When I began mapping my route from Strandherd Drive and Greenbank Road in Barrhaven to city hall downtown, I expected to ride on busy arterials for most of my 24-kilometre trip.
At first glance, the bike-friendly route Google Maps spits out takes you along such major roads as Fallowfield, Woodroffe and Prince of Wales. But upon closer inspection, I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of those roads actually have wide, well-paved cycling paths running alongside them.
For all the outcry about inadequate cycling links across the city, for my purposes it seemed like I was in for an off-road cycling dream.
Beginning on Greenbank at 8:11 a.m., I started on a paved cycling path that kept me off the road but still travelling in the most efficient direction towards my destination.
By 8:14 I had hit my first road block – a path was closed for construction – and the detour briefly turned my internal compass upside down. But I was soon back on the main path, heading towards Woodroffe Avenue.
The path abruptly ended while running parallel to Fallowfield Road, but it at least connected to a well-marked bike lane, which I hopped on for about 30 seconds before crossing the Woodroffe intersection without problems and joining the Greenbelt Trail heading north.
Now, this path was especially surprising. If I blocked out the clogged road to my left, I was free to enjoy the flat, smooth ride past horse ranches and farmers’ fields. At one point I found myself sailing through a cedar forest that briefly blocked the cars from view and allowed me to enjoy the soft morning light trickling through the thick stand of trees. I even saw a rabbit.
As a novice riding a pretty standard bike, it was humbling to think I had been so attached to my car, when all along I could have been enjoying a jaunt through the city’s green spaces.
Connectivity did become an issue, however, through the Viewmount and Carleton Heights areas while trying to connect to Hog’s Back Road and the Colonel By pathway.
Most of this section followed quiet residential roads, and the path sections were confusing, badly paved and often no wider than a goat path.
Frustrated and running late, I eventually gave up trying to navigate the path and instead took a residential road I knew would get me to Prince of Wales. The major lesson I took from this was that the city’s path network is by no means perfect, and for a new commuter it will take several false starts to iron out a route that works.
To be fair, between the city and the National Capital Commission there are 260 kilometres of pathways throughout the region. There are also more than 270 kilometres of on-road facilities such as bike lanes and paved shoulders, according to Citizens for Safe Cycling.
With this infrastructure – connectivity complaints notwithstanding – it seemed clearer to me than ever that commuting by bike can make sense for way more residents than we actually see on the paths.
I only passed a handful of cyclists on my trip through Barrhaven and Nepean, and none of them looked like they were commuters. In fairness I did leave about an hour later than most cycle commuters heading downtown.
Of course, the statistics were also against me. According to Citizens for Safe Cycling, South Nepean has a much smaller number of trips than areas close to downtown. Considering my commute was almost an hour-and-a-half long and required me to get up at the ungodly hour of 7:30 a.m., I can understand why.
View Bicycle commute: Barrhaven to City Hall in a larger map