other folks are in a similar position. Even if I _could_ make it up there on my bicycle, I wouldn't have much energy left for hiking after doing so.
Just last week, I had a cousin from Italy visiting. As part of showing him around, we made a short jaunt up to the park, and we did the short hike at King Mountain. If the parkway had been closed to cars, this would have been impractical, if not impossible.
Closing the parkway to cars is all fine and well if you are a serious cyclist. For hikers and people who just want to take in the views from the lookouts, not so much...