Winnipeg is made for bikes and bike lanes (View from the West) Nicholas Hirst Winnipeg Free Press Updated: May 15, 2008 at 12:40 AM CDT (page A13)
Winnipeg's and Manitoba's economies appear more robust than they have for many years. As the nation's labour force stagnates, Manitoba's continues to grow. Houses continue to sell at more than their asking price and, while spring always makes Winnipeggers feel better, there is a sense of optimism in the air.
This optimism and growth needs sustaining. To do so, the province and the city need to become truly innovative. We need the image of our city to be such that it becomes a magnet for people because it is ahead of the curve. We need to make ourselves one of the most creative places to do business in Canada. As Minneapolis has dubbed itself, Winnipeg needs to be "one cool city."
How would we do that?
Not so much by big moves but by small gestures. The big moves are developments like the human rights museum. That's going to be a huge attraction adding to the perception that Winnipeg is a city to live in. Other developments have created a cool image for us -- the Louis Riel bridge is one, the continuing success of our arts and culture is another.
But it is smaller, non-institutional developments that often really turn the image of city -- its restaurants, clubs, a digital movie theatre, a new festival, a new feeling.
The best innovation of this type builds on natural advantages -- winter skating on the Assiniboine is an example -- next year we should get Starbucks to provide stops along route. The restaurants and open spaces and access to the rivers at The Forks are another.
The water buses are way cool.
In an environment where gas is more expensive than it has ever been and a barrel of oil worth four times what it was a couple of years ago, anything that looks like an answer to the looming energy crisis is worth its weight in image gold.
Winnipeg has one key advantage that seems almost to be forgotten about. It's flat. That's why it once had streetcars. Bringing streetcars back would be innovative but is a big ticket item, not one of the smaller gestures that can bring as much notice.
Our city has the ideal typography for bicycling. Not just bicycling for recreation along the four designated streets closed to cars in May for the weekend, but bicycling to get to work, visit your friends and run easy errands. Despite an active lobby to encourage commuter bicycling and the city promise of $500,000 for biking and walking trails, true commuter bike paths and lanes are few if not non-existent.
There are signs for biking on lesser used roads, but not bike lanes to go with them.
The last place I lived that was as flat as Winnipeg was on the Plain of Holderness in England. The city was Hull and you couldn't move for bikes.
Commuter bike lanes in Winnipeg would do all kinds of good, at least in the summer. It would encourage a healthier lifestyle, reduce the number of cars on the road and save energy.
In other cities, kids too young to drive and too poor to own cars bike to see their friends, to school and to university. Who in their right mind would bike down Waverley or Pembina at rush hour? With bike lanes, it would be possible.
Winnipeg could also follow Washington D.C. and create a public-private partnership to rent bikes by the hour similar to the Zipcar and Autoshare plans I recently wrote about.
Why not combine the two?
A city that is serious about combating its energy usage takes easy routes to get cars off the road. That has to start somewhere and it is unlikely to get going without a public commitment.
So, Mr. Mayor and city council, get going. Create bike lanes for children and commuters. Get in touch with the bike shops and bicycle lobbyists to set up a bike-sharing scheme. Try a pilot plan with bikes located behind the barriers at Portage and Main and at The Forks.
Combine the bike-sharing scheme with a car-sharing scheme.
Recreational biking is fine. But in Winnipeg, it often means taking your bike on a rack on your car to where the recreational trails start.
It doesn't have to be that way.
An innovative city sees its natural advantages and takes small measures for big gains. Designated bike lanes and bike and car sharing -- maybe working together -- are the types of innovation that would get our city talked about and put it ahead of the curve. Will we do it? If not, why not?
Nicholas Hirst is CEO of Winnipeg-based television and film producer Original Pictures Inc. (c) 2008 Winnipeg Free Press. All Rights Reserved.