Reduced vehicle traffic creates opportunity
THE city has extended seasonal limitations of motor-vehicle traffic on certain streets, including Wolseley Avenue, Wellington Crescent, Lyndale Drive and Scotia Street. Motorists will be limited to one block from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, allowing the streets to be used by cyclists and pedestrians.
It’s a good idea, with vehicle traffic down due to business and school closures and many people staying in place and working from their homes rather than commuting. The decrease has had an effect: Manitoba Public Insurance processed 4,108 fewer claims last month than in the same period in 2019, a direct result of fewer vehicles being on the road. That’s a lot of damage and injury being avoided.
Now, with vehicle traffic reduced and more people out for walks or bike rides as other entertainment and exercise options are shuttered, it raises an interesting question: what do we want to use our streets for? In the neighbourhoods where the newly-extended traffic limitations have opened up long stretches for safe walking and cycling, Winnipeggers are being given an opportunity to find out.
Maintaining safe social distancing on sidewalks can be a challenge when one of the few options still available to people during this period of restricted activity is going for a walk or a run. Crowded sidewalks don’t allow for two metres of distance when passing whether one is walking, jogging or using a wheelchair. Some pedestrians take advantage of additional space on the less-traveled streets. But safe distances must be maintained, even when cyclists are added to the mix. Cars take up the greatest amount of space, and in Winnipeg’s traffic flow, the vast majority of motor vehicles in motion have only one occupant. If we could trade some of those single-occupant cars and trucks for bicycles, we would suddenly find there is a whole lot more space for everyone.
In addition to the reduction in injuries from motor-vehicle collisions, there are also obvious exercise-related health benefits to having more space for walking, riding and other non-motorized pursuits.
Skeptics may point out that once physical distancing and self-isolation requirements are relaxed, all those cars will be back on the road. The likelihood of that is high, since our city is largely designed with motor-vehicle traffic in mind, and other factors such as winter snow and ice can make cycling a challenge for some.
But why not consider this brief respite from rat-race traffic a trial run? With fewer cars on the streets, we might learn some unexpected lessons about using them in different ways.
In addition to the obvious appeal of a reduction in motor-vehicle accidents, there’s also the benefit of getting to know our neighbourhoods better, including where our local businesses are and what they have to offer. It’s easier to stop and look in the window when you’re not zooming past at the motor-vehicle speed limit or looking for parking.
Such benefits extend beyond the specific streets where vehicle traffic is being temporarily restricted, which might prompt one to wonder why we aren’t using more of our infrastructure in different ways. Perhaps it’s time to consider adding protected bike lanes to more of Winnipeg’s streets.
As we experience new options for walking and biking, some might be inclined to conclude that motor vehicle traffic doesn’t have to return to what it was pre-pandemic. We’ve been given a chance to try out a healthier, greener approach to getting around, and many of us just might prefer it.