It is entirely understandable that a cyclist in Winnipeg would choose to ride three feet -- about a metre -- from the curb, dodging refuse, rubble, potholes and crevices that tend to amass at the edges of streets. But the Highway Traffic Act requires cyclists to ride as close to the curb as "practicable," which inevitably puts them in conflict with motorists, many of whom regard bicycles as an inconvenience at best. A better, safer option is needed.
The Selinger government is considering changing the highway act to give more room to cyclists and greater separation between them and vehicles. Cycling advocates want Manitoba to adopt Quebec's law that gives bike riders a full lane, requiring passing motorists to move into the left lane unless there's sufficient room in the same lane. At present, Manitoba law says only that motorists must pass on the left of cyclists "at a safe distance." Quebec's law puts greater responsibility on drivers.
Motorists who bemoan cyclists impeding their commute will not welcome this. And a careful study of traffic flow on busy urban roads will have to be modelled to prepare for such a change. Vigorous public education would be needed for the cultural shift it would signal for the drivers who now exercise right of "weight."
But a pursuit of policy that encourages cycling is long past due. Bicycle commuting is healthy, cheap and easy on the environment, and delivers substantial societal benefits.
Such a policy shift won't happen any time soon relying upon infrastructure projects alone: Winnipeg's record $20-million investment in 2010 produced relatively few dedicated bike lanes and significant grievance and political backlash. It made meagre progress in encouraging people to leave the car at home.
The faster way to promote cycling is to write strong, clear rules that entitle cyclists and motorists to their right of way while enforcing their responsibilities on the road. Motorists will have to slow down when cyclists are ahead of them -- perhaps leave home a little earlier -- and proceed with more caution when passing. That, however, promotes mutual respect between cyclists and motorists, which can only make for safer streets.