NCC will no longer allow vehicles on some Gatineau Park roads
Petition calls on NCC to restore vehicle access to pre-pandemic levels, calls plan 'discriminatory'
A petition calls on the National Capital Commission to restore vehicle access to Gatineau Park to pre-pandemic levels, but the National Capital Commission says it's not reversing course even as life returns to normal.
Since the spring of 2020, the NCC has closed some of its busiest parkways to vehicles from May to fall, opening them up for active uses such as cycling, running, in-line skating and roller skiing.
This ran on a trial basis in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with vehicles banned all day, every day. A couple months into the plan, the NCC modified the pilot to allow vehicles on Sunday afternoons.
The 2021 version of the pilot opened parkways to vehicles after 1 p.m., and until 30 minutes past sunset on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
The pilot continues this year on the same schedule as in 2021, but with the addition of a free weekend shuttle service starting in late June.
Some of Gatineau Park's more popular attractions are affected, including Pink Lake; the Champlain, Fortune Lake, Heron and Étienne Brûlé lookouts; Mulvahill and Bourgeois lakes; and Waterfall, Lauriault and King Mountain trails.
As of Friday, more than 3,000 people had signed an online petition calling on the NCC to end the vehicle ban, calling it "discriminatory."
Ala' Qadi says he started the petition because he believes it's unfair parkways are limited to "active users."
Qadi, who runs an Ottawa-Gatineau hiking group, said many people who enjoy the park aren't physically able to bike or hike all the way to their destinations in the park.
The restrictions limit people's ability to drive to some parking lots and give themselves a shorter hike.
"Why are we favouring these so-called active users over seniors, families, people with disabilities?" Qadi said. "We are active users [too], we're active users using the park, not the pavement."
Reducing vehicles aligns with new park master plan
Removing vehicle access to some roads was done to provide more space for people to exercise during the pandemic, but it also aligns with the NCC's recent Gatineau Park master plan approved in 2021.
Fewer vehicles in the park is better for the environment, for the animals that live in the park, and is safer for park users, said Catherine Verreault, the NCC's director of Quebec urban lands and Gatineau Park, in an interview Friday.
"It's clear that the path we're taking now is to reduce the use of cars in the park, and we want to promote active transportation, so we will not go back," Verreault said.
The NCC is exploring other ways for people to access the area, including e-bike rentals and the shuttle system, and Verreault said the NCC hopes people will try those new ways to access the park and provide feedback.
"The schedule we are proposing this year is not final. We always want to improve and to give a very good user experience to Gatineau Park users," she said.
Shuttle system will run June to August
The accessible, free shuttle service will run on Saturdays and Sundays from June 25 to Aug. 28 on a first-come, first-served basis, according to the NCC.
It will run every 30 minutes from Ottawa-Gatineau to the Gatineau Park Visitor Centre in Chelsea, Que., with the first departure at 9:10 a.m. and the last at 4:45 p.m. Each shuttle will be equipped with a bike rack.
Stops include Wellington/Lyon on the Ottawa side of the river, and then the Canadian Museum of History, rue Montcalm, the park's south entrance (P3), Pink Lake Lookout, Mackenzie King Estate, Lauriault/Mulvihill, King Mountain, Champlain Lookout, Camp Fortune and the Visitor Centre in Quebec.
With files from Kristy Nease and Michelle Allan