*Winnipeg hasn’t arrived as a cycling city *
WINNIPEG has long been known as a city that prioritizes cars. So, you’d be forgiven if your reaction was “Huh?” earlier this month when a list from online real estate brokerage Redfin ranked Winnipeg in the top 10 Canadian cities for biking.
This ranking is best taken with a grain of road salt, however. Our city’s score, 61, puts us at “bikeable.” We have a good way to go before we could be considered “very bikeable” (70 to 89 points) or a “biker’s paradise” (90 to 100). Victoria, B.C., topped the list with a score of 80.
For a city to rank above 90, its citizens must be able to run daily errands or commute to work via bike. Access to bike lanes, road connectivity and hilliness are all factors in the bikeability score.
So, we have flatness going for us.
Winnipeg’s bike-lane infrastructure, meanwhile, leaves a lot to be desired. It’s a slipshod patchwork of unprotected sharrows with few protected lanes, many of which come to abrupt ends. A lack of connectivity creates a chicken-and-egg scenario: cyclists are likely to avoid lanes that are frustrating to use, and then motorists complain that the bike lanes aren’t being used. And, as we’ve seen in the Exchange District — held up as a positive example of urban density — business owners are annoyed with what they call piecemeal development in the area, including bike lanes.
Our winter-city climate is often cited as reason to not invest in cycling infrastructure, especially the kind geared toward commuter cycling.
But Minneapolis, routinely ranked the most bikeable city in the U.S., has a climate similar to ours. Average highs are a few degrees warmer in the Twin Cities than in Winnipeg, but its placement on the globe means it is just as susceptible to deep-freezing arctic air masses and snowstorms as its neighbour to the north.
The average annual snowfall total in the Twin Cities is 115.1 cm, one centimetre more than Winnipeg’s annual total. They’ve figured it out. Why can’t we?
Bike Winnipeg’s co-chairwoman Liz Shearer told the Free Press that the lack of a fully connected cycling grid keeps Winnipeg from being a bikeability leader.
But that’s only part of what’s holding us back. Beyond the accessible bike lanes, weather and terrain, a place’s “bike-friendliness” should consider the attitudes of drivers toward cyclists. Winnipeg’s bikeability score of 61 is tied with that of Toronto, a city in which 41 cyclists were killed or seriously injured in 2018. Is that really “bikeable”?
An Australian study published this year found that around half of non-cyclists viewed cyclists as “less than fully human,” and that “dehumanization measures were significantly correlated with aggression toward cyclists.”
It’s not a stretch to say Winnipeg can be a rather cyclist-hostile city. Yes, there are bad cyclists and bad drivers, to acknowledge another common argument. But a bike does not become lethal weapon the way a 2,000-kilogram car travelling at 60 km/h does.
To become a truly bikeable city that actually merits being on a top-10 list is a noble goal. Cycling is good for our increasingly sedentary bodies and good for our environment. But getting there will involve more than building protected lanes and more cyclists embracing our designation as a winter city the way cyclists in Nordic countries have. It will also involve an attitude adjustment that extends across the broader community.