Better cycling infrastructure

Mark Cohoe of Bike to the Future. Dylan Hewlett

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More and more people are pedaling their way around the ‘Peg.

A 2012 study by Bike to the Future found that nearly 13,000 Winnipeggers are traveling by bicycle on a daily basis.

That figure is up a whopping 64 per cent since the non-profit advocacy group started counting cyclists in 2007.

Why is there such a two-wheeler trend in Winnipeg?

Well, healthy living, environmental concerns and saving money surely has something to do with it, but it’s also a matter of improved infrastructure.
The city has added a number of bike lanes to its streets in recent years, especially in the core areas. 

Yes, things are improving for cyclists in the city and you can thank Bike to Future for much of it.

In addition to its mission of getting more people cycling - it helps organize Bike to Work Day and offers cycle skills training through the City of Winnipeg’s Leisure Guide - the organization advocates for better cycling infrastructure at the city and provincial levels.

And they’ve had success.

“We’ve participated in the city’s Active Transportation Advisory Committee, so one of the results which you’ll be seeing this year is the buffered bike lanes along Pembina Highway,” says Mark Cohoe, Bike to the Future’s executive director.

“Also, we’ve been working to get Active Transportation and cycling incorporated into the city’s rapid transit plans. Downtown bicycling lanes was one of our first successes, as well as the many trails throughout the city.

“We work on a project by project basis. For instance the Disraeli overpass, we worked to get the pedestrian bridge across there and because of some of the work we’ve done, the new Sturgeon Creek overpass on Portage Avenue will have a tunnel going through it, so you connect without going across Sturgeon Road.

We can take the heckling, we can laugh at that, but people forgetting the rules of the road, that’s a problem.

Will O’Donnell, bike courier for Natural Cycle

“Also, one of the most critical things we’ve done was we had the City pass a motion, stating in the bylaws that whenever they’re doing a rehab, reconstruction or a new construction, that they have to consider Active Transportation. There’s an Active Transportation map for the city and if it’s on that map they have to include Active Transportation.”

So, Winnipeg is a pedaling paradise?

Well, no.

Ask any cyclist in this city and they’ll probably have way more negative things to say than positive points.

Much of that frustration is infrastructure-related - for example road conditions (potholes, debris, snow clearance and drainage problems), a lack of quality bicycle parking and just not enough bike lanes.

But the majority of cyclist’s dissatisfaction is with motorists.

“A lot of drivers do things that put us in danger,” says Will O’Donnell, a bike courier for Natural Cycle.

“To them, the 13 seconds it takes to move a foot over is worth risking our lives. They keep forgetting they are in killer vehicles and that a stupid decision on their part can take someone’s life. And it has happened, people do get killed on the road, but it’s no big deal because drivers have to get to Tim Hortons at a certain time.”

O’Donnell says it’s not just a problem of rudeness, but a lack of consideration and basic driving skills.

“Drivers aren’t shoulder checking or mirror checking, they’re forgetting the basic rules they’re supposed to be applying,” O’Donnell says. “Other vehicles, cyclists, even pedestrians can enter into their blind spots that they need to check. We can take the heckling, we can laugh at that, but people forgetting the rules of the road, that’s a problem.”

Cohoe says educating drivers and cyclists on how to share the road is a major component of Bike to the Future.

The organization is lobbying for better basic cycling skills taught in school and also to get more information on cycling in Manitoba Public Insurance’s Driver’s Handbook.

He’d also like to see more public service announcements.

Speaking of just that, Jon Carson - an avid cyclist and employee of Woodcock Cycle Works - says while he was visiting Australia, he noticed a cool cycling safety campaign that could easily be adopted in Winnipeg.

“They had this ‘a metre matters’ slogan on billboards and on the back of buses,” Carson says. “It just means you need to pass cyclists with some room, slow down a bit and pass them properly.

“It’s so scary when you’re riding along and the car is not slowing down and is so close to you that you can almost feel their side mirror. Just a little clip will cause a lot of damage. There needs to be more public knowledge of what it feels like to be a cyclist.”

Still, drivers are learning first-hand how to deal with cyclists, simply because there are more and more bikes on the road.

Cohoe thinks the increase in cyclists means motorists will get used to them, but not everybody is so optimistic. 

“It might get worse,” says Bill Pats, 41, who commutes by bike in the non-winter months. “Without proper bike paths on the roads, motorists get pissed off. They’re stuck in rush hour and then there’s this cyclist they have to deal with. If anything the animosity towards cyclists will get worse, that’s why they have to get these bike paths in and especially on major streets, where there’s no reason not to have them.”

However, if Bike to the Future has any say in the matter - and it does - the infrastructure will eventually be there. But to speed up the process, Cohoe says the people in power have to have some personal investment.

“In the cities where you see the infrastructure and the programming going forward, the big driving force is politicians,” says Cohoe, who has visited Portland, Oregon, voted America’s Most Bike-Friendly City in 2012 by Bicycling Magazine.

“Whether it’s a mayor or a councillor or the house representative at the state level, you need that leadership role coming from government to see those benefits. Every town that has gone through it and put in the effort has seen positive results.”

Part of the series: The Urban Issue 2013

Published in Volume 67, Number 25 of The Uniter (March 28, 2013)

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