Commuter cycling and the rail trail

Doug Preece

I have heard from the county that they are changing the rail trail’s surface material from exclusively granular M to gravel and stone dust.

Why is this important?  It is because the county has used funding from a provincial commuter cycling program for the topping of the trail.  Commuter cycling is predominantly done by road bikes and road bikes cannot cope with granular M.  The stone dust will form a compacted surface that is more compatible with road bikes. Since the funding for the topping comes from a commuter cycling program, it behooves the county to ensure that the surface is compatible with commuter cycling.

The Ontario Municipal Commuter Cycling Program’s (OMCC) primary purpose is to reduce greenhouse gases by encouraging commuters to commute by bicycles rather than cars.  Lanark County’s allotment is $548,289.73, all of which is being spent on the trail.  I do hope the trail will encourage a lot of active users but I think it’s a bit ethically dubious to use these funds whose purpose is to reduce greenhouse gasses to build a trail that in my opinion predominantly supports snowmobiles in the winter and ATVs in the summer.

The OMCC program has a number of rules that dictate whether or not funding will be approved for potential projects. Ineligible projects include ones that:

– support low-frequency cycling
– support cycling infrastrucure whose primary purpose is recreational or tourism
– primarily support other means of transportation (walking, driving etc.)
– do not support commuter cycling

In my opinion this means that by using these funds, the county is legally agreeing that the trail’s primary purpose is neither recreational nor tourism, that the trail will support high frequency cycling and that commuter cycling must be deemed as important as walkers or motorized vehicles.  Any recreational or tourism issues associated with the trail must take a back seat with respect to commuter cyclists’ interests.

Which is pretty interesting if you think about it.  I think commuter cycling usage will be very low on the trail but they are now in the driver’s seat. Or at least share the driver’s seat.

For example, I would think that if it came to pass that motorized use destroyed the surface to such a degree that commuter cycling was no longer viable, then a case could be made to have motorized vehicles banned.  Or another example – if commuter cyclists could show that their participation on the trail is significantly reduced due to motorized vehicles, ostensibly that would be enough to ban motorized vehicles.

I guess another opinion would be that the province knew the nature of the rail trail (the county’s submission consistently stated that the trail was mixed use) and that by approving the project anyway it takes the county off the hook to ensure that commuter cycling has equal footing with motorized usage.  The legal answer probably falls somewhere in the middle.

Anyway, all this is just food for thought.  I do hope that it will come to pass that there will be significant numbers of cyclists and walkers on the trail and that the funds have been put to a good use.