City won’t issue fines after snow-clearing cyclists warned ‘All we want is to be safe,’ shovelling group organizer says after tackling two unusable bike lanes, planning third Friday
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City hall isn’t considering fines against Winnipeg cyclists who clear snow and ice from bike lanes themselves after a group received a warning for taking matters into its own hands.
The possibility of bylaw fines was raised after the group shovelled and scraped a lane on Westminster Avenue between Maryland and Sherbrook streets on Nov. 22.
Undeterred by a warning from 311, the cyclists cleared a lane on Arthur Street in the Exchange District on Monday in an effort to improve safety.
The city has no intention of going beyond that warning, spokesman David Driedger told the Free Press in an email Wednesday.
“We want to be absolutely clear: the city is not considering issuing fines for clearing snow on roadways, sidewalks, and pathways,” he wrote.
“Rather, we want to hear from pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists so that we can better identify trouble spots and address them accordingly.”
Residents should call 311 or file a report via the city’s website. Followup actions are tracked, and data is used to determine what the city can do better in areas with frequent service requests, he wrote.
The cyclists started clearing bike lanes because they’re dissatisfied with the handling of their complaints to 311 and the city’s snow-clearing policy for active transportation.
A tweet from 311 Sunday informed group member Hillary Rosentreter the cyclists should review certain sections of the streets bylaw.
“In general, residents shouldn’t work on, obstruct, or place items in the right-of-way without a permit,” an employee wrote in a second tweet.
Rosentreter, who has organized the do-it-yourself snow-clearing efforts, vowed to fight any fine she receives.
“I believe the attention the original message from 311 received has put a spotlight on another poor policy from the city which actually prevents residents from clearing public infrastructure, including the sidewalk in front of their homes, so they are not considering fines because it would be absurd to issue fines when all we want is to be safe,” she told the Free Press Wednesday.
The cyclists have complained to 311 about a bike lane in Point Douglas that they say is unsafe because of snow ruts.
They plan to clear it Friday afternoon unless the city gets to it first.
“We will continue to clear lanes until the city takes our concerns seriously and changes their policy on snow-clearing from hard, compact surface to something more acceptable, such as bare pavement,” said Rosentreter, who cycles year-round.
“I would also like to see the city shift their priorities to sidewalks and bike lanes, to centre people in the way we move in this city, rather than cars.”
According to Winnipeg’s snow-clearing policy, active transportation paths on Priority 1 and 2 streets are to be cleared to a compacted snow surface instead of bare pavement.
Rosentreter said compacted snow surfaces become soft, icy and rutted in fluctuating temperatures.
Coun. Matt Allard said the city shouldn’t fine people for clearing snow from streets or paths. He said he isn’t surprised residents are taking matters into their own hands.
“I don’t think the city should be fining people for doing that, especially when it’s not getting done,” said Allard (St. Boniface), who raised the issue as a delegate at Tuesday’s public works committee.
The situation involving the cyclists shows the city isn’t clearing active-transportation corridors despite the desire for a higher level of service, he said.
Some Canadian cities require residents to clear sidewalks in front of their homes.
Allard doesn’t believe there’s an appetite for that in Winnipeg.
“I think Winnipeggers want the city to do it, but in a more timely fashion,” he said, adding bike lanes and sidewalks that are kept clear will encourage people to get around by means other than a car.
As he does after every snowfall, Fort Garry resident Luke Filipowicz shovelled the public sidewalk in front of his house Wednesday afternoon.
For him, it’s a neighbourly duty instilled by his parents.
He doesn’t think fines are necessary if someone clearing public infrastructure isn’t harming anyone or dumping snow in a way that it becomes a hazard.
“I don’t understand why (the city) would take issue with community members taking care of their community,” said Filipowicz. “It’s, like, backwards thinking.”
He was happy to hear the city isn’t fining the cyclists.
Some Winnipeggers may feel the need to clear snow themselves, he said, because complaints to 311 aren’t always dealt with in a timely manner.
Driedger noted it can take a couple of days to clear every public sidewalk and bike path during a major clearing operation.
“We appreciate residents’ understanding because it’s an absolutely huge undertaking,” he wrote. “ We also appreciate seeing neighbours helping neighbours and keeping sidewalks in front of their homes and businesses clear for everyone.”
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
Updated on Wednesday, November 30, 2022 7:42 PM CST: Fixes typo