Bike lanes, trails popular, poll says

Strong majority supports healthy initiatives

By: Mia Rabson

Winnipeggers may hate change, but thus far, the slew of new bike lanes and trails in the last two years have been met with a thumbs-up from most people.

A Probe Research poll for the Free Press found 71 per cent of Winnipeggers see the new bike paths and trails as very or somewhat successful for cyclists, and 60 per cent said they were very or somewhat successful for motorists.

Most people fell into the slightly happy crowd, with 50 per cent calling them somewhat successful for cyclists and 51 per cent calling them somewhat successful for motorists, compared to 21 per cent and nine per cent who said they were very successful for cyclists and motorists, respectively.

"When all is said and done, people think they are starting to do what they're supposed to do," said Probe Research president Scott MacKay.

MacKay said he "honestly didn't know what to expect" when the question was asked, so he wasn't surprised by the results.

More than $20 million was spent to build or improve more than three dozen bicycle paths, including dedicated bike lanes on major streets and multi-use trails.

Much of the money came via the federal government's economic-stimulus plans, but required contributions from provincial and municipal governments.

The poll did not ask whether people are more likely to use bikes since the addition of the new trails and paths, but MacKay said this poll will be a good baseline for comparison in the future.

Bike to the Future, an advocacy group for cycling in Winnipeg, estimates the number of cyclists in downtown Winnipeg has gone up 47 per cent since 2011, to about 13,000 people a day.

Mark Cohoe, Bike to the Future's executive director, said the new paths and bike lanes have greatly contributed to that increase. He said he is not surprised people like the new paths because they have been a great addition to the city's cycling community.

"There is a definite improvement in how motorists and cyclists interact," said Cohoe.

He said while there is still animosity between cyclists and drivers, the trails have helped make everyone safer.

Most of the bike paths were built in 2009 and 2010.

MacKay said the poll question came about because there was a lot of chatter on radio call-in shows and even around the water cooler in the Probe offices, about cycling in Winnipeg.

"There's always been this debate between car people and the bike people," he said.

On a personal level, he's seen many more cyclists on his way to work each day, and he himself was sometimes confused by the new signs marking bike lanes.

He wanted to know whether the new paths were working for cyclists, for motorists, or neither.

Cohoe said there are still major gaps, such as Pembina Highway. However, once the second rapid-transit phase is completed, and the cycling upgrades as part of the Pembina Underpass project are finished, it will give cyclists a safe trail to connect them all the way to the University of Manitoba.

He said another priority for cyclists right now is for the completion of the trail between Grant and Wilkes near Shaftesbury Boulevard.

Probe Research poll questions

Overall, how successful would you say these bike lanes, trails and paths have been in making travel around the city better for Winnipeg cyclists?

Very successful: 21 per cent

Somewhat successful: 50 per cent

Somewhat unsuccessful: 15 per cent

Very unsuccessful: six per cent

Overall, how successful would you say these bike lanes, trails and paths have been in making travel around the city better for Winnipeg motorists?

Very successful: nine per cent

Somewhat successful: 51 per cent

Somewhat unsuccessful: 20 per cent

Very unsuccessful: 13 per cent

The poll of 600 Winnipeg adults was conducted randomly by phone between Sept. 19 and Oct. 14. It is considered to be accurate within 4.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.