*Former police officer says crumbling routes deter riders*
* Safety of bike paths criticized*
FOR some Winnipeg cyclists, the city’s bike paths are full of holes.
Gord Friesen has been commuting by bike for more than two decades, including for many years to his job as an officer with the Winnipeg Police Service.
Now, the River Heights resident said he’s worried the city’s patchwork of bike paths — including a south Osborne route that has a gap between Brandon and Togo avenues, where it turns into a dirt trail, forcing cyclists who don’t want to weather the rough terrain onto a busy street or sidewalk — might deter people from getting into cycling.
“It’s just an additional challenge,” Friesen said.
“Gaps are obviously problematic for people, because I think one of the things about being out on a bike is you want to be able to have some predictability in terms of the quality of the road surface.”
In an emailed statement to the Free Press, a city spokesperson said plans to improve the south Osborne route were put on hold because of riverbank stabilization issues. It also said the city will be doing a design study of another route with similar issues later this year: the North Winnipeg Parkway, which has a gap between Burrows and Alfred avenues, forcing cyclists into a zigzag of residential streets, or onto Main Street.
Friesen said his career with the police force — where he served at one point as the commander of the traffic division — helped form his perspective on cycling and other kinds of active transportation. Even in retirement, the 57-year-old said he and his wife use their bikes to get wherever they need to go, and he hopes more people will start to do the same.
“Our car sits for days on end, because (whatever we do), it’s almost always on a bicycle,” he said.
Mark Cohoe, executive director of the Bike Winnipeg advocacy group, said he was riding on the south Osborne bike path with some friends a few nights ago. They turned around after deciding they wouldn’t be able to make it through the gap.
Cohoe said if people who are new to cycling encounter the same problem, it might turn them off entirely.
“People remember the worst part of their ride, and that’s sort of the decision point for them,” he said. “If they don’t feel like they have a safe connection... they’re going to choose to drive.”
Meanwhile, cyclists travelling a few minutes southeast on the same south Osborne route are being forced onto the road for the foreseeable future. On Friday, the city announced it was closing the east sidewalk on the St. Vital Bridge for at least 18 months to replace the sewer main underneath.
With two elections looming in the coming months, Cohoe said he’s hoping to see more leadership encouraging cycling in Winnipeg.
“I think if we want to act on climate change, if we want to act proactively on health, we need to make sure that all levels of government — especially the provincial government, which is responsible for health — make sure funding is available to get people out of their cars and onto their bikes,” he said.