Cycling's faster than Route 90
By: Catherine Mitchell email@example.com
On Wednesday, I rode my bike to work, huffing it from River Heights to the Inkster Industrial Park. I did it in 35 minutes (plus or minus five minutes; not a single timepiece in my house is faithful to Greenwich).
Not too shabby. But here's the thing: It's taking me as long to drive Route 90 North these days, a trip so frustratingly tedious I've started driving through town, through rush-hour traffic to relieve the blood pressure. I gave up on Route 90 South months ago.
I haven't cycled to work since I biked here for a weekend shift when the Freep opened its doors on Mountain Avenue. I took McPhillips Street, and I resolved not to do that again.
This week I wanted to find how much longer it would take for me to cycle than drive. Having been promised another unseasonably warm September day, I threw on a T-shirt that affirmed there are only good days and great days, consulted with some colleagues on a safer route and stuffed a dress in a zip-lock bag that I tossed into a backpack with my lunch.
"It'll take me 45 minutes, I think," I told my man.
Pulling in at 1355 Mountain Ave., intact and sweaty, I locked up the bike and whipped out my flip-phone: 9:20 a.m. -- I let out a victory whoop for no one to hear. Screw Route 90!
Yes, I exercised the healthy option late in the season but the point was not just to see if there was a sane way to bike to work. The drive that normally takes me 15 minutes, or 20 on a hectic day, via a major arterial road -- a trucking route, no less -- has stretched to easily twice the time.
Getting cranky about road repair and construction in Winnipeg is like complaining about the heat in July. But I'm not the only with pointed questions about this year's construction-season strategy.
The drive along the northbound lanes, reduced to two or one lane for pretty much of the summer, has caused many to ask why construction crews aren't at it 24/7.
Motorists have been crawling through the big squeeze at Ness Avenue for two years now. Further, after grinding off the asphalt from Ness on, work all but halted on the northbound stretch for weeks.
This is just a resurfacing project. And it's almost October.
After a crappy, crappy, crappy spring that beat the crap out of our crappy roads, the summer has seen a compression of an unprecedented amount of roadwork.
The city's acting manager of public works says this year's construction budget got a jolt of cash -- $80 million on roadworks, compared with $50 million last year. That and a late start date has put a lot of pressure on the regular resources of engineering and construction firms.
The question about ramping up resources, and going to a 24/7 schedule, is more complicated. The construction industry has set its resources to serve the regular public work it has come to expect; pulling out the stops to complete, say, Route 90, quickly isn't easily accommodated, says Michelle Stainton.
It is not the grunt work of labour that's the issue; it's difficult finding the highly skilled or professional staff required for good, lasting and well-designed roads. "They're having trouble as an industry staffing up."
Not so much, says Chris Lorenc of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association. Resources aren't the issue.
Around-the-clock construction is a no-go because noise will disrupt the lives of residents, and no politician is prepared to weather that storm.
"We use jackhammers, we don't use rakes."
But there are some things the city could do to cut, by weeks, the length of construction jobs, he says. First, spend more money to get the design work done far in advance so construction can be tendered in the dead months -- November to April. Firms can then buy aggregates, equipment and hire and train people early at cheaper prices.
And, using Route 90 as an example, shut down a northbound lane entirely so crews can go unimpeded. If all traffic were shunted to the southbound lane, it would be more painful but for shorter periods.
Or, I suggest, give people real options in their commute.
It's easy to cycle to Inkster Industrial Park. Really. My bike commute was lovely. Clifton Street is bucolic, in an urban sense; a quiet, pretty slice of Winnipeg. I love Logan Avenue, its raw, evocative streetscape girded by an iron spine. Muscular, sure of itself and historic.
The Keewatin Underpass is no place for a cyclist. Take the sidewalk.
Despite evident progress, this city still has such a long way to go to become cyclist-friendly, but Winnipeg motorists are getting more and more accommodating.
It's time to promote the rights of walkers and cyclists. We need to start the cultural shift that compels vehicles to be deferential to the bipedal and bi-wheeled commuters.
Even a city caked in ice for seven months of the year should learn to share the roads generously with the self-propelled.
The investment in that infrastructure will ease the pressure on roadworks and keep us all a little more sane. And that's good for the blood pressure.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 27, 2014 A17