Committee approves moving forward with bike routes

The city’s transportation committee voted Monday to shift the gears of its cycling policy which has traditionally favoured recreational bike paths over commuter oriented routes.

The committee approved a motion to enter into talks with the National Capital Commission to complete five new multi-use pathways at a cost of $7.7 million.

One of the new pathways, the Champagne pathway, will run through Centretown connecting Dow’s Lake and the Rideau Canal pathway with the Ottawa River Parkway system.

The $3.2=million route will run parallel to the O-Train route and will dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to travel downtown from the South-end of the city.

Work on a route under the abutment of Somerset Street is already budgeted for 2011 and will be the most expensive part of the route.

Somerset Ward Coun. Diane Holmes said she sees the move as a sea-change in the city’s approach to cycling.

“We’re realizing now that cycling isn’t just about recreational pathways and that it is more important to build commuter routes in order to achieve a sustainable city, cycling is about more than a weekend ride,” said Holmes in an interview.

As a major property owner in the city, the NCC controls a substantial amount of land where the city wants to build the new pathways.

In addition, the NCC officially supports expanding cycling’s role in commuting in Ottawa.

Holmes said that despite its position, the NCC has not made a substantial investment in the city’s cycling infrastructure.

Historically, Ottawa has been the city with the highest rate of commuter cycling, but following heavy cycling infrastructure investment by cities such as Montreal and Vancouver Ottawa is posed to lose that distinction.

“We have put very little money into bike pathways over the last 20 years and finally we are learning that it is a much cheaper way to get people commuting in the future,” said Holmes.

Over the last 10 years the city has added 160 km, bringing the total length to 560 km. However, if the city is going to be successful in meeting its 2020 goal of 1,200 km. Holmes said there will have to be a much greater commitment.

“This is going to take $5 million a year minimum if we’re going to achieve our goals,” said Holmes.

In addition to approving consultation to develop the five new pathways the transportation committee also approved the updated East-West segregated bike lane pilot project.

In an effort to decide how best to lay out the route, the city has enlisted the help of Velo Quebec, a non-profit cycling advocacy group.

“They are leaders in the field, we’re going to consult with them in order to create a finished product that will be successful,” said Holmes.

The city is slated to pick which street the route will run on by the fall, and construction should begin in the spring.