Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cruising forward

New understanding with police preserves Sunday tradition

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It has been a busy couple of weeks in the news. In case you missed it, the world didn't end, we have successfully battled another flood, a little band from Ireland stopped by for a visit and the NHL is back in Winnipeg.

Lost in these headlines was a huge news release issued last week by the Winnipeg Police Service. Okay, maybe it wasn't all that huge in the grand scheme of things, but for thousands of local auto enthusiasts, it was big news. I'll let the press release speak for itself.

"In Winnipeg, cruising on Sunday nights in the summer has become a tradition. The Winnipeg Police Service understands that the vast majority of those cruising are law-abiding car enthusiasts who want to simply show off their vehicles and meet with other enthusiasts.

"This year, the service will again be monitoring and conducting enforcement on Sunday nights. This year's enforcement will be different than last year. Over the winter, members of Winnipeg Police Service met with members of the Manitoba Association of Automobile Clubs to discuss vehicle inspections and Cruise Night enforcement.

"The Winnipeg Police Service has attended several car shows and will be working with the Manitoba Association of Automobile Clubs to conduct information sessions to allow car enthusiasts to learn what is legal in a non-confrontational environment. The dates of these clinics will be announced in the near future.

"Although this enforcement will continue to include vehicle inspections, officers will be focusing on aggressive driving, seatbelt and cellphone offences and vehicle insurance and driver licensing enforcement.

"The Winnipeg Police Service is dedicated to working with car clubs in educating the public in hopes to avoid the need for mass inspections."

So there you have it. The message is pretty clear. Cruise safely and responsibly, but cruise to your heart's content.

I hate to say I told you so but, throughout the past year, I've listened to countless complaints that the police were bent on ending our timeless tradition of cruising on Sunday nights. This hobby of ours was definitely in peril and I took your words to heart. But I couldn't help but feel that cooler heads would ultimately prevail, and that's what happened.

No mass protests were required, no one had to camp out in front of city hall and thank goodness, Gary Bettman didn't have to get involved. We found the solution to this problem by banding together and staying strong, and we were led by the Manitoba Association of Auto Clubs (MAAC).

To get you up to speed, the good folks at MAAC, led by cruising crusader Bob Chubala, spent countless hours compiling data, listening to all three sides of the story (the police, the cruisers and the public) and hammered out a deal that pretty much guarantees the wheels will keep turning in our car-crazy town.

On the surface it might seem like a small victory, but the very fact the WPS has acknowledged the importance of our tradition of cruising on Sunday nights and how it relates to the city of Winnipeg is a milestone for our hobby. Throughout North America, similar conflicts have and continue to occur, but here in Winnipeg, thanks to the spirited energy of a dedicated group of passionate enthusiasts, we are able to move forward.

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to Ride for Dad in support of prostate cancer. This ride is organized by members of the WPS, and they were out in full force -- not only supervising a fun-filled parade down Portage Avenue, but also riding alongside fellow motorcycle enthusiasts to Gimli and back.

Throughout the day I took the opportunity to talk to Winnipeg's finest about the cruising crisis and how they felt about it. Every member of the WPS I spoke with was resoundingly supportive of our hobby. Many were quick to cite all the good that comes from our hobby, but a couple of officers also pointed out that there are always a few bad apples in the barrel. Based on that observation, I think it's now our responsibility to police ourselves.

Every auto enthusiast, young and old, needs to recognize the proverbial bullet we have dodged and realize we have not been given a green light to do whatever modifications we want to our vehicles and drive them like the tires are on fire. In fact, what has happened is that we have been given a serious warning.

For all the good we do, we also need to recognize that not everyone supports us, and for good reason. I truly feel for the folks who live on or near Portage Avenue or Main Street who are forced to endure the barrage of late-night cruisers.

So what can we do to show our thanks? Well, for starters, how about if we just stay the hell away from Portage Avenue, and ultimately even Main Street, on Sunday nights?

There are tremendous cruise events each week at both the Canad Inns in Transcona and the Grant Park Pony Corral. There are also countless auto events throughout the summer that welcome our participation with open arms. Let's continue to make these events bigger and better, and try and make them more interesting to the younger folks who now flock to Portage Avenue.

Ultimately, what happened last week was a good thing for our hobby. Some folks have told me they will believe it when they see it, and based on what occurred last summer they have every right to feel that way. But the police have publicly acknowledged that cruising in Winnipeg is a good thing, and they've gone on the record as being committed to working with us and changing gears on their enforcement strategies.

For that, we can thank the good folks at MAAC and all of the car-club members in Manitoba who stood up and fought for what we love.

willy@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 3, 2011 F3

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