Cyclists and pedestrian who use the Ottawa River and Rideau Canal pathways may see improvements in the coming years thanks to money for the National Capital Commission in the 2018 federal budget. Photo: Rachel Emmanuel, Centretown News.

Big grants for NCC in federal budget to maintain sites, pathways

By Casey Bolton

The National Capital Commission was granted $55 million in last month’s federal budget, the agency’s first major grant since 2010. The budget proposes to give the money to the NCC over two years for major repairs and maintenance.

The NCC is the custodian of many of Canada’s heritage assets in the national capital region, including 24 Sussex Dr., the official residence of Canada’s prime minister.

The NCC also oversees numerous pathways and parks in the capital.  But in an audit last year, it was determined that 10 NCC properties were in critical or poor condition.

While some NCC properties are in need of renovation, cycling advocates will be hoping for investments to develop the Ottawa River Pathway, specifically the section between the Canadian War Museum and Parliament Hill, and the Rideau Canal pathways.

In a two-night public discussion held by the NCC on Feb. 21 and Feb. 22, more than 200 people came forward to voice what they wanted for Ottawa’s pathways.

A major concern about the paths was congestion and speed. Gabriel Charlton is a former road bike racer and Canada Summer Games participant. Charlton has been cycling the Ottawa River Pathway for years.

“I think it would be really good to have separate lanes,” said Charlton. “I’m a fast biker and sometimes I get stuck behind slower people and it causes lots of traffic.”

Charlton is not the first to discuss the possibility of segregated lanes. At the meeting cyclists and pedestrians came forward suggesting different lanes for different speed bikers. They also suggested a lane entirely for walkers.

“You have to be careful, people just speed by you,” said Charlton.

Another major topic at the discussion was how it would be possible to keep the paths open all year. The topic has come up in the past but there were never any funds to make the change.

“I don’t usually bike in the winter, but if I knew the paths would be safe I might consider it,” said Charlton.

Maintenance of the pathways in the winter months would make a significant difference to Ottawa’s cycling season, especially considering last year’s flooding.

In 2017, the Ottawa River Pathway was one of the casualties in the flooding that hit Ottawa that spring. Parts of the path were littered with potholes and debris and some sections were even considered to be unsalvageable.

The one-kilometre section from behind the Library and Archives Canada building, to Parliament Hill and on to the Rideau Canal, was closed until Nov. 23.

NCC spokesperson Dominique LeBlanc said the damaged pathways have been rebuilt to higher standards of resiliency.

“The Ottawa cycling paths the NCC owns are a significant asset for the city, contributing to Ottawa’s allure as a top cycle tourism destination in Ontario,” said Louisa Mursell, executive director of Ontario by Bike.  “Ensuring that the bike paths are well maintained takes significant resources, and helps ensure safety of users as well as a high-quality ride experience.”