Pathway users make safety a priority

By Lina Khouri

Ottawa cyclists, joggers and pedestrians want safer pathways before more are developed.

But creating links to current paths and promoting tourism are at the top of the list for the National Capital Commission in the draft of their strategic plan for the Pathway Network for Canada’s Capital Region.

The NCC and the City of Ottawa met local pathway users to discuss future paths Nov. 23. They are introducing an updated 10-year plan to monitor the capital region recreational pathways and are accepting public suggestions until Dec. 23.

The NCC plans to present the draft next spring.

Avid pathway users raised concerns about personal safety on trails, trail routes, maintenance, and the dangers of multipurpose use, such as speeding cyclists startling pedestrians.

Inconsistent lighting was the most common safety concern. Some trails have lights that come on at night, keeping the trail accessible after dark. But they’re not always kept up, leaving lanterns with dead bulbs and pathway users confused, complained residents.

The NCC and Ottawa “recommend that nobody should use the pathways at night, but what is the vision for the lit section of the pathway network? Are we lighting (the paths) then saying no, don’t go on them?” said Brian Carroll, president of Dow’s Lake Residents’ Association.

Carroll likes that the trails around Dow’s Lake are lit, but plan designers are hesitant to add more lights on pathways.

“We wouldn’t want to give the false notion that people will think the trail is safe just because it’s lit,” said Nelson Edwards of the City of Ottawa. He acknowledges people are using the paths at night, but says using pathways in the evenings always has an increase risk of danger, even if the path is lit.

One major safety move the NCC addressed is more fluid communication with police since Ardeth Wood was killed. In their 10-point action plan, they set up a volunteer pathway patrol group, said NCC project manager Francois Daigneault.

Ottawa faces several development changes in the coming years with the city cycle plan, which highlights designated bicycle routes and light rail plan in the capital, development in Leitrim and Riverside South and the Bank Street reconstruction.

Designers of the pathway plan have about $100,000 and are looking to tie locations for new trails to other projects, Edwards said. This allows the NCC to stretch its funding.

The pathway plan aims to join several paths in the capital region.

Before amalgamation, each city had its own pathway system, which was not connected to paths in other cities. The NCC wants to link them to enable users to travel from the capital to Gatineau and the outlying areas of Ottawa. They also want to make paths accessible to pedestrians, cyclists and inline skaters.

In Centretown, the draft plan links paths to the future light rail tracks. This will force cyclists to share roads with several types of heavy traffic along Slater and Albert Streets.

Combining trail maintenance with other development plans also leaves some paths in poor shape, said resident J. E. Coby Fuykschot.

The plan calls for extended trails on Woodroffe Avenue but leaves smaller trails like the Experimental Farm passage un-kept. The paths across the Experimental Farm are often unplowed and slippery in the winter even though the pathways along surrounding government buildings are clear, said Fuykschot, who often walks on the path. She asked the NCC and Ottawa if they plan to plow the route.

The NCC only plows “specific community pathways” which lead users to larger city events, such as Winterlude. The experimental farm was not used enough to deserve this service, said Jean Charbonneau, NCC’s land manger; a point on which Fuykschot and others at the meeting disagreed.

The draft plan calls for this and other surrounding trails to eventually connect to Dow’s Lake, another tourist destination.