No one was more enthused than I when the bicycle corridors along Pembina Highway were announced. After years of white-knuckle, adrenaline-fuelled bicycle commutes between my home in Wildwood Park and the University of Manitoba, I was overjoyed to learn the city was finally responding to pleas for greater bike safety.
Yes, it was only a short one-kilometre stretch, a drop in the bucket for those travelling from the downtown area; and yes, it still left the perilous Bishop Grandin overpass unprotected, which I can never cross without recalling the moment I was struck by a car there six years ago.
But it was encouraging to know alternative transportation along this important thoroughfare is an investment priority for the city.
Once the corridors were complete, however, my joy was diminished and indeed almost crushed altogether, for I discovered the bike lanes had been shunted onto sidewalks around the bus stops.
I can only assume the rationale for this unusual design is to prevent forcing passengers to load the bus by crossing a bike lane.
Cyclists and buses, however, have been sharing the curb lane for as long as they have coexisted, and must continue to do so everywhere else in the city (and in every other city I have cycled).
When I am cycling down Pembina at 30 km/h, the last thing I want to do is divert my course abruptly up a ramp, onto the sidewalk for several metres and then back down again. It's dangerous to me and it's dangerous to pedestrians.
I find it hard to believe anyone who has cycled along Pembina Highway during rush hour would suggest such a clumsy design.
There are several obvious problems. First, these ramps have become effective collectors of snow, ice, gravel and mud and will certainly become deep puddles once the melt begins in earnest. Second, most people waiting for the bus will stand precisely on the path on which we are now supposed to cycle. I know this from personal experience because I rode the bus for years before becoming a bicycle commuter.
But I also know this because my recent attempts to take this detour often require calling out to warn the bus passengers I am coming, then slamming on my brakes and swerving while people attempt to scramble out of my way. It's not really their fault, because this is a natural place to stand and there is no signage to indicate this is a bike lane. Furthermore, if one is placidly waiting for a bus, why should it be necessary to worry about high-speed, pedal-powered vehicles careening through the waiting area?
Finally, the curb-lane shoulders have been eliminated from the bus-stop areas, meaning when I choose to remain on the road to avoid crashing through the bus crowd, I must once again jockey for position with cars and trucks, except now there is no buffer zone and I am directly in their lane.
In the short weeks the paths have been rideable, I have endured abuse from startled pedestrians and honks from indignant motorists. Suddenly, there's no place for the cyclist... again!
The paradoxical and unfortunate result of this bizarre situation is driving down this stretch of Pembina is now more dangerous than ever.
So I return to my earlier statement of appreciation that the city is taking commuter cycling seriously. Winnipeg is far behind other cities in Canada and around the world in this regard, and this is a welcome first step toward encouraging greater fitness and reducing automotive emissions.
Unfortunately, this initial attempt is awkward at best and dangerous at worst and will do little to enhance safety for cyclists, motorists and pedestrians along this stretch of Pembina. I dearly hope future improvements are attended by more careful forethought so I and my children can cycle without fear to our chosen destinations around the city.
Scott Kroeker is a professor of chemistry at the University of Manitoba.