Wednesday, December 8, 2010

When they build it...

...we will be there.

The triking season is certainly done for the year. We have a few centimetres of dry snow that have been whipped about by the really high winds we have had as of late. We have some more snow in the forecast and so my thoughts are now mostly on the hoped for cross country ski conditions.

We do the vast majority of our cross country skiing in the nearby Sawmill Creek Constructed Wetlands, a simple series of pathways located about 400 metres from our house. We often go for walks there throughout the year as well as ski there so it's a useful facility for us year-round. Indeed, this past summer, the City of Ottawa extended the pathways so that users can easily get to the Walkley transit station. That's good news for us as it gives us more places to trike, walk and, at this time of year,
ski. However, the pathway system at the SCCW is still a closed loop. It doesn't allow for easy access from any nearby neighbourhoods...until now, that is.

The Sawmill Creek Constructed Wetlands are located where Hunt Club Road meets with Airport Parkway. It's kind of wedged in between Airport Parkway, a busy road leading into the city from the airport - hence the name - and the South Keys shopping centre. As it's a wetland, bird species like red winged blackbirds, the ubiquitous gulls and a few graceful looking herons are common there. However, it's also a recreational area for joggers, dog walkers and cyclists...and the city is moving to expand its use.

Enter, the bridge. We learned of the city's plan to construct a bridge to join the Hunt Club Community to South Keys and then learned of the public information session held last night - December 7th. City engineers and planners came out to the Hunt Club-Riverside Community Centre, set up a series of information panels in a medium sized gymnasium and were available to answer any questions members of the public may have had.

The information panels consisted, in large part, of descriptions of the project. Such descriptions must have been written by marketing people as promises were made that users of the bridge would feel nothing less than "delighted". Mostly, I just wanted to see what this bridge would look like, who would use it and how it would open the community to cyclists and pedestrians.

The bridge, as yet unnamed, is supposed to start around Cahill West, rise and cross Airport Parkway only to settle back onto the SCCW pathway. Hypothetically, it should both connect residents in the Hunt Club West community to the South Keys shopping centre and provide users a way to get to the shopping centre and transit stations there without having to negotiate the rather busy Hunt Club Road. It should also allow people who live in South Keys and points east (I'm thinking Greenboro) to cycle to Hog's Back for the ever-welcome Alcatel/Lucent Sunday bike days, again, without having to negotiate busy roads like Hunt Club. The bridge won't replace the use of such roads for cyclists but it will provide an alternative, and that's its job.

The bridge should also make it easier for pedestrians and cyclists alike to access the South Keys transit station. The plans include the building of a shiny new tunnel connecting the wetlands to the transitway station's lower level pedestrian underpass. This also means the dismantling of the old, crumbling tunnel that is currently there. Two doors at the west end of the transit station will allow entry of both cycles and wheelchairs. As well, a ramp of no more than 5 degrees and hugging the South Keys station will allow people to gain access to the transit platform itself. The gentle slope will make this both cycle and wheelchair accessible. This is put in place to accommodate the difference in elevation between the South Keys transit station and the wetlands. Right now, hardy walkers need to first hop over a railing, negotiate a fairly steep drop from the transit station to the wetlands, as strewn with rocks, bushes and the odd tree root just to make the whole process interesting. Oh, did I mention the "Keep Out - this means YOU" sign that is both present and thoroughly ignored? Currently, it is not possible to bring a bike through and the new tunnel promises to fix that.

The bridge won't really do much for us. It's just as easy for us to ride the short distance (and it is short) along Hunt Club to reach places like Hog's Back or Colonel By Drive. It will provide an easier way for us to access the Hunt Club community's roads like Cahill West, Plante and McCarthy. Mostly, it'll just be one more cycle friendly route for us and others to explore.

I know the title of this blog entry is a play on the oft-used phrase "If you build it, they will come!" but, according to the city councillor for the area, Maria McRae, it isn't a matter of "if" but "that". The bridge's construction costs (estimated at around $5 million dollars) have been accounted for in the city's budget and the bridge itself is scheduled for completion around this time next year. Unfortunately, that means that we won't be able to try it out for the 2011 cycle season but it should be wide open to the public for the 2012 season.

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