Vélo Québec’s director general, Lucie Lanteigne, says that maintenance of the bike path was already difficult for municipalities trying to maintain their section of the network. She says many of them told her they do not know how they can continue the maintenance in the wake of the announced cuts.
Lanteigne also maintains that the Route verte spurs economic development in many regions of Quebec. She maintains that the 200km P’tit Train du Nord section (north of Montreal) alone generates revenues which exceed the amount that Quebec expects to save by cutting the funds. Vélo Québec provided Pedal with a copy of study which, using data from 2000, estimated that cyclists on the Route verte spent some $95.4 million annually, generating revenues of $15.1 million for the government of Québec.
Lanteigne further points out that the Route verte has achieved international recognition and often serves as a model for others to follow. The unique network crosses the territory of some 400 municipalities across Quebec. There are also cycling connections to New Brunswick, Ontario, and to New England.
“This will be a disaster for many sections of the Route verte,” Roger Filion told Pedal. Filion is very involved in the cycling community in the Saguenay/Lac St. Jean area and is the CEO of Liberté à Vélo, a bicycle tour operator. “With the Véloroute des Bleuets (a 256km a section of the Route verte around Lac St. Jean), municipalities presently finance 50% of maintenance costs; the (provincial) government finances the other 50%.”
The opposition Parti Québécois terms these latest cuts as “another slap in the face” to municipalities. The Quebec government’s other austerity measures have already hit municipalities hard as it cuts billions from the provincial budget.
Perhaps the strongest criticism comes from triathlete Pierre Lavoie (winner of the Hawaii IRONMAN competition in his category in 1996, 2004 and 2005), a resident of the Saguenay/Lac St Jean region.
“First of all, the Route verte is a lever of economic development,” Lavoie told Pedal. “Secondly, it helps to develop healthy lifestyles. I think the Route verte is one of the best investments that the Quebec government ever made. But it’s like buying a house; after you buy it you need to maintain it; not doing so is dangerous.”
Lavoie also spoke about the Route verte as a foundation of the new, sustainable economy whereby tourists from Europe can fly to Quebec, rent a bicycle and ride for 1,000km in complete safety.
“The Véloroute des Bleuets has had a tremendous economic impact around Lac St. Jean: beforehand the only tourist attraction we had here was the St. Felicien Zoo. Now people come to visit the region and even rent cottages. The Véloroute des Bleuets has probably generated millions of dollars in economic benefits.”
He also stressed that smaller municipalities rarely have the economic means to maintain their sections of the Véloroute des Bleuets. Lavoie is fearful that cutting funds to the Route verte will inevitably lead to unhealthy lifestyles, ultimately costing Quebec billions in terms of future healthcare charges.
The Route verte was described by the National Geographic Society as “the world’s best cycling path” in its book, Journeys of a Lifetime published in 2007.