Winnipeg Free Press
Bike paths split civic committee
By: Joe Paraskevas
In a surprising rebuke of the city's 2009 capital budget, two of six councillors in Mayor Sam Katz's cabinet rejected the $476.1-million public works plan Wednesday, saying the city could do much more to build bike paths and pedestrian trails.
At a meeting of executive policy committee, Point Douglas Coun. Mike Pagtakhan and Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt voted to turn the budget down, signalling a split on council between bike-riding advocates and others.
Last year, EPC councillors unanimously supported the budget. A city hall source said Katz was "shocked, surprised and disappointed" at Pagtakhan and Wyatt's actions.
EPC did add $2.35 million to the budget, including $500,000 for biking infrastructure and pedestrian trails and the same amount for sidewalk and curb renewals.
It also committed $250,000 for a study into a pedestrian-cyclist bridge across the Red River from the University of Manitoba to south St. Vital.
The additions brought the budget's commitment to city cyclists to $2.25 million and its plans for sidewalk and curb repairs to $1 million -- pending the approval next week before city council.
But the $1.25 million the committee pencilled in for cyclists and pedestrians wasn't enough for Pagtakhan and Wyatt.
The additions came a day after several community groups lobbied the same committee for more spending on bike paths and bike lanes.
One activist suggested the city commit $80 million over 10 years to build 50 kilometres of bike paths and three cyclist-pedestrian bridges.
With that in mind, Pagtakhan tabled a motion calling for the city to spend $2 million on active transportation in 2009.
And Wyatt echoed that demand by proposing $2 million for sidewalk and curb renewals, saying the extra money for cyclists would only build one kilometre of bike paths.
"Basically, we're adding one kilometre of asphalt," he said. "I think we can do more."
Winnipeg has about 190 kilometres of bike paths and bike lanes on streets across the city, Wyatt said.
Calgary has more than 900: 635 kilometres of bike paths and 290 kilometres of bike lanes.
And yet, Wyatt and Pagtakhan's motion failed. Their committee colleagues didn't share their devotion to cyclists and pedestrians.
"We have an obligation not to throw money at the squeakiest wheel," St. Norbert Coun. Justin Swandel, the city's budget architect, told his fellow committee members. "We are doing a budget for the entire city of Winnipeg. we are not doing a budget for active transportation."
Katz urged Pagtakhan and other active transportation advocates to come up with a five-year plan for cycling infrastructure. He said he was "extremely embarrassed" that parts of Winnipeg lacked proper sidewalks and back lanes as well as bike paths.
The divide created by Pagtakhan and Wyatt is likely not large enough to stop the budget from passing before the full city council next week.
But others interpreted it as a sign of conflicting visions of the city among councillors.
"In all my years on council I don't recall two members of EPC voting against the final recommendations of a budget," said Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, who was first elected in 1998.
"This may be a sign that there are two very different visions of our city and council is more polarized than ever."
Mark Cohoe, chairman of the community group Bike to the Future, said in a news release "total funding for active transportation will drop from $2.35 million in 2008 to $2.15 million in 2009, just 1 per cent of the city's budget for roads and bridges.
"At this rate of expansion it will take several hundred years to complete the city's bikeway network," Cohoe said.
Mynarski Coun. Harry Lazarenko, a city councillor for almost three decades and a former member of EPC, called the budget rejections "irresponsible."
"They voted in retaliation because they could not get their amendments approved," Lazarenko said, of Pagtakhan and Wyatt. "that's not what EPC is supposed to do."