The importance of suburban bike paths

Yesterday, there was a public consultation at the Walter Baker Centre regarding new bike paths being constructed in Barrhaven. This would be an eminently good idea. But before we get to that, let’s get to why bike paths aren’t always so great.

Ottawa has a decent network of bike paths (mostly thanks to the NCC). You can ride along either side of the canal, you can ride along the rivers, you can ride through the experimental farm, you can take them pretty darned far. I have and will continue to use these paths for many of my excursions.

But they’re not always so great, and they’re often an excuse used by the city to refrain from building proper bike infrastructure. You just have to look at the Glebe Cycling Plan. It’s a plan devised to take bicyclists around and past the Glebe. Bank Street is a horror story, but it’s also the street has all the actual stuff on it.

If you want to head downtown, you’ve got no infrastructure except the canal path (and eventually, part of the O’Connor bikeway). So if you want to get somewhere on Kent or Lyon Street (for instance), but want safe infrastructure, you have to go all the way to the canal, then all the way back west once you’re downtown (where there’s only one street with proper infrastructure…oh but there’s also the Ottawa River Pathway).

Downtown is a grid, which is perfect for a robust bicycle network. That’s what we need downtown.

But Barrhaven isn’t a grid. It’s a looping community of crescents and cul-de-sacs. It’s long blocks with few intersections that often wind you away from the direction you want to go. It’s built for cars. Walking is horrible. Biking is a good bit better, but still not great.

These paths help bikes and pedestrians cut through the inherent hostility of suburban design. They give direct routes (or, at least, far less circuitous routes), they get you away from traffic and they can give you a safe way to cross railroad tracks (underneath).

I know. I lived out there. I biked out there. I rollerbladed out there (a couple of times). And I walked out there. If you didn’t have a car, these pathways were imperative for getting around safely and, more or less, quickly.

And there weren’t nearly enough, and as Barrhaven grows, they’re going to need more and more of these. They’ll bring a little more liveability, a little more sustainability and a bit of wise urban development to the area.


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