Extend active-transportation routes


AS Winnipeggers adjust to the new normal in the age of COVID-19 — whatever that may be — there is opportunity to change how roads are used in the future.

Sections of multiple streets were designated as active transportation routes early in the wave of changes brought by physical-distancing recommendations. Motorized traffic was restricted to one block along parts of Lyndale Drive, Scotia Street, Wellington Crescent, Wolseley Avenue, Assiniboine Avenue, Churchill Drive, Egerton Road, Kildonan Drive and Kilkenny Drive.

Some of these routes, such as Wolseley Avenue, already had such restrictions in place — but only on weekends and only during summer months.

City council extended the initial period of the closures to July 6. A motion by Coun. Sherri Rollins, seconded by Brian Mayes, would extend the designation to Sept. 7. The Standing Policy Committee on Infrastructure Renewal and Public Works is scheduled to vote on it June 9.

As more people who were working from home return to commuting in some form, there may be more pressure on the city to again allow motorized traffic on these streets. But the new normal need not be the car-centric normal that dominated Winnipeg previously.

With a usually busy Manitoba summer suddenly emptied by multiple event cancellations, more people now find the time to dust off their bicycles or don a sturdy pair of walking shoes. These people will get a nod of approval from their doctors because, when it comes to preventative health, active living is an effective prescription.

The risk of being exposed to COVID-19 is currently low, but the means by which it spreads remain the same. Joggers, cyclists, roller-skaters — anyone using the roads to get a bit of exercise — still need space to maintain distancing, and such space can be provided by allowing some or all of these road areas to be used for active transportation.

It’s a timely topic because the city is already working on a long-term active transportation network. Community consultations are ongoing as to where bike routes and dedicated paths should go. Other Canadian cities have experimented with temporary barriers to add such lanes to city streets, to see whether people will eschew their vehicles and take to their bikes. Creating such spaces here, as the city has done, presents an opportunity to see how Winnipeggers would use active transportation.

Some areas may not prove popular with enough commuters, or residents, to justify making permanent changes to the infrastructure. This is something the city should collect information on, and something Winnipeggers should tell their councillor about. What kind of city do we want to live in when we’re through the COVID-19 pandemic?

It’s time for active transportation to be more than an afterthought in Winnipeg. The pandemic offers a rare opportunity to try expanded, and healthier, ways to use pavement.