The City of Ottawa will complete two rural pathways this spring, improving urban connections to rural areas.
The stone-dust pathways include the Osgoode line, running from the Ottawa International Airport to the village of Osgoode, and the Prescott-Russell line, a 22-kilometre extension to the existing 72-kilometre trail stretching westward from the Quebec border.
Both were originally railway lines. The Osgoode pathway was once a CP line and is now owned by the city. The Prescott-Russell line is under a five-year lease from VIA Rail. VIA has told the city it will eventually reclaim the transit corridor in order to build a high-speed railway between Ottawa and Montreal.
In the rural communities where properties will back onto the pathways, residents are divided over the plans. The city has said that ATVs and motorcycles will not be permitted on the pathways and has held three public meetings to discuss whether or not horses and snowmobiles should also be banned. The village of Osgoode has established a community organization advocating for snowmobile-free paths.
Controversy aside, these paths hold potential for both urban and rural Ottawans.
When the trails open to the public this spring, the Osgoode line will connect to the National Capital Commission’s (NCC) Greenbelt pathway leading from the airport to Bank Street.
The NCC’s greenbelt trail is essentially a ring road around the urban core of the city, which will connect the rural pathways to urban areas. Hikers and cyclists use the trails not only for alternative transit routes around the city, but also as car-free routes between Ottawa and other cities. The NCC pathways connect to the 15,000-kilometre Trans Canada Trail, which is a network of trails stretching coast to coast.
Zlatko Krstulich, the city’s transportation planner, says better urban connectivity is in the future plans for the pathways.
At the latest meeting last week, audience members drew attention to the paths’ potential to narrow the urban-rural divide.
Audience member Melanie Clark said the pathways will provide an opportunity for urban Ottawa to enjoy the countryside. Other members of the audience spoke of the economic benefits that would come from increased tourism to rural areas.
David Suzuki argues that if we hope to build sustainable communities, we must shift from car-centric to people-centric infrastructure. These paths contribute to that goal.
The trails, if sufficiently connected to urban pathways, provide car-free, safer connections between urban, suburban, and rural communities in the Ottawa area. The growing trail network will provide alternative transportation routes for rural residents to reach the city and make the country more accessible to city-dwellers. As Ottawa expands into the countryside, the trails will remain green spaces shared by urban and rural dwellers.
And that could bring us further down the path to sustainable communities.
Residents have until December 20th to submit their input on the trails to the city.