Confessions of a Winnipeg sidewalk cyclist
By: Sarah Whiteford
I am a criminal, and the offence of cycling on the sidewalk in Winnipeg could land me a fine of $110. But the alternative of cycling along the very busy and far-too-narrow thoroughfare of St. Mary's Road during my daily commute seems far more risky.
Most of the 12-kilometre route lacks any form of cycling-friendly infrastructure, with no dedicated paths or bike lanes and only a few short sections of diamond lanes.
Several times I have attempted cycling on the road, jostling for position among the multitude of cars during the morning and evening rush hours. While the aggressive and belligerent drivers are no picnic, much more frightening are those drivers who fail to notice you are there.
Manitoba Healthy Living states on its website that, on average, 150 cyclists are hospitalized or killed every year in the province.
This week in Winnipeg, cyclist Violet Nelson fell victim to that statistic when her bicycle collided with a vehicle, throwing her into the path of a semi-trailer.
While the details of that accident are not known, what has been demonstrated by research is cycling safety is correlated with having the transportation infrastructure for cycling.
Anne Harris, an epidemiologist and investigator with the Bicyclists' Injuries and the Cycling Environment Study at the University of British Columbia, states "More and more, we're seeing evidence that dedicated cycling infrastructure on roads, separated from motor vehicles, protects cyclists from injuries."
In contrast to dedicated cycling lanes or tracks, cycling on the sidewalk does pose a high risk for injury.
Vehicles at intersections frequently do not look for fast-moving traffic on sidewalks.
Sidewalks are multi-purpose trails and may be used by a variety of persons, including pedestrians, in-line skaters and those using motorized scooters. In order to minimize the risk to others and myself during my commute, I leave very early in the morning when the sidewalks are relatively free from traffic.
My bicycle is outfitted with many forms of safety equipment, including a bell, front and rear lights and additional reflective tape.
I generally go much slower on the sidewalks, moving onto the grass when passing pedestrians and reducing my speed as I approach each intersection.
While occasionally a pedestrian will object to my presence on the sidewalk, most give me a wave or wish me a good day as I swerve past.
But when I do come across one of my fellow cyclists who is braving the morning commute on the road, I hang my head in shame, feeling as though I am somehow letting down the side.
The City of Winnipeg has announced that in July it will begin construction of a dedicated cycling lane along Pembina Highway.
And while the city also has many existing cycling paths along major arteries, such as Bishop Grandin Boulevard, the infrastructure for the many cyclists who commute downtown each day is still woefully lacking.
So, until this infrastructure improves, I am afraid I will likely continue my life of crime by cycling on the sidewalk.
*Sarah Whiteford is a policy manager for the provincial government.*