My wife and I recently spent three days in each of the cities of Copenhagen St. Petersburg, Russia and Moscow. As Winnipeggers, we could not help but make comparisons.
Returning to Winnipeg, after viewing and travelling over the excellent streets in these European cities was like coming to a third world country insofar as road maintenance and quality are concerned.
We love Winnipeg. Our city has many fine qualities, but our roads are rough, uneven, patched, in some cases dangerous, and in general an absolute disgrace.
Copenhagen was especially impressive because of the wide and clearly marked bicycle paths that are a feature of many of its major streets. Copenhagen has a population of about 528,000, so it is similar in size to Winnipeg with our population of about 684,000.
We learned that about 40 per cent of Copenhagen's citizens bicycle to work or school on a system of paths that run for about 400 kilometres. How much would 400 kilometres cover in Winnipeg? The combined lengths of Portage, Pembina, Main, Henderson, St. Mary's, St. Anne's, McPhillips and Regent, according to Sherlock's map of Winnipeg, is less than 200 kilometres. It is obvious that 400 kilometres of bike paths would cover all of our major streets very adequately.
Each bicycle path in Copenhagen is about the width of an automobile lane. Motor vehicles seldom intrude on bicycle paths and cycling is relatively safe for cyclists of all ages and abilities. We watched in awe as hundreds of bikers filled the streets every day.
St. Petersburg often is referred to as the most beautiful city in the world and it is certainly very attractive with many beautiful buildings and parks. Its major streets, like those of Moscow, seemed to be absolutely perfect and without blemishes of any kind. Apologists claim that Winnipeg's cold weather is to blame for many breaks and potholes that occur, but that excuse does not hold up when Winnipeg's weather is compared with that of Russia.
Winnipeg has an average January temperature of -13.2 C; St. Petersburg's is -6 C, and Moscow's is -9 C. Both Russian cities, like Winnipeg, have winter temperatures that often plunge to -30 or -40 C.
It appears the Russians, perhaps because of their tendency toward authoritarian leadership, spend whatever it takes to make perfect roads in their major cities. Winnipeg's mayors and councils, on the other hand, seem to base their decisions mainly on the prospect of upcoming elections. "What do I need to do to get re-elected?" they seem to ask themselves. "Keep taxes down, of course," is the answer.
Our engineers probably know as much about building good roads as their compatriots in Russia, but the limited funds allocated to Winnipeg's roads results mostly in patching and inferior paving that results in limited longevity. The bright side of our poor roads is it provides our vehicle repair shops with a lot of extra business.
We did not see any graffiti or beggars in St. Petersburg or Moscow. It appears that the police and courts are much less forgiving than those in our country.
Ugly overpasses were not evident in the three cities we visited. Is the Disraeli Freeway really necessary? A tunnel, similar to those of major cities, would have been much more preferable. Was a tunnel ever considered? Are our civic leaders lacking in creativity and imagination?
Although we travelled on many streets in St. Petersburg and Moscow, we did not see even a single road barrier or construction project. The major streets appear to be in perfect condition and apparently rarely need patching or new paving. Travelling the streets of Winnipeg, after we returned, came as a shock. Almost every street seems to have construction of some kind in progress.
A major problem, however, is not just the construction itself, but rather how it is organized. Barriers, which restrict the flow of traffic and create hazardous conditions, often go up for several days or even a week or more before any construction takes place. There seems to be very limited communication or co-ordination between those putting up the barriers and those doing the actual construction.
We were also very impressed by the cleanliness of the streets of St. Petersburg and Moscow. Looking out of our hotel room window in Moscow early one morning, we witnessed, much to our amazement, several orange trucks pouring large quantities of water on the sidewalks and streets. According to the Moscow News, an English-language publication, thousands of tons of water are used daily. Winnipeg's streets, by way of comparison, are generously speaking, unclean. We live in Osborne Village, which recently was judged to be the best neighbourhood in Canada. We live here, and we love the place, but street washing in Osborne Village and elsewhere in Winnipeg takes place only when it rains.
Winnipeg is a great city, but we could improve greatly by studying and implementing some of the practices of places such as Copenhagen, St. Petersburg, and Moscow. Let's keep this in mind the next time we have an election for a mayor and councillors in Winnipeg.
Michael Czuboka, former superintendent of schools in Manitoba, is the author of Why It's Hard To Fire Johnny's Teacher; Juba; They Stopped at A Good Place; and Ukrainian Canadian, Eh.