Petition calls Gatineau Parkway closures ‘inaccessible’

“The NCC has taken advantage of the pandemic to really almost transform the Gatineau Parkway into a place of high performance.

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An online petition opposing summer closures of the Gatineau Parkway to motor vehicles has garnered more than 3,000 signatures, with the petitioner claiming the move actually reduces accessibility for seniors, parents with young children and disabled users.

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Ala’ Qadi, a professor at Algonquin College, pointed out that not everyone can walk or bike to their favorite spots in the ever-popular Gatineau Park, which is accessed via the boardwalk.

“My friend, her mom is 75, and the joy of her time was when he took her to the Champlain Lookout in the morning before going to work,” he explained, encouraging people upset about the closures to write to their deputies or Minister of Public Services and Supply Filomena Tassi.

The National Capital Commission announced earlier this week that it will again close the parkway to motor vehicles this spring and summer all day Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Closures begin Saturday.

Private vehicles will be allowed on the promenade in the afternoons and evenings — from 1 p.m. until 30 minutes after sunset — on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Parkway closures to anyone except “active users” began in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The Gatineau Parkway is closed to motorized vehicles for most of the week starting May 7.
The Gatineau Parkway is closed to motorized vehicles for most of the week starting May 7. Photo by Jean Levac /Postmedia

A self-proclaimed avid hiker, Qadi said he and the region’s hiking community were also shocked by the closures, which he said would cut off access to many hiking trails.

Qadi and the other petition signatories are demanding a more lenient schedule for motor vehicles on the parkways, though the National Capital Commission says these closures are designed to encourage park visitors to use alternative modes of transportation and to help achieve the goals set out in the park’s 2015 sustainability report.

“It’s about changing the way we access the park,” said Catherine Verreault, director of Quebec urban lands and Gatineau Park at the NCC. “Having fewer personal vehicles, having fewer cars to reduce the impact on the environment, on wildlife, having a better user experience and a safer experience too.”

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She also noted that the NCC commissioned a survey of changes in parkway use in 2021 and received 11,000 responses. It is on the basis of these responses that the program continued this year. Verreault added that people could make their voices heard on this issue by writing to the NCC or participating in the 2022 survey at the end of the summer.

However, opponents of the closures say they can be seen as discriminatory and capable.

Jim Kyte says:
Jim Kyte says, “The boardwalks were built 60 years ago to bring people into the park.” Photo by Ashley Fraser /Postmedia

Jim Kyte has also used the park since childhood. A former professional athlete, Kyte was the first legally deaf player in the National Hockey League. Last spring, he wrote an op-ed in this newspaper criticizing parkway closures.

“To me, it really comes down to: the parkways were built 60 years ago to get people into the park,” Kyte said. “The NCC has taken advantage of the pandemic to really almost transform the Gatineau Parkway into a place of high performance.

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To help better serve people with accessibility issues, the NCC is launching a shuttle program this year that will transport people to Gatineau Park.

“We hope to improve equity of access and sustainability of access to Gatineau Park,” said Verreault. “We had congestion issues in downtown Chelsea, for example, and at some other points in the park. So, with the shuttle, we hope it will help alleviate these problems, and we would like to point out that 15 of the 25 parking lots are available at all times. So it’s only in certain areas that we need to rethink access.

The NCC is also consulting Kéroul, a Quebec organization supporting tourism services for people with disabilities, for input on implementing the shuttle service, she added.

Kyte and Qadi are unimpressed. They note that the shuttle will only run on weekends and say that it does not help people navigate the park once they arrive at the visitor center. To do this, they say, many people need vehicles. The shuttle will also only operate on June 25, as the park opens this Saturday.

“It’s not fair, it’s definitely not equal,” Kyte said. “There are a lot of people who feel the same way, and the list keeps growing.”

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