Chelsea’s public consultation on bicycle & pedestrian pathways

More than 110 people attended the municipality of Chelsea’s public consultation on bicycle and pedestrian pathways held on the 29th October 2002 at 7 pm at the Larrimac golf club. Bruce Devine, Chelsea’s director of recreation and cultural services introduced the chair of the recreation committee, councillor Peter Griffin, and gave background information and details on the proposal being discussed.

These paths are intended above all for Chelsea residents, to provide safe bicycle and walking routes. Residents are attracted to Chelsea because of its concern for the environment and reducing pollution. A “village triangle” formed by Scott, the 105 and Old Chelsea roads is seen as important, as well as north-south links to La Pêche and Hull. For the main north-south routes, the two possibilities studied were paved shoulders along route 105 and a path alongside the rail-line. Chelsea owns the strip of land that is the rail-line right-of-way, which is about 20 metres wide.
Three needs were identified: bringing families and residents together, daily commuter use, and expert touring and sports cycling. It would be considered successful if a majority of the community use the paths. Neighbouring municipalities and tourists would also benefit. Quality was a factor to be taken into account, which included safety, harmony with the environment, having an agreeable experience, and being adapted to the capacity of residents to pay.

Proposal for public discussion
After collecting a lot of information, including having a pre-feasibility study, looking at other studies and similar projects in the US and Canada, the proposal for public discussion was for 1.5 metre wide paved shoulders on roads forming the “village triangle”, and north on 105 to Kirk’s Ferry, as well as the Notch/Mine road route south into Hull. From Kirk’s Ferry north to River road, the path would be along the rail-line, and then to La Pêche it would be on paved shoulders along River road.

The estimated costs for this are:
Village triangle $135,000
Notch/Mine road $240,000
From the Scott/105 intersection to Kirk’s Ferry on 105 $150,000
From Kirk’s Ferry to River road along the rail-line $140,000
River road from rail-line to La Pêche $200,000
Total (about 19 km) $865,000

This proposal would be a start and would not prevent further trail development later, for example paving the shoulders of the 105 from Kirk’s Ferry to River road, and developing other trails.
The Génivar study done for the URSLO came up with much lower costs, of $400,000 for 1.8 metre wide shoulders, from Chelsea to Wakefield, but it did not take into account the required widening of the road, or difficult portions of the highway. (Génivar estimates are very low).
The pre-feasibility study had pointed out some of the problems of using paved shoulders, including speeding vehicles on 105. It suggested enforced speed-limits of 50 to 70 kph. Various ways of slowing down motor vehicles on 105 were suggested, including speed bumps, cross walks, stop signs, flashing lights, and changing the name to “Promenade Chelsea”. Signs are necessary to warn bicyclists and other road users about each other.
On the rail-line a physical barrier is needed between the train track and the path, which should be 2 metres wide for two-way traffic. Where the embankment is steep it might be necessary to build a boardwalk and at bridges there is insufficient width and additional work would be required. Emergency phones, lights at intersections, toilets, and parking areas would also be necessary.

Public discussion
Public discussion centred on the rail-line portion of the proposed path. Sports cyclists said that they would not use a rail-line path as they like to ride at 35-40 kph, and that this would also be incompatible with family usage of the path, children learning to ride bicycles, parents pushing strollers, and dog-walking. Commuting cyclists would not bother to go downhill to the rail-line, because they would then have to return back uphill to the 105. Many of the potential users were not interested in the rail-line route. It was pointed out that the path would be of little benefit to residents neighbouring the rail-line, while drastically changing their privacy. A rail-line path would not improve access between houses as the transportation route is the 105.
If the rail-line is used as a family based recreational path it was suggested that picnic areas could be provided where the municipally owned strip adjoins the waterfront. This might decrease trespassing across private property to the riverfront, seen as worse than a nuisance because of property owners’ liability if there were an accident. Most of the roads near the rail-line are private roads. Parking is seen as a problem. Some cottage-owners on the east side of the river already park their cars in the few available spaces, to access their cottages by boat.
Overall, residents appear to prefer the highway 105 option for bicycles, although seeing the rail-line as good for families with young children, and walkers. Residents on the 105 are used to traffic and would not be affected, while a trail along the rail-line would have more impact on neighbouring residents. Reduction of car-use was an important factor for many cyclists.
After more than three hours, when many of the audience had left, the issue of snowmobiles on the rail-line was raised. Chelsea has a by-law prohibiting motorized vehicles on the rail-line, but it is not enforced by the MRC police, because La Pêche does not have the same by-law. A pilot project aimed to allow resident-snowmobilers to use the rail-line for low speed use only, with a permit, but has not yet been carried out.
A spokesman for snowmobilers said that there is a small group (15) of Chelsea-resident snowmobilers who currently use the rail-line, perhaps once a week, to connect to official trails in La Pêche. Because of the many curves, frequent intersections and embankments, he claimed that they drove at low speeds, less than 30 kph, and were always courteous to cross-country skiers and walkers (who should wear reflective clothing at night). As soon as the river freezes snowmobilers prefer to use the river. He suggested that walkers and some skiers liked the way that snowmobiles packed down the trail, and wondered whether the train was a motorized vehicle.
Of course if there was a new bicycle path alongside the rail-line there would be more room for different users. There was sympathy for this group of courteous snowmobilers, but some concern that there were also speeders with little respect for other users, not present at the meeting. There was also concern that providing trails for snowmobilers would negate the reductions in pollution from providing paths for bicycles.
Meeting ended at 10.50 pm.