by Worldchanging Canada local blogger, Mark Tovey:
The Rideau Canal, iconic emblem of Ottawa's beauty, is, as of today, a UNESCO world heritage site, joining twelve other Canadian sites. It was chosen not for its natural charm, but because "it bears witness to the fight for control of the north of the American continent." However, there is probably another way the Rideau canal should be recognized -- as an emblem not of beauty or war, but of sustainable, person-powered commuting.
As I noted in a previous Worldchanging post, Ottawa is already one of the bicycling capitals of the continent, in large part due to its 170 km of bicycle paths, of which the Rideau canal is one of the most important backbones.
You can cycle almost the entire length of the Rideau bicycle path without ever having to cross a road. On Sundays, during the summer, Ottawa closes the road that runs beside the canal as an impetus to recreational cycling, walking, and in-line skating.
People cycle both sides of the canal to get to work in both summer and winter, in one of the coldest capitals in the world. It's not unusual for Ottawans who live near the canal to skate to work along the canal in winter. (See also this video).
It is no surprise that people choose this as their commute. It's not only easy on the pocketbook, it's easy on the eyes. Beauty (especially natural beauty) is an important component of making sustainable urban commuting more attractive.
Lets take a moment to celebrate the canal. Let's also look at what a difference it can make to have such a beautiful bike/skateway for daily travel. Try a little experiment. Look at some of these photos, and compare this route in your mind to a half hour's commute on your favourite highway.
If you were to cycle north along the canal from Carleton University (where I spend my days) to the Parliament buildings in the heart of the city, here are a few of the sites you would encounter en route, including many beautiful bridges, all of which can be crossed on foot:
A nice commute, that.
The bike path only extends as far south as Hog's Back Falls. To go further south on the canal, you can take your canoe, and people certainly do (see the top ten reasons to paddle the Rideau). In fact, if you have a 14' canoe or better, it's possible to take your bicyle with you in your canoe. And if you want to take two bikes, just get a bigger canoe. For longer trips, this is a great way to pick up groceries (see the Rideau Canal FAQ) in the section on supplies.
Not only can you take a bicycle in a canoe, you can transport a canoe by bicycle. A Canadian company named Wike, based out of Guelph, offers a Canoe trailer for your bike. Richard Guy Briggs of the Human Powered Vehicles group in Ottawa has custom-built a carrier that allows him to carry his canoe on his trike, and also has been known to take his trike for a spin on the frozen water of the canal.
How many ways can you traverse the Rideau? By foot, bike, bike/canoe, canoe/bike, in-line skates, ice-skates, kayak, and probably some others I've missed in the crowd -- most of them completely non-motorized. It's important to remind ourselves that there are a diversity of ways to get around without fossil fuels. And now, some Ottawa residents are making their sustainable daily commute along a world heritage site.
The 170 km cycle path system maintained by the Federal Government in its parks in Ottawa is fantastic for recreational and professional cyclists. Accoss the River in Gatineau Quebec there are also fantastic cycle paths that go up into the Gatineau mountains for both professional and amateur cyclists.
However it should be noted that according a recent Ottawa Origin destination survey less than %2 of Ottawa trips are made by bicycle.
Ottawa may have a fantastic recreational bike path system for tourists and sunday recreation , but it has a long way to go to catch up to Cities like Copenhagen, where %30 of trips are by bike.
Ottawa covers a large area and large portions of the City is not easily accessible to these paths, nor are many of these paths connected. It is still too dangerous to cycle downtown and it is very difficult for cyclists to cross the major East -West Freeway called the Queensway. The City of Ottawa itself spends almost nothing on bicyle paths and promoting bike use.
In short, Ottawa paths are great for tourists and recreation, but they are not much used by the Citizens of Ottawa to make their trips.