The city has made major gains in active transportation, but there are still some big holes in the network


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Tom McMahon hops on his bicycle every day to make the trek from his Riverview home to his downtown law practice.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/09/2012 (3794 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Tom McMahon hops on his bicycle every day to make the trek from his Riverview home to his downtown law practice.

It’s something he’s done for the better part of a decade, and his commute to The Forks is fairly simple, thanks to a river trail that allows him to avoid traffic on busy streets.

But every day for nine years, McMahon has encountered the same problem: a south Winnipeg bike path that stops dead in its tracks with no warning. There isn’t even any signage directing cyclists where to go. The same route starts again four blocks later.

Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press Tom McMahon, co-chairman of Bike to the Future, on one of the city's bikeways. Gaps in the network are 'a city-wide problem. I get frustrated every day. It drives me a little bit crazy.'

It’s one of many holes in Winnipeg’s cycling network, McMahon said, which make it difficult for cyclists to find their way around.

“It’s a city-wide problem. I get frustrated every day,” he said. “It drives me a little bit crazy.”

It’s been two years since a $20.4-million federal stimulus program helped kick-start Winnipeg’s active-transportation network. Thanks to the cash, more than 100 kilometres of lanes, pathways and tracks were built in record speed. The good news is, Winnipeg has made major gains in making the bicycle a viable option for getting around.

There are more people using bicycles to commute and for recreation than ever before. The city has more paths for cyclists and pedestrians than cities such as Regina and Halifax — and Winnipeg now has 35 km of on-street bike lanes.

The not-so-good news is cycling can still be tricky — and sometimes scary — on trouble spots such as bridges or underpasses.

Cycling advocates say the death of Victoria Nelson, who was struck and killed riding her bike near the underpass at Main Street and Higgins Avenue in May, and the death of a 68-year-old cyclist near York Avenue and Main Street Aug. 29 is proof problems still exist and more needs to be done to accommodate cyclists on the road.

Next year, the city plans to start work on an active-transportation strategy — a specific plan that will set out what needs to be done to reduce conflicts between cars and cyclists, improve connections between existing paths, and encourage more residents to walk or hop on a bike.

Transportation manager Luis Escobar said Winnipeg cycling is still in its infancy and the city needs to figure out where it needs to focus its efforts in the coming years.

“We have to step back a little bit and say we addressed the immediate needs and now we need to start thinking strategically,” he said, noting the city does not have a long-term active-transportation plan. “We’ve got to go back and ask, ‘what else do we need to do?’ “

In 2010, Winnipeg decided to spend five times as much money on active-transportation corridors as it had been thanks to an influx of federal stimulus cash. The goal was to add 102 kilometres of bike and pedestrian routes to the existing network within 18 months in order to catch up to some of the active-transportation progress being made elsewhere in the country.

Despite initial opposition to some projects, most notably the Assiniboine Avenue bikeway, most projects were completed and more Winnipeggers are using the new paths to get around. Recent statistics compiled by advocacy group Bike to the Future estimate there are close to 13,000 people travelling by bike in and out of downtown most days.

The city has continued to focus on how to build its pedestrian and cycling network. This year, Winnipeg beefed up its snow-clearing budget to clear more snow from active-transportation routes and encourage more people to use the trails for recreation and to commute during the winter.

Escobar said the department tries to incorporate the needs of pedestrians and cyclists into every major road project. If there isn’t a sidewalk, they build one. If there’s no room for cyclists, they try to accommodate them.

Right now, Winnipeg is working to connect two existing active-transportation paths by creating buffered bike lanes between Crescent and Plaza drives on Pembina Highway.

“I think right now we’ve caught up to many other cities that are a similar size,” Escobar said.

But there is still more work to do.

Most Winnipeggers still rely on their cars to get around, and tension exists between cyclists and motorists.

Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press Archives Transportation manager Luis Escobar says cycling in Winnipeg is in its infancy. 'We've got to go back and ask, "What elese do we need to do?"'

Jino Distasio, director of Urban Studies at the University of Winnipeg, said the city needs to determine where bike infrastructure fits into its other priorities, such as fixing crummy roads riddled with potholes and investing in rapid transit. Distasio said cycling has evolved and is not just a “niche thing for hipster kids.” Its popularity continues to grow and in order for motorists and cyclists to share the road safely, Winnipeg needs to make capital investments in its infrastructure and educate road users, he said.

“I think a lot of it comes back to motorist education,” Distasio said. “Even the most experienced (cyclist) will share tales of being clipped by a mirror or screamed at by an angry motorist who doesn’t want to share the road.”

Jason Carter, head of Manitoba’s Cycling Association, said he got lost earlier this summer trying to find bike routes to travel from north Main Street to downtown. Routes aren’t clearly marked, he said, and far too often cyclists ride on the sidewalk or in the middle of the lane because they feel unsafe or there’s not enough room for them on the streets.

That, in turn, upsets motorists.

McMahon, who is the co-chair of Bike to the Future, said he tries to avoid riding alongside cars as much as he can. He said some motorists try to squeeze by cyclists in the same lane, and many motorists do not understand how to use sharrows — a shared lane for cyclists and motorists.

“If I’m really feeling nervous there are times I will take the sidewalk,” he said. “It’s scary when somebody tries to share the lane with you.”

McMahon said Winnipeg should follow the lead of cities such as Montreal and Minneapolis and do more to connect routes and promote cycling, particularly for those who can’t afford a car. He said building up the on-street cycling infrastructure could reduce road spending in the long-run, since there will be fewer vehicles and less wear-and-tear on city streets.

It’s something other Canadian cities have been moving toward.

Last year, Ottawa became the first Ontario city to create segregated bike lanes downtown. In just one year, the lanes have seen more than 406,000 trips.

Vancouver has made planning a bike ride much like planning a bus ride: insert your starting point and destination online, and the city’s website will map the way. Riders can choose their own adventure: the shortest route or the one with the least pollution? Tree-lined path or the one with the fewest hills?

Tom Thivener, the head of Calgary’s cycling program, said downtown Calgary has 130,000 workers and no on-street bikeways. The brave take the lane, he said, while others avoid cycling altogether. He said U.S. cities are further ahead in building on-street infrastructure. This gets more people on bikes since they feel safe.

“You don’t see the results right away, but once you start implementing a well-designed network and bikeways on the street, you start to make it really easy for people to get on a bike,” he said.


Updated on Saturday, September 8, 2012 8:46 AM CDT: adds map

Updated on Saturday, September 8, 2012 9:29 AM CDT: adds fact box

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