ATVs, Motor Bikes and Snowmobiles Downtown and in Our Neighbourhoods?

Don Johnston

At the Lanark County Open House on the future of the old CP rail bed, one of the original champions of developing a trail from Mattawa to Smith Falls, Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet said that he accepts that with a multi-use trail, the various user groups are “incompatible.” This begs the question: “With this trail going through the heart of the downtown, why are we setting ourselves up for frustrations, or worse – accidents?”

Friends of the Ottawa Valley Recreational Trail (FOVRT) are advocating for a non-motorized, recreational trail through Mississippi Mills and Carleton Place. These communities are highly populated and the trail crosses streets and main downtown thoroughfares, beside residences and through neighbourhoods. Is it not common sense that this populated area of the trail should have a special designation apart from the track laid through the farm fields, woods and bush of the Valley?

Safety of our communities is the number one concern heard by FOVRT.  The thought of ATVs, motor bikes and snowmobiles running in our neighbourhoods is unfathomable for many, including a wide range of community groups from the Thobourn Mill Condo Board to the ADHS School Council (both have sent letters to County in support of non-motorized uses only). There are lots of questions that must be answered about a motorized trail through the town:

  • How could it be made welcoming and safe for children? Seniors? Dog walkers? Persons of all ages and abilities?
  • What of the crossing at multiple intersections with street traffic and pedestrians?
  • What about the narrow bridges and issues with passage and right of way?
  • What of speed enforcement, noise complaints?
  • With little police presence in our community, who will enforce the laws for the vehicles driving through the downtown? What of impaired drivers on the trails?

From a taxpayer’s perspective, who is going to pay for the added police and bylaw enforcement? Is it fair that the municipality picks up this cost; shouldn’t the County rebate the municipality for any additional policing costs?

Policing is not the only added cost when considering a multi-use trail. With motorized use by ATVs, motor bikes and snowmobiles, there will be increased maintenance. If the County were to develop a twin track for the towns of CP and the Mills, there is greater infrastructure costs, starting with the different types of surfaces required, treatment of the necessary shoulders and the culvert barriers, and what of the bridges? Motorized trails will increase the costs of liability insurance because there is the increased risk of injury (and severity). There is also the new costs of the carbon tax(es) that we will have to factor for in the near future.  So, who is going to pay for all of these additional costs that come with motorized use – the user groups or the taxpayers?

If motorized vehicles are allowed, experiences in other communities tell us that this new trail’s potential will be doubly harmed. First, it will not be used by local residents (by our children, seniors and those with disabilities) and used less by families, cyclists, runners, hikers, walkers, etc. Then second, there will be the greater costs to maintain the multi-use trail for those motorized users who will be enjoying it.

Because of the incompatibility of the active transportation and motorized user groups, there are many outstanding questions and concerns about the trail’s development and management. FOVRT urges all residents to submit to the County their views on development of the rail bed. You have until March 1st to e-mail OVRT@lanarkcounty.ca

Learn more about the plans to develop the rail trail at www.rail-trail.ca