Railways to Pathways: new rural/urban connections

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.


  1. This is encouraging; Prescott-Russell does a good job of promoting the touristic value of their trail networks, which extend to their border with Ottawa. Ottawa (with the help of stimulus funding) is finally on its way to connecting up to this network–a great synergy for cycle tourism. In Quebec, these pathways are coordinated with the provincewide Vélo Québec organization, whereas cycling connections doesn’t currently have a provincewide champion in Ontario.

  2. I have family that own property that backs the Osgoode trail, to be honest I wouldn’t feel safe riding a bike or walking back there. with no civilization around for a kilometer at times, there are wolves, coyotes, the occasional bear, all sorts of wildlife. Plus what is the point of these paths? Might aswell run them along roads so people may be encouraged to use them to and from places along the way and not just point to point through the bush.

  3. I still would rather see a rail line on these spaces but, as in Europe and Asia you can still build walking trails beside them. These are prime commuter rail lines and if you want to have a GO Transit like, commuter rail system one day capable of getting car commuters off the roads in areas where there is no public transit than rethink the rail to trail program in favor of a rail and trail program. The mayors of Eastern Ontario’s largest communities have been lobbying for such a system for the last 4 years and counting. It is usually, local Ottawa politicians by the way who have always tried to stop this from happening. Getting rid of prime rail rights of way that could take thousands of cars of our roads is not the way to go. A proteceted trail could easily be rebuilt beside the new rail line. The current Trans Canada Trail through Stittsville and Kanata to Caleton Place was the best line for commuter rail in terms of passengers and easy connections to other services. It is now lost, so a few hundred people per season can use it. I have no problems with a walking trail system but, we cannot keep getting rid of our best rail lines, the two proposals can work together.

  4. A fair concern on Mr. Pollock’s part. We need both trails and a proper commuter rail network, and setting Peter against Paul yet again is not a wise course of action.

  5. I agree with the comments above. I commend the City for being cyclist and pedestrian friendly but I’d prefer to see them used as rail lines for a regional commuter transit system similar to Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. I moved to Ottawa a little over a year ago and one of the first things I noticed was the cities potential for a GO Transit type system for the capital region. As mentioned above, perhaps the trails could lie along to a train route. On a side note, I was hoping those rail lines to the airport would’ve made the airport a major hub in a regional commuter transit system. Imagine connecting the whole capital region to the airport. Perhaps it’s not too late.

  6. A fair concern on Mr. Pollock’s part. We need both trails and a proper commuter rail network, and setting Peter against Paul yet again is not a wise course of action.

  7. In Ottawa, with its cult of “green”, idiotic, pointless trails will always win out over sensible ideas about re-using transportation corridors as, um, transportation corridors.

    The twin fetishes, cars and “green”, win every time.

    Every time.

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