Active transportation group urges city to block traffic in some curb lanes

THE city is being asked to block off curb lanes to vehicle traffic on many normally busy streets to clear more space for pedestrians and cyclists during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Winnipeg Trails Association wants the city to give people using active transportation nearly exclusive 24-7 access to some stretches of key streets and lanes [map attached]. The organization said that should cause little disruption, since the traffic volume has dropped significantly.

“Now there’s very little excuse to not (do this). Vehicle traffic is extremely low,” said Anders Swanson, the association’s executive director.

Swanson said the need for biking and walking space will grow as Winnipeg Transit begins to reduce services after seeing its ridership plummet. The reduced frequency of buses could lead some to use other options, he said.

“We need a comprehensive (transportation) network that works for everybody,” he said.

The association suggests that buses be allowed to pick up and drop off passengers in the affected curb lanes, but not travel through them. Swanson is lobbying for the lanes to be placed on key stretches of St. Mary’s Road, Osborne Street, Pembina Highway, Jefferson Avenue and Burrows Avenue, among many other typically well-used routes.

The association also wants the city to reduce residential street speed limits and add traffic-calming measures near homes.

Council’s public works chairperson said he’s discussed the association’s request with city staff but no decision has been made.

“Before we go forward with something, we want to make sure to get it right,” said Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface).

The city will add some extra travel space for bikes and foot traffic in early May, limiting vehicle travel to one block between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. daily on five new routes. Allard said this will help ensure people can stay two metres apart, as health officials recommend.

“This is a perfectly acceptable way to get your exercise while maintaining physical distancing requirements,” he said.

Newly designated routes will be in place from May 5 until May 29 on Assiniboine Avenue (from Bedson Street to Westwood Drive), Churchill Drive (from Hay Street to Jubilee Avenue), Egerton Road (from Bank Avenue to Morier Avenue), Kildonan Drive (from both Helmsdale Avenue to Rossmere Crescent and Larchdale Crescent to Irving Place) and Kilkenny Drive (from Burgess Avenue to Patricia Avenue and Kings Drive.) The city will also extend previously announced bicycle/active-transportation routes to May 29.

Drivers will also see the road-construction season kick off next month, with about 200 planned projects.

Meanwhile, the city is cancelling its spring giveaway weekend for residents to lay out items marked “free” at the curb for others to collect; it had been scheduled May 9-10.

COVID-19 is spread by droplets that leave a person’s mouth when they cough or sneeze, which could fall on the “free” items and then infect someone picking them up, said Jason Shaw, Winnipeg’s assistant chief of emergency management.

Shaw said he’s also concerned Winnipeggers would roam through neighbourhoods in search of free items, despite being urged to stay home as much as possible.

“The giveaway weekend encourages a lot of people to get out and about,” he said.

Winnipeggers also won’t be able to collect free city-made compost any time soon, since social distancing has created delays at the 4R depots. Instead, that program has been indefinitely postponed. Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga