Advocates say city is shortchanging active transportation budget

Residents want more bike lanes: survey

MOST Winnipeggers say there are too few separated bike lanes in the city and they want more of them, according to a poll released Thursday by the Angus Reid Institute.

The poll examined a randomized sample of 5,423 people from eight major Canadian urban centres — Winnipeg, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal, Halifax, Toronto and Mississauga, Ont. — regarding cyclist-traffic issues, focusing largely on separated, protected bike lanes.

Two-thirds of Winnipeg respondents said there were too few separated lanes (compared to 46 per cent of total respondents), while 76 per cent called the lanes “a good idea” (second only to Montreal’s 80 per cent).

In July 2015, the Pedestrian and Cycling Strategies were approved by Winnipeg city council and the 20-year plan for accessible, convenient transportation got underway. The city estimated a cost of $334 million for the plan, in addition to $3.7 million in annual operating costs.

Since then, the city has slowly worked toward establishing an active transportation network, rolling out painted, buffered and protected bike lanes; however, many cycling advocates have been critical of the pace.

This year, the city’s capital funding for the pedestrian and cycling program totalled $5.4 million, not including $12 million earmarked for projects such as the Empress Street overpass rehabilitation.

The executive director of the city’s active transportation advisory committee, Bike Winnipeg, said Wednesday the city is spending less than it should be in order to align with the plan, putting the figure at closer to $13million to get on track.

“The funding we’re putting in is between one-third and one-half of what we need annually,” Mark Cohoe said.

Winnipeg’s 2008 budget allocated only $150,000 for recreational walkway and bike path projects, he said. “The city is making progress, but we’re starting from far behind.”

Mel Marginet, the workplace program co-ordinator at Green Action Centre, a sustainable commuting organization, said more money should go toward protected bike paths to convince more people to take up cycling.

“Right now, it’s only really accessible to people who are brave and willing to bike with traffic,” she said. “It’s really hard to convince someone who’s never tried (biking in the city) to try it.”

Manitoba Public Insurance data from 2017 says no cyclists were killed in the city last year. On average, according to MPI, two cyclists die in the province each year, while 144 are injured in collisions.

Melanie Ferris, who lives in the Crescentwood neighbourhood, worries when her 12-year-old son goes cycling.

“There really is no safe place for him to ride,” she said. “I won’t let him ride on Corydon and Grant, so he tells me he rides on sidewalks there. He may be on the street though. He wants to go fast and the sidewalk is slow.”

Danielle Moore, who moved to Winnipeg in October, said cycling is her main method of transportation. She’s lived in Halifax and Toronto, where since June 2016, nearly 100 pedestrians and cyclists have died in traffic accidents.

“I would say Winnipeg is probably the least accessible city for bikes that I’ve lived in,” she said. “Protected bike lanes could really help ease the pressure off both drivers and cyclists.”

The report released Thursday also asked respondents about conflict between drivers and cyclists.

In Winnipeg, nearly two-thirds of respondents said there’s “quite a bit,” and more than half placed the blame on drivers. Winnipeg was the only city polled in which a majority blamed drivers, not cyclists.

Winnipeg Trails Association executivedirector Anders Swanson said he doesn’t believe any party deserves more blame, however, he thinks adding more protected lanes will benefit anybody on the road.

There are currently about 1.15 kilometres of protected lane along Assiniboine Avenue, but by the end of this year, the city hopes to have about 5.5 km of protected lane developed within the downtown grid, in addition to almost 3.2 km along Chevrier Boulevard and St. Matthews Avenue.

However, Swanson said, more can be done. “One lane means nothing. To do it properly, you need one on every street.”

Not just cyclists support bike lanes, the poll found — of the 4,226 respondentswho drive cars frequently, 72 per cent said the lanes make a community a better place to live and 44 per cent said there weren’t enough of them.

Swanson said Winnipeg should budget more money sooner for cycling and pedestrian infrastructure development, especially on major streets.

“There’s really no reason for cycling to be the poor cousin in transportation,” he said. “Every single mayoral and council candidate should take a real hard look at those numbers before beginning their (2018 election) campaigns.” 

Twitter: @benjwaldman