Last Friday, December 3, when I happened to cycle by LeBreton Flats on my way downtown, I noticed that the brand new pathways across LeBreton were already opened, despite an official opening day on December 6. Two men with a truck were removing fences at the Bayview station entrance of the pathways. Modest as I am I did not dare passing the men doing their job so I kept cycling on the Trillium pathway towards the Chief William Commanda bridge and turned east along the Kichi Sibi river.
But a few hundred meters further east I noticed the path was already open, so I took the opportunity to bike on the new pathways before the snow was going to come down.
The last time I cycled on the Flats was on May 23, 2010. Soon after, most of it was closed for soil remediation and LRT construction.
There are three MUP entrances to LeBreton Flats: one off Bayview, one off Pimisi and one off the NCC pathways along the river. The three paths meet somewhat halfway. If you take a closer look at the picture below, you will notice that one part of the pathway has separated pedestrian and cycling facilities, an approach that many of us very much welcome.
As our pathways are becoming more congested, part of the new pathway is 4 meters (12 ft) wide. It might help alleviate some foot and bike traffic along the river pathways. The area near Pimisi is a mixed traffic area though with a few 90 degree angles in the route. This area was already built when Pimisi was built but is now connected to a larger network.
The path partly runs along an old aqueduct. While cycling along this heritage aqueduct, you will notice several bridges: the two in the pictures are the Canada Central bridge, where no less than about a dozen train tracks used to run across towards what is now a park in front of the War Museum. The second bridge is Broad Street bridge, closed for now, but bound to be a future cycling and pedestrian bridge.
The heritage aqueduct is a channel with a water intake from the Ottawa River for the Fleet Street pumping station further east at Pooley’s bridge. The water runs through the aqueduct, disappears underground below the Portage Bridges and appears again behind the Library and Archives building. The underground part used to be open water before the Portage bridge was built.
During public consultations it was suggested not to use hideous fences, and fortunately, the NCC chose for the more rural like fencing. It was also suggested that the pathways lights would remain modest and they are as you can see. Having two pathways leading to the stations is great if there are ever large events organised at the Flats.
Why the rush to build the active mobility infrastructure first?
I asked Katie Paris, the NCC director in charge of the LeBreton Flats project, about the initiative to put this infrastructure in first rather than wait until everything is built and then squeeze a few inefficient bike paths in.
Katie: This pathway is the first public realm element to be implemented from the new LeBreton Flats Master Concept Plan. An important guiding principle of the Master Concept Plan is to Create Connections. Building on the recent reconstruction of a pathway tunnel under the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, the new LeBreton Flats pathway serves to create connections through and to LeBreton Flats, welcoming people back to an area that has largely been inaccessible to the public for decades.
Will it be accessible in winter?
Katie: Thanks to the contributions of volunteers with the Kichi Sibi Winter Trail, the pathway enables year-round recreation and transportation opportunities for existing and future residents of LeBreton Flats and the broader community.
I noticed both pathways terminate at stations, is that on purpose?
Katie: Yes, the pathway links to two O-Train Stations, Pimisi and Bayview, and sets a foundation for the active-mobility focused Vision Zero transportation approach that is a priority in the Master Concept Plan.
I read in the report that we can expect programming along the pathways. Where would that be?
Katie: In the future, we plan to offer activities and programming in the area around the pathway west of Pimisi Station plaza (referred to as the “slow zone” in the pathway design drawings).
A nice route to bike is to start at Bayview, follow the pathway east along LRT, eventually along the heritage aqueduct on your left, underneath Pimisi (a bit shady), cross the water (you’ll hardly notice), around the newer Claridge developments (here you are actually cycling on a former railway track), cross Pooley’s bridge and turn left towards Portage. It saves you the traffic lights at Booth near the War Museum but doesn’t really connect to downtown either, unless you turn south underneath Pimisi and bike back to Albert Street’s MUP. It might make for some nice urban skiing too. Alternatively you can obviously start from the river pathway.
I am interested to hear if you plan to use the new pathways. See also a blog from 2019 about the new pathway at Pimisi which shows more images of the area around Pimisi Station.
Report: LeBreton Flats pathway report (https://ncc-website-2.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/Consultation-Report_LeBreton-Pathway_EN-Final.pdf)
Kevin Ballantybe’s awesome interactive railroad maps: Map of Ottawa’s Railways Through the Years (kballantyne.ca)