Silver rating for cycling grinds Gatineau's gears

A Gatineau, Que., city councillor is disappointed the city wasn't able to clinch a gold rating from the bike advocacy group Vélo Québec after allotting millions to improve cycling infrastructure.

Daniel Champagne, the councillor for Versant and vice president of Gatineau's sustainable transit committee, said Gatineau hoped Vélo Québec would recognize both its improvements since the last grade in 2016 and the city's $30.5 million plan to do even more. 

Instead, Vélo Québec maintained Gatineau's silver rating for being bike friendly under its certification program, VÉLOSYMPATHIQUE.

"We did a lot of work between 2016 and 2020," Champagne said. "We feel that we're closer to gold than what Vélo Québec is saying, but at the end of the day it's their certification."

Montreal was the only city to be given gold. Bromont and Sainte-Julie were the only other two municipalities to get a silver.

Chelsea earned a bronze.

The city won't know why Vélo Québec held back on giving Gatineau gold until it releases a report later this year.

$30.5M plan

The next time Vélo Québec issues bike friendliness certificate in 2024, the city could look a lot different from the perspective of cyclists.

Since 2016, Gatineau has hired two coordinators to work on bike infrastructure, installed five bike repair stations and launched a winter cycling pilot program.

In 2018, Gatineau's city council unanimously passed a five-year $30.5-million plan to make the city the cycling capital of Quebec.

The plan would see new projects built between 2020 and the end of 2024.

"We're investing more [per capita] than any other city in Quebec," said Champagne.

It's a plan cycling advocate Daniel Varin, president of Action vélo Outaouais, calls "very ambitious." 

The strategy would see Gatineau's roughly 300 kilometres of bike paths grow to 450 kilometres, better signs for cyclists and improving cycling education.

Varin thinks Vélo Québec held back on a gold rating because the city has yet to start construction as part of the five-year plan. It's not yet tangible, he said.

Trevor Pritchard/CBC

Currently, main cycling arteries need some maintenance and the bike path network could be better connected, he said. 

"Once we get the ball rolling with these projects I think we'll see a big change in the quality of the infrastructure," said Varin.

Champagne hopes the changes will be enough to get gold — a designation he thinks could draw more tourists to the city and encourage more people to take up biking.