Manitoba Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler says it’s possible for the city to move forward with its spring and summer Open Streets active transportation routes, but only under certain conditions that conform to the law and preserve safety.

Last year, to encourage residents to get outside during the pandemic, the City opened up multiple streets for cycling, walking and running. Vehicles, which were limited to one block at a time from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., mixed with pedestrians and cyclists. However, a recent Winnipeg public service report said mixing pedestrians and vehicles is a contravention of section 143 (1) of Manitoba’s Highway Traffic Act. According to the City, the act prohibits pedestrians from using roads when sidewalks are present. As a result, this year’s Open Streets initiative will only be able to accommodate cyclists — relegating pedestrians to sidewalks.

“There’s a little bit of confusion on the Highway Traffic Act and what it says in regards to what the city would like to do,” said Schuler, a regular active transportation route user who sometimes cycles 40 km a day. “We are not advocating the City does, or not does something. That has nothing to do with us. The question is, how do you mix pedestrians and traffic?”

Schuler said where there’s a sidewalk, the usual recommendation is pedestrians use the sidewalk and cyclists share the road with vehicles. But there’s another way, he said. As demonstrated by the city of Edmonton, Winnipeg can section-off a piece of road, which could then be dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists.

“It would have to be marked off by a painted line,” Schuler said. “We would recommend you do like Edmonton. I believe they bought 1,500 traffic cones and some planters, so that you really differentiate road traffic from pedestrian and cyclist traffic. But it can be done. The Highway Traffic Act does allow for it, but it has to be very clearly signed each and every block.”

Schuler said the City has the authority to block off roads, like Wellington Crescent. Local traffic would be allowed, but he’s recommending a separate lane, exclusively for cyclists and pedestrians.

“The mixing of traffic and pedestrians is a very dangerous situation,” he said. “So the Highway Traffic Act is very clear. When it comes to pedestrians, they must be separated, and it must be clearly marked and has to be done every block. The City of Winnipeg has the ability to do this, as does any municipality.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the city said they’re aware of their authority in terms of full or partial lane closures to restrict vehicle access. They said the city is committed to investigating safe, long-term solutions for shared streets, and would consider physical separation as a potential future, safe solution.

Twitter @JamesWestgateSn