Councillor wants 2022 budget to increase funding for green transportation

Boost to cycling options peddled

THE public works committee chairman is calling for a major increase to the City of Winnipeg’s active transportation spending.

Coun. Matt Allard wants the 2022 budget process to consider such funding that equals 10 per cent of the annual road construction budget. The investment could build up cycling and pedestrian routes, which would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change, he says.

“Every year, we emit more and more carbon, and we need to find ways to reduce the amount of carbon that we’re putting into the atmosphere,” Allard said Thursday. “In order to make (Winnipeg’s) climate action plan deliver what it intends to, we need to add that meat on the bones to ensure we (complete the active transportation network).”

At $1.7 million, dedicated spending for active transportation falls far below that amount in 2021, with a roads budget of $152 million. If Allard’s change is approved for 2022, it would increase the AT budget from a forecast $2.3 million to $16.2 million (based on a projected road budget of $162 million).

The St. Boniface councillor said some AT spending occurs separately within specific road projects. But he said many road renewals don’t include it, including 2021 projects at Roblin Boulevard and Day Street.

Allard also wants council to make active transportation investments eligible for revenue raised through annual tax hikes.

Mayor Brian Bowman has promised to cap the property tax hike at 2.33 per cent again in 2022, with two per cent earmarked for roads and bridges and 0.33 per cent for rapid transit.

Allard said increased AT funding would help the city ensure half of all local trips involve greener modes of transportation than single-passenger vehicles by 2030, one of its key climate change goals.

“For every bicycle used in a commute, that’s one less car on the road,” said Allard.

The proposed funding hike is welcome but meets the minimum investment needed for cycling and pedestrian routes, said Mel Marginet, a workplace commuter options co-ordinator at the Green Action Centre.

“That will give us a fighting chance to move forward on the pedestrian and cycling strategies that the city already has,” said Marginet.

In 2015, city council approved a 20year, $334-million cycling and pedestrian strategy but actual investments have delayed its implementation.

With roughly 80 per cent of Winnipeggers choosing personal vehicles for their trips, much more investment is needed to make the green transportation options of walking, biking and bussing more convenient, said Marginet.

“It’s really a shift in the paradigm… At this current time, cars go first (in budget priority).”

Mark Cohoe, executive director of Bike Winnipeg, said active transportation has been persistently underfunded in recent years, which leaves gaps in cycling routes.

“(The current budget is) really just a fraction of what’s been needed... We see it in an unconnected network,” said Cohoe, adding the extra funding would spark a huge improvement.

Coun. Janice Lukes, a former public works chairwoman, said she supports Allard’s proposals. However, she said he and other executive policy committee members should never have allowed the AT budget to drop to its current level. “We would have been much further ahead (on active transportation) at this time (if they hadn’t),” said Lukes. “It’s gone down millions.”

In 2019, for example, the preliminary budget included $3 million for active transportation, down from a previously forecast $5.7 million.

The current forecast predicts the funding will drop to $1.7 million in 2023, and $1.4 million per year from 2024 to 2026.

Allard said provincial funding cuts played a role in the reduced investment in recent years.

His motions will be considered by council’s public works committee Oct. 12. Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga