Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Safer cycling possible

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The death of an elderly cyclist on his way to a football game last week has renewed the discussion about what needs to be done to make it safer for two-wheelers to travel safely within a city dominated by motor vehicles and unfriendly roads.

As with most cities in North America, Winnipeg has made great strides in the last decade in recognizing the benefits of encouraging people to leave their cars at home and get on a bicycle or walk. Thousands of Winnipeggers, in fact, have joined the worldwide boom in bicycle traffic.

According to a survey by the lobby group Bike Winnipeg, 10 per cent of respondents said the bicycle is their main form of transportation, while 46 per cent said they would like to cycle more often. Some 36 per cent said they are interested in bicycling more but are concerned about cycling on busy roads next to traffic.

The city has built or dedicated hundreds of kilometres of bike lanes, paths and corridors, but of course it's not enough to meet the need or demand.

There are still too many high-risk streets, intersections and underpasses that are not bike-friendly. Many motorists still act as if they own the road, while some cyclists ignore the rules of the road.

It will be another 20 or 30 years before the city begins to achieve the level of service demanded by cyclists. That's the bottom line, but it doesn't mean nothing else can be done immediately to improve safety for everyone.

The province, for example, said last year it was considering an amendment to the Highway Traffic Act that would require motorists to provide more room to cyclists, while also allowing them to ride further from the curb. The law currently says motorists must pass "at a safe distance," which is difficult to enforce because it is subject to interpretation.

Some provinces require motorists to move into the other lane on narrow roads or if it is the only way to pass safely.

Police also need to be more aggressive in enforcing the existing law, even if it is vague. There are too many examples of cars and trucks whizzing by cyclists at distances that are too close for comfort.

Obviously, a legislative amendment that forced motorists to give at least one metre in separation would be easier to enforce.

In terms of bike routes, the city and Bike Winnipeg have published maps that are also available online, but many cyclists are still not familiar with them. There is a designated bike path close to where the man was killed last week, for example, that allows cyclists to avoid the horrendously dangerous intersection of Pembina Highway and Bishop Grandin.

The city can do a better job of posting signs. Currently, the bike route on Pembina disappears without a trace and without warning near the scene of the accident.

The real issue, however, isn't about how to get to football games without risking life and limb, but about creating an alternative-transportation culture.

People who have cycled in some European cities, for example, report the same problems with inadequate cycling infrastructure, but say motorists and cyclists display a civility that is not as evident here. They seem to be looking out for one another.

The ongoing debate over the years in Winnipeg seems to have increased awareness and caution, but there is still a deficiency in respectful behaviour. Manitoba Public Insurance and other government agencies could help change that through public-awareness campaigns.

Winnipeg is on its way to becoming a cycling city, winter and summer, but it will require a sustained commitment to the principle that alternative transportation is the new mantra.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 16, 2014 A8

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