* Making Winnipeg a cycle-safe city *
ON Tuesday, the city’s public works committee will consider a proposal to spend $5.4million in each of the next three years on infrastructure, including cycling corridors, new sidewalks and cycling-education programs.
However, the future success of the city’s active transportation network comes down to more than just cash and concrete.
In recent years, in accordance with the city’s active-transportation strategy, there have been dedicated bike lanes and protected bike lanes installed on many streets in West Broadway, the West End, downtown and the Exchange District, to name a few. The new infrastructure has made it safer for cyclists and challenging for motorists used to having the streets to themselves.
Frustrated cyclists point to limited road space and belligerent driver behaviour as reasons why cycling is dangerous or not worth the hassle. Motorists point to scofflaw cyclists with no regard for traffic signals or pedestrians as the problem.
However, both groups (and many commuting cyclists also use cars, and many motorists ride a bike for pleasure) have a point. What’s really needed in Winnipeg is an actual active-transportation culture.
We’re getting there in fits and starts. Infrastructure is a big part of it. But education and safety are also important.
An example of the old way of doing things is found in Wolseley. In the summer, motor traffic on Wolseley Avenue is restricted to one block at a time on Sundays, leaving the street open for cyclists, many of whom continue over the Assiniboine River to ride along Wellington Crescent, where the same restrictions apply. However, that freedom to ride without worrying about cars is linked to the mistaken assumption that cycling is merely recreational, and seasonal.
For cyclists to be safe around motorists, cycling needs to be part of year-round traffic awareness — not just on certain days of the week on certain streets. For motorists to be comfortable, cyclists must adhere to safety precautions and traffic laws. (Yes, cyclists, red lights apply to you. Yes, motorists, you should change lanes to pass a bicycle.) When residents are asked about local infrastructure, sometimes the most vocal voices will be against changing anything.
The city has a long-term Pedestrian and Cycling Action Plan, available on the city’s website. Proposed changes to active-transportation infrastructure are guided by a 2014 policy document, Winnipeg Pedestrian and Cycling Strategies. The recent consultation process begun for the Wolseley to Downtown Walk Bike Project invites feedback from area residents and those who visit or pass through the area. Whether you use the roads or sidewalks or a combination of both, it’s worth taking part.
But for taxpayers who wish infrastructure would only mean endless repaving of roads, consider what attempts to change the city’s transportation ecosystem can save you.
Decreased motor traffic means better flowing traffic, and that’s one effect of people opting to ride a bike instead of a car in which they’re the only occupant: more room on the roads, even with a protected bike lane. Roads take less wear and tear, the community benefits from fewer greenhouse- gas emissions and individuals boost their fitness levels.
Infrastructure upgrades can also mean more accessible sidewalks and better crossings at intersections.
You don’t have to look far in Winnipeg to see how motor traffic has been prioritized for decades: a glut of surface parking lots, sidewalks and bike lanes that end abruptly, and increasing urban sprawl. It’s long past time to look at other ways of getting around, and making the city work for all its citizens — not only those with their hands on the wheel.