Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Vancouver cycles, Winnipeg recycles

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The acrimony in Vancouver over the development of a new cycling route shows just how much people hate change. Not in Vancouver, in Winnipeg.

Vancouverites have just weathered a blistering debate about the value of encouraging commuters to get out of their cars and onto bicycles. The redevelopment of Point Grey Road, from Jericho Park to Hadden Park at the Burrard St. Bridge, will construct separated bike lanes, but also dump cars entirely off a one-kilometre stretch of the route.

If you've driven in rush hour in that city, you understand the hard feelings. Closing that one-kilometre chunk of Point Grey will push 10,000 motorists onto other routes.

Nevertheless, the project passed city council 7-2 last week. I say good on them.

No, inertia is Winnipeg's problem. Compare Vancouver's bold plans to what has happened here, what unfolded in 2010 when city council painted miserly bike lanes along residential roads and plopped in some sorry excuses for traffic circles. The customary high-pitched whine turned into all-out revolt. Lawsuits, even.

Living on Grosvenor Avenue, I can tell you the bitterness festers -- I hear the honking horns, and chronic complaints and witness a stubborn refusal to heed the rules of the roundabouts, which remain eyesores on the leafy street. When was the landscaping supposed to be done?

Little wonder, then, city council got away with pulling the fast one on the active-transportation strategy -- the $400,000 for a study that was supposed to devise a plan to pull together all the fractured pieces of various bike routes, lanes, paths, trails and boulevards: quietly cancelled by public works. Coun. Jenny Gerbasi stumbled onto the public works decision by chance.

Mayor Sam's can-do campaign that got him first elected in 2004 made some of us feel he would bring the spirit that built a ballpark to the grinding gears of a city bureaucracy, pave the potholes and bring Winnipeg into the 21st century for urban design.

Meanwhile, Winnipeg's 3.6-kilometre rapid-transit splurge remains a stub of an idea to move bus riders speedily through congested streets. And the $20-million shot in the arm 2011's expansion gave to the active-transportation plan did not, as was hoped, spark real progress toward a safe, dedicated cycling network.

I know cyclists who still ride on sidewalks, even where the city has reserved a metre or so of curbside space for them. Painting the blacktop with white bicycle graphics that rapidly wash out doesn't engender a load more goodwill from motorists.

The difference, I think, is culture. The automobile has reigned supreme for so long in this city, and too few councillors are up to the heat that will come in challenging inertia.

The equivalent here of Vancouver's plan for Grey Point Road would turn one side of Wellington Crescent exclusively over to bicycles, squeezing two-way vehicular traffic to the other side of the boulevard. Imagine the congestion that would erupt on Academy, or Corydon.

That would elicit howls of indignation from many that such a plan favoured the well-heeled residents of the crescent and a small percentage of commuters at the expense of ordinary shmucks just trying to get to the office. (That's what they said in Vancouver, too).

Maybe a few of those motorists would leave the keys at home, though. A dedicated road is a safer, more efficient ride, and security is pivotal to convincing people to commute by bike.

I biked to work once. I can still feel the hair on the back of my neck rising as I picked my way along on Arlington, north of Portage, and up McPhillips.

Others with greater dedication to clean living do it, daily (well, OK, maybe not every day of the year). But they are part of a small, tenacious group of warriors.

That hardy club isn't going to grow much, I think, until we link a series of routes where bikes are separated from cars, which is probably what the active-transportation strategy would have advised.

There are a lot of reasons to envy Vancouverites, but rush-hour traffic isn't one of them. It's congested. You can idle in frustration for a long time, burning gas that costs $1.50 a litre.

That, too, is part of the strategy.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 3, 2013 A15

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