Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bike woes clear long before death

Shortcomings on Pembina serious due to high university traffic

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In politics, broadcasting or any other realm of public life, using a tragedy to make a point is a dangerous game.

On Monday evening, a Blue Bomber fan was riding his bike to Investors Group Field to watch a CFL pre-season game when he was involved in a motor-vehicle collision. Sixty-nine-year-old Dick Stevenson was taken to hospital in unstable condition and later died of his injuries.

The police are investigating the collision. Unless you witnessed the event -- or happen to be a traffic-unit investigator -- it'd be irresponsible to assign responsibility to any party.

If you're a pundit or a politician, you don't blame the victim, you don't blame the motorist and you certainly don't blame the Winnipeg Football Club or the City of Winnipeg until you know darn well what happened.

This is why it was cringe-inducing to observe a public exchange between the city and the Bombers that came uncomfortably close to a blame-storming session.

Early Thursday, at the start of the morning news cycle, the football club released a statement from Bomber president and CEO Wade Miller, urging the city to "immediately review and assess all active-transportation routes and infrastructure leading to Investors Group Field."

The city responded in the afternoon by making acting chief operating officer Michael Jack and transportation manager Luis Escobar available to reporters. They said they know there's a demand for a protected bike route along Pembina Highway but there are no imminent construction plans.

Jack and Escobar also noted they didn't hear a peep from the Bombers about cyclist safety when the two parties met last week. Miller responded he has always raised cyclist safety in meetings with the city.

To be fair to both parties, neither actually assigned blame for the fatality. The city officials made the standard refusal to comment while a police investigation is underway.

Miller, meanwhile, said the motivation for his Thursday-morning press release was a Wednesday-evening query from Free Press reporter Mary Agnes Welch.

"When a fan dies from something like this, I think it's important everyone takes a step back and reviews what's going on," Miller said in an interview. "It's a bigger discussion about the active-transportation plan and moving it forward. I cycle in the city and it's tough."

A decade ago, Winnipeg had a truly pathetic network of bike-and-pedestrian paths. But the situation improved, thanks to a policy that ensures all significant road-construction projects include an active-transportation component -- and an influx of cash into commuter-cycling routes, including an unprecedented $21 million allotted in 2010 alone.

Of course, not all of Winnipeg's new cycling infrastructure is ideal. Many cyclists shy away from using "sharrows," the extra-wide lanes intended to be used by both bikes and motor vehicles, and aren't big fans of painted-on "dedicated lanes," either.

Cyclists prefer routes that are physically separated from motor-vehicle traffic. But that sort of infrastructure is difficult to create in existing neighbourhoods, where a shortage of space requires either the expensive expropriation of private land or the politically unpopular appropriation of a motor-vehicle lane.

The city is slowly but surely improving its commuter-cycling infrastructure. As both the Bombers and the city pointed out Thursday, there are ways to travel to Investors Group Field that do not involve traversing the intersection of Pembina Highway and Bishop Grandin Boulevard.

But even if Investors Group Field didn't exist, it's worth noting the city has so far failed to create a more direct cycling route from downtown to the University of Manitoba's Fort Garry campus, the second-busiest commuter destination in Winnipeg.

The notion such a route has been delayed merely by the failure to complete the Southwest Transitway is a red herring, as that bus corridor is now supposed to jog 1.6 kilometres to the west Pembina Highway at its furthest point.

The somewhat-separated bike lanes created along Pembina north of Plaza Drive form the start of a more direct route. But the absence of a complete and more or less protected route to the U of M is annoying for university students and staff, who have to ride out of their way to get there.

The city should continue to develop this route, using whatever meagre resources it has. Unlike the football stadium, the university is busy nearly every day.

In other words, the need for a Pembina bike route was evident well before this week's fatality, which should not be used by anyone for any purpose other than to express condolences.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 13, 2014 A4

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives

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