Ontario released its new Cycling Strategy on Friday. One of the areas that caught my interest — partly because I sent in comments on the first draft — is intercity tourism.
Cycling is a great form of staycation, ie a way to encourage Ontarians to vacation near home. It could also be an economic way for frugalistas like myself to vacate. Of course, it also has a function of encouraging non-Ontarians to vacation (and spend their money) here.
I was therefore quite disappointed to see no mention of actually building much infrastructure to accomplish these tourism goals. In fact, the first step is to advertise we are cycling friendly, before actually building additional facilities. And then we are going to figure out a network, tying together various bits of widened shoulders on highways or other trails. Some new infrastructure would probably be required.
I fear this approach might be doomed to failure. After researching cycling opportunities in Canada, I ended up cycling along the Loire. And in Austria. But not here. Why?
First, the Europeans have lots of nice packages at all price points and exciting routes, well marked and rated. Both European cycling holidays were excellent value for the money. I stayed in better accommodation for much less than a Comfort Inn here. And the routes were astonishingly safe.
Last year I made a point of finding bits of the Lake Ontario trail in the Toronto-Port Hope area. All the bits I found were shoulders on high speed highways. On roads with slopes and grades designed for motor vehicles, not cycling. Too many of the vehicles in the Port Hope area were souped up cars and huge black pickup trucks roaring around noisily. It was a turn off.
At the Ontario Cycling conference held here in Ottawa, the Bruce Peninsula area promoted cycling holidays. Mostly on-road. Mostly on highways. I met some residents from the area cycling on bixi bikes here in Ottawa — yes, this is anecdotal evidence — who were thrilled with Ottawa’s facilities (thank you Douglas Fullerton). On questioning, they were familiar with their areas tourism brochures, yes they did some cycling near home, but their principle problem was “mirror tag”. Apparently this is the amusement of persons in large pickups trying sneek up then rev the engine as close as possible to the cyclist to see their reaction. Such amusement. I hope your experiences differ.
For my part, I headed off to safer pastures. Europe’s gain; our loss.
One of the areas I was interested in cycling was the Romantic Road in Germany (south of Frankfurt). I could find no info on cycling routes there. Once there, though, driving my rental Golf VW, I discovered tons of dedicated off-road cycling infrastructure under construction. I asked at a tourist office why there were no brochures. The answer: we won’t encourage cycling until the intercity network is complete enough to make it an enjoyable and safe experience. Despite that, there were already lots of cycle tourists, mostly in their 50’s to 70’s.
Compare that to Ontario’s strategy of advertise first, then over come the disappointment later.
Here are some pictures of cycling infrastructure in Germany and Austria:.
(above) Start with the towns and villages. Many had low-traffic or auto-free zones that welcomed bike traffic mixed with pedestrians. Does downtown Perth, Smith’s Falls, Arnprior or Cornwall feel particularly cycle friendly? I hope they become so.
(above) This German path is built in difficult terrain (ie, expensive) but cyclists probably want to see the same sights that have attracted motorists and their fine roads. No need to play “share the road” with high speed cars or big trucks.
(above) At this intersection, the cycle path dekes off to the left to cross the side road at right angles a few car lengths away from the major intersection, a practice universally derided by vehicular cyclists and our traffic engineers, but employed throughout European countries that have the highest cycling rates.
(above) In farmland areas, the bike path often doubled as a farm road for slow-moving tractors, providing safer access to fields than tractors on the highway.
(above) Most paths I was on were paved, even in “remote” areas. But some were not:
(above) Oh that we could cycle from Ottawa to Kingston along the Rideau waterway on a path like this. Sign me up !
(above) Only rarely were farm fields fenced off from cycle paths or local roads. I can’t imagine such a relaxed and calm attitude here.
(above) The Germans and Austrians were willing to spend money to build proper infrastructure in difficult places. This rubberized “boardwalk” went on, and on, and on … and the route attracted lots of cycle tourists:
So yes, let’s promote cycle tourism here in Ontario. But promote it on safe, off-road or specifically cycle-safe local streets (not rural highways shared with 100 kmh trucks). Our cycle tourism numbers are low because there are few facilities, not because we haven’t shiny brochures with the Minister’s name on them. Build the facilities, and the cyclists will find them.
It will take years to build these facilities. Until they are in place, I will (a bit regretfully) take my tourism dollars to where I feel I can get an interesting, economical, and safe cycling holiday.
I am interested in European-quality cycling routes in North America. I will get to PEI in the next few years, but a call to Newfoundland replaced PEI this year. And I have cycled some of the rail-to-trail near Mont Tremblant. My list is open …