Something that sounds great at first is usually not after you dig down into the details. A bike path will be hugely popular for non-Chelsea residents, given the fact that there is a destination point (Wakefield) and an illusion of water access. Converting the railway corridor into a bike path is one of these ‘let’s think this through’ ideas.
Those living along the tracks will see people trespassing to get to the river. Some homes are just feet from the tracks. Imagine strangers cycling through your yard every day. What would the Cascades Club do to ensure that its recreational areas are preserved for its members and protected from vandalism from the constant trespassing of cyclists from outside the municipality?
A little over 10 years ago, we looked into the implications of such a proposal and found that the costs would be prohibitive. There would be a requirement for garbage receptacles, lighting, and latrines, along with other public services. The last time I looked at the municipal budget, Chelsea was heavily indebted.
This is not the Gatineau Park. The Canada Trails website indicates that the Ottawa/Gatineau region has about 170 km of maintained recreational pathways open to the public. About 45 km of the pathways are part of the Trans Canada Trail. And on Sunday mornings during the summer, 65 km of parkway roads in Ottawa and Gatineau Park are closed to motor vehicles so that cyclists and skaters can take over. Do we need to pay for more?
Insurance companies told us that those who have waterfront property adjacent the tracks would have to assume all legal liabilities. Five-foot fences would be the only way to address that liability.
Road safety would be a huge issue: people would have to cross Hwy 105 to access the path. The cycling clubs that travel in swarms along the highway would likely opt to use the newly paved bike path along the corridor. It makes me think that the current users of the corridor – pedestrians, children, the elderly, and dog walkers – will be pushed off the path and no longer consider it a safe option.
I am sad that the train may never run again. Everyone who lives outside the community recognizes how special this attraction is. Why can’t we? I hope that cooler heads prevail and the train gets the necessary political and financial support. But if worse comes to worse, and we cannot get the train back, then the tracks should be for pedestrians.