Bridging the Osborne gap

Active commuters concerned about underpass; say city isn’t serious about active transport

Janice Lukes, pictured in front of the Osborne Street underpass with Milan, is executive director of the Winnipeg Trails Association. Lukes worries Active Transport pathways aren’t being given priority because of Winnipeg’s cold climate. Cindy Titus

After waiting more than 30 years for Rapid Transit here in Winnipeg, construction of Phase 1, the Southwest Rapid Transit Corridor, has finally taken off. But already the project has hit a pothole.

A hazardous gap in the Active Transport pathway of the Osborne Street rail underpass has many in the community concerned for the safety of Winnipeg’s cyclists and pedestrians. The plans show an abrupt end in the pathway just north of the underpass, which will force commuters off the pathway and beside traffic.

While the BRT system promises to include designated lanes for both Rapid Transit and Active Transport with the goal of creating a safer, more accessible city, the problems surrounding this gap are causing some to question the integrity of the Active Transport portion of the project.

Curt Hull, treasurer and project manager of Bike to the Future, an organization that aims to make cycling safe and convenient in Winnipeg, feels this problem signals a half-hearted effort to incorporate Active Transport into the BRT system.
“I think it is an indication that the Active Transportation component really wasn’t integrated into the plan,” Hull said by phone recently. Hull is also a member of Winnipeg’s Active Transportation Advisory Committee (ATAC), a group that advises the city on active transportation needs.

Kevin Nixon, active transportation co-ordinator for the City of Winnipeg and liaison between the ATAC and the city, claimed the city does indeed take Active Transport seriously, pointing out that $3.8 million has been allotted to Active Transport pathways in the project.

Janice Lukes, member of the ATAC and executive director of the Winnipeg Trails Association, a group that works to develop multiuse paths in the city, feels that the Active Transport pathways are not being given priority because Winnipeg is a winter city.

“In Winnipeg active transportation is not seen as a viable means of transportation,” she said.

In efforts to prove that Winnipeg can and should embrace active transportation to a greater degree, Lukes has turned to the City of Minneapolis for help. With an advanced active transport system and similar climate and terrain to Winnipeg’s, Lukes hopes that Minneapolis’s active transport community can educate Winnipeg around how it can expand and improve its Active Transport system.

In the meantime, the ATAC continues to work with the City of Winnipeg on fixing the Osborne pathway gap. According to Nixon, the city is unlikely to invest in any long term solutions as the underpass will likely be redone within the next 10 years.
“All the money would be thrown away,” Nixon said, adding that building a tunnel or overpass for cyclists and pedestrians would cost between $14 and $20 million.

Nixon explained that an interim solution to designate the west sidewalk of the underpass to cyclists and the east to pedestrians has been discussed.

But Hull doesn’t see this as feasible.

“I really am at a loss to understand how it would be a workable solution even as a temporary solution,” he said. “The sidewalk isn’t wide enough for two way bicycle traffic.”

Lukes agreed.

“There will be an accident and someone will be seriously injured,” she said.

Nixon explained that though it may not be done immediately, the city will ensure that a solution will be reached.

“The cycling community may not get everything they want this year,” he said. “It may take some time but we have every intention of [fixing the gap],” he said.

Hull remains hopeful but suspects Winnipeg’s active transporters will be in for a wait.

“We have been waiting for rapid transit for 30 years. Are we going to have to wait 30 years for this?” he said.

Published in Volume 63, Number 29 of The Uniter (July 16, 2009)

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