Push begins to extend half-day street closures


A political move to extend temporary active transportation routes has begun, just one day after the City of Winnipeg announced all nine of them would close July 6.

The routes limit vehicular traffic to one block from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily to provide extra space for pedestrians and cyclists. Its aim is to help Winnipeggers stay active while keeping at least two metres apart, per coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

While announcing the planned closure Tuesday, a city official said the loosening of such rules is allowing Winnipeggers more alternatives to get outdoors.

"We see the need for this temporary measure decreasing as people are allowed to move outside of their own neighbourhoods and as traffic volumes start to increase," said Jason Shaw, assistant chief of emergency management.

On Wednesday, Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface) said he’ll push for the routes to last until at least the Labour Day weekend.

"You can see how well-used and loved they are by Winnipeggers… Active transportation is a perfectly safe way to get out there and get some exercise, and it’s accessible to everybody," said Allard.

The chairman of the public works committee said he’ll introduce a motion for the extension at Friday’s council meeting, which will likely be referred back to the committee.

The nine temporary routes had been expected to close May 29. They include stretches of Lyndale Drive, Scotia Street, Wellington Crescent, Wolseley Avenue, Assiniboine Avenue, Churchill Drive, Egerton Road, Kildonan Drive and Kilkenny Drive.

Shortly after the announcement, the Winnipeg Trails Association posted an online petition calling for the routes to remain open and be expanded.

"We want this to grow by kilometres every week until we have a complete (active transportation) network," said executive director Anders Swanson

By 3 p.m. Wednesday, the petition had more than 1,800 signatures.

Swanson urged the city to also extend vehicle restriction timelines, to ensure those who commute before 8 a.m. or after 8 p.m. can use the routes to get to work. He’d like the city to commit to keep the routes open well into the future.

"We’re refusing to give people the certainty they need while they’re making some very serious, life-altering transportation choices… If we’re only extending (the routes) by a month here or there, people aren’t able to make their decisions properly," said Swanson.

Erin Riediger regularly rides her bike to get to and from work, to shop, and for fun. Living between the Wellington Crescent and Wolseley Avenue active transportation routes — and spending weekends exploring the other seven paths — Riediger said she’s never seen so many people make use of the wide, winding roads for cycling, walking and other physical activity.

"It's important because people need safe spaces that are separated from other people to get out and to exercise, to be with their family, to have recreation," she said of the repurposed streets. "(The city) will never get more support for active transportation than they will right now."

Ideally, Riediger would like to see the active transportation routes stay open until Thanksgiving, noting many Winnipeggers will still be working from home and avoiding cramped spaces (such as public transit), despite the province’s reopening business sector.

"Now's the opportunity to provide something better; to redesign our streets, reallocate some of that space. Not ban cars, not take away cars, but just... provide people with safe, comfortable options to go to work, go to the grocery store, and then also for leisure," she said.

joyanne.pursaga@freepress.mb.ca  Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

julia-simone.rutgers@freepress.mb.ca  Twitter: @jsrutgers