Monday, August 21, 2006

La Route Verte, la route à l'avenir

A couple weeks ago, I was a passenger in a car heading through rural Quebec. We went through Gatineau Park and spent some time driving beside (or along) La Route Verte. La Route Verte is a network of bike routes that span the province of Quebec. The route consists of bike lanes, bike trails, and roads with wide paved shoulders.

I have never knowingly cycled on La Route, but I did ride in Gatineau Park many years ago when I didn't know about the route. Everyone in Ottawa just knows that if you want to go for a nice recreational ride, with low traffic, beautiful surroundings and impressive views, you cross the river and ride the hills of Gatineau Park.

Quebec is doing a good job of creating a reputation as somewhere that wants to attract day cyclists and touring cyclists. La Route Verte even provides information on places to eat dinner and stay overnight, and the list isn't limited to camp sites (or cornfields). You can see how it would play directly into that oft-begged-for tourism dollar.

There's a town on the edge of Gatineau Park called Chelsea that attracts people from Ottawa to its restaurant patios and ice cream shop. Lots of people come by car, but there's also a steady stream of cyclists flowing into and out of the village. The roads in this small town have wide bike lanes on each side. In Toronto, bike lanes are almost assumed to be an urban or downtown feature, but their benefit to a small town are obvious in the example of Chelsea. The bike lanes provide a comfortable link between urban Ottawa and a rural Quebec getaway.

Some neighbourhoods of Toronto have similar qualities that attract people. These are places where wide sidewalks are interrupted by fruit and vegetable stands, restaurant patios, or crowds from an ice cream shop. People visit because there's something a little bit more interesting about the wilds outside the shopping mall. They arrive using many modes of transport, and often the bicycle is used by people just beyond walking distance. With the help of a real network of bike paths, people from further away within our city could be local bike tourists.

Chelsea, Quebec acts as a better example of what could be done for some of the smaller towns that surround Toronto. Packs of cyclists on racing bikes already sweep through York Region on weekends, attracted by natural beauty and few traffic lights. Why not try to attract the people who aren't comfortable riding on fast moving streets by installing bike lanes to connect Scarborough with Unionville and Unionville with Stouffeville and Stouffeville with Aurora and Aurora with Richmond Hill. Some of these town centres are working hard to create some interest, remain a destination and fight off the lure of low low prices that are just a parking lot away.

I know Toronto and York Region both have plans for a bike network. Neither municipality has one right now. The benefits of such a network are to the cyclist and the small business. A future Green Route opens up the options provided by the bicycle to many of our neighbours who are currently uncomfortable cycling beyond their quiet street. And, rather than leave our old town centres with an inferiority complex trying to keep up with shopping malls and power centers, a Green Route takes advantage of the unique characteristics that can make our town centres friendly to both pedestrians and cyclists.

Darren J 8/21/2006 10:28:00 PM

2 Comments:

Excellent points, Darren!

One of the things that I like about some of the York Region communities is the fact that the small town "downtown" areas have been retained to a certain degree. Richmond Hill, Aurora, and Unionville also have some nice historical districts that can be fun to explore on a bike.

While not "green," communities in the North have created and linked networks of snowmobile trails. The communities become destinations for food, fuel etc. Maintenance is funded (I think) at least partly by trail passes and volunteer work. I'm not sure the same model would work, for bike/ped routes, but it is interesting to contemplate.
Totally agree with you.

The patios, markets and bike lanes remind me of the almost car-less lifestyle I enjoyed when living in Europe. A lot of people here don't seem to enjoy this kind of lifestyle. Or maybe they just aren't aware of it?

Now I commute Aurora-Stouffville every day on my bike, and it would be great to have a bike lane. I'm eating a lot of dust on the unpaved backroads and shoulders in these dry periods.

I'm know of the master walking/cycling plan for York Region and attended a meeting. I applied as volunteer from the public, and hope I get selected to get my voice heard.

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