Think outside Pandora’s Box!

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Added: Wed, 07/03/2019 - 7:15pm
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Allyson Beauregard
Rédacteur / Managing Editor

Just over two weeks ago, I travelled Boulevard des Allumettières between Aylmer and Hull and witnessed a sign that summer has arrived: over 100 people biked along a designated trail adjacent to the highway. It was peaceful, watching dozens of children – and adults too - laughing and enjoying the outdoors without the worry of mingling with vehicular traffic.  
Fast forward two days, I was sitting in a crowded conference room at the MRC Pontiac headquarters where people, spilling into the halls, expressed their views on whether ATVs, through the Pontiac Quad Club, should be able to use the Pontiac’s only cycling trail, the PPJ, adding at least portions of its 92 km to the Club’s current 450 km stash.
It was déjà vu from 2016 when the same heated debate was unleashed for several months before the committee formed to study the issue was disbanded and the MRC reiterated its support for maintaining the trail’s status quo; a waste of time, energy and consequently taxpayer’s dollars because all the talk of attracting tourists, supporting local businesses and promoting economic development with the trail died as soon as word broke that ATVs would not be permitted to use it.
Yet, here we are, three years later, re-opening Pandora’s Box.
Let’s be realistic and clear about two things:
Maintaining the PPJ’s status quo isn’t smart. There’s no doubt it’s underused considering the amount of money invested annually for maintenance; $125,000 from the MRC, matched by Route Verte. In the business world, when one method fails, you try something else. Clearly the “build it and they will come” approach isn’t working and something more is needed.
Secondly, while it may arguably work in other regions, quads and cyclists/pedestrians cannot safely coexist on the PPJ with its current layout and surrounding landscape; it’s impossible without massive capital, exponentially more than what’s invested now, which will be halved if quads are permitted on the trail and Route Verte withdraws their contribution.    
The MRC’s resolution makes it clear that inclusive “multi-use” is not the ultimate goal; it’s expanding the ATV trail network one way or another, which, if necessary, includes restricting cyclist access to certain portions. How will the Quad Club fund the PPJ’s maintenance when $250,000 annually isn’t cutting it? Surely they wouldn’t expect the MRC, through all of its taxpayers, to contribute or for Route Verte to overlook their rules?   
Rather than continuing to waste time and resources on a dead-end issue, why isn’t the same effort invested in promoting and developing the trail according to its intended use? Why not create a special MRC committee to investigate marketing avenues, user attraction, other success stories, potential partnerships, organizing events, etc.?  
Without promoting the trail and abandoning the unrealistic idea that multi-use is possible on the PPJ or that its use by ATVs is our economic savior, Pandora’s Box stands to be re-opened after every election, and the PPJ  added to the Pontiac’s unfortunate list of deteriorating infrastructure that serves no one.