By John Trent
In response to Josh Moon’s support for Rails to Trails (Valley Voices, Feb. 5) I, for one, do not believe the efforts to convince the Quebec government to repair the Mile Hill have even really begun, even though our region’s five Liberal MNAs fully support the train.
There are numerous reasons why the Rails to Trails proposal is not practical.
Some people think supporters of the train are ‘train huggers’. Our real motive is tourism and regional economic development. The train brought in millions of dollars and thousands of tourists to the region each year. This will never be equaled by bicycles. The decline of local agriculture and forestry combined with our inability to attract high-tech industry means that tourism is the greatest economic hope for the Outaouais. The proposal to replace the rails with a bike path is equivalent to slaying the golden goose that put our region on the international tourist map.
Many people living along the rail line do not want bicyclists picnicking on their lawns – a fact revealed by surveys carried out in the past. Let’s be clear: the Rails to Trails concept is restricted to bicyclists. People living along the river already get free access to the waterfront for walking and skiing, thanks to the train.
How would bicyclists from outside the region get to the railway right-of-way? Not up Mile Hill, one presumes. If Quebec is refusing to repair the Mile Hill tracks for the train, why would they do so for bicycles?
Some people seem to think a bike path would lead to an explosion of B&Bs and bistros. But why should there be investment in a relatively short trail which is only one tenth of the distance of the ‘Petit train du nord’ going from Montreal to Mont-Laurier? And what would these businesses do during the winter?
Would the people who like to walk along their riverfront be run over by cyclists?
It’s not even certain whether, according to current Quebec transport regulations, the government would permit the ripping up of a rail line.
I very much hope that Chelsea Municipal Council is already calculating into its future budgets the annual costs for maintenance of the bike path, including culverts, bridges, crossings, repairs, insurance, policing, and – eventually – paving.
Cyclists already have plentiful choices: the Gatineau Park, which has both road and mountain biking trails, and public bike lanes. In time, Hwy 105 from Hull to Wakefield will have designated bike lanes. But they still want to rip up the best tourist attraction this region ever had – which also offers the possibility of a commuter rail service in the future.
John Trent is a Senior Fellow with Centre on Governance at the University of Ottawa