Cyclist struck by SUV on bike route calls for increased safety measures  

JESSE HAJER was on his way home from his son’s physically distanced birthday party late Saturday afternoon, biking down the Wolseley Avenue active transportation route with four young children, when he was struck by an impatient driver in a sport-utility vehicle.

He was keeping an eye out for the group of six- and seven-year-old kids, he said, crossing through the intersection at Clifton Street, when an SUV approached from behind, honking at the group to hurry along. Hajer signalled to the driver to wait but the car accelerated, appearing to try to squeeze between Hajer and the curb, and hit Hajer from behind.

“It wasn’t going super fast or anything but it was enough,” Hajer said in an interview Monday, noting that he wasn’t seriously injured but was hit hard enough to damage the car.

The incident comes amid ongoing debate about the nine temporary active transportation routes the City of Winnipeg set up at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to encourage physical activity and alternative transportation options during isolation, introducing the question of road safety for those pedestrians and cyclists taking to the road.

Hajer said he and his family are supporters of the active transportation road in their neighbourhood, and want to see the city take measures to make the routes appear more permanent, encouraging motorists to slow down and follow the rules.

“I’m a huge fan of these routes; they’ve been just a breath of fresh air literally and figuratively in this challenging time,” Hajer said. “It’s stressful, families are super stressed out and they need options like this to get outside.”

So far, motorists have been limited to one block of travel between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on the routes, seven days a week. Hajer said he would like to see the city commit to traffic calming measures to make the routes more secure, including more frequent barriers to emphasize the rules, or larger and more attractive barriers such as planters. He’d also like to see the one block driving rules extended to 24 hours a day, speed limits reduced to 30 km/h on the residential roads and more educational signage outlining consequences for breaking the rules.

Many of those initiatives have been echoed in recent months by cyclists and active transportation advocates such as Anders Swanson, executive director of Winnipeg Trails, who has petitioned the city to extend and expand the open street project. Assuring safety on those routes, he said, is about making cars feel as though they are guests on the road, rather than the road’s intended user.

“From Day 1 we should have been working on a plan to make these feel more like pedestrian and cycling spaces, and that can include everything from picnic tables to flower planters to warm and welcoming signage,” Swanson said Monday.

“A barricade with a chloroplast board feels like a temporary waiting room set up in the lobby. It doesn’t feel like we’re going to take this opportunity to make the city better and make it so people can make themselves better and heal themselves.”

Reducing speed limits, beautifying streets and increasing education about the routes are easy first steps the city can take to more pedestrian and cycling-friendly streets, Swanson said. From there, he’d like to see the city invest in making those streets permanent and expanding the network into as many neighbourhoods as possible.

“Our concern is that we’ve only got a toe in the water here, we keep extending them for a measly few weeks, there’s been no firm commitment to turn this into a network that reaches everybody in the city, and when you do that then you’re not mobilizing your department to do the things it needs to do because it’s a half measure,” he added.

For its part, the city has no clear plans to enforce safety measures on the routes. A spokeswoman for the Public Works department said in an email Monday that “all modes of road users are reminded to be mindful of others and share the road, and to be aware of their surroundings at all times,” adding that the city is “counting on Winnipeggers to do their part and obey posted signage, and — for the most part — (has) seen them comply.”

The city said permanent routes would be enforced “as per the governing bylaws,” but would not indicate whether it has used any disciplinary measures to enforce the rules thus far.