The City of Winnipeg could offer even more open streets for cyclists this year, but it’s unclear if it will find a way to reopen them to pedestrians.
Council’s executive policy committee voted Wednesday to devote sections of 17 roadways, up from a previously proposed 14, to provide extra room for cyclists this year.
The seasonal active transportation routes would limit vehicle access to just one block of travel at set hours and are currently slated to open as early as May 3 and last until Nov. 5.
If council approves, a pilot program for most of the now-labelled "enhanced summer cycling routes" would operate that way from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Four of the routes are currently slated for weekend and holiday hours only, with exact times still being sorted out.
The "open streets" concept was widely welcomed on 10 different street sections in 2020, as a way for both pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy safe, socially distanced recreation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To the disappointment of many, the current proposal doesn’t include pedestrians — because the city has since learned it violated the provincial Highway Traffic Act by inviting them to use last year’s routes.
The act prohibits pedestrians from walking on roadways where a "reasonably passable" sidewalk is present.
Coun. Matt Allard, public works committee chairman, said he’s hopeful the city can work out some kind of pedestrian access solution with the province, and pursue the cycling routes in the meantime.
"In terms of this report (on) enhanced bicycle routes, I think it’s a step in the right direction that opens many new streets to cyclists and will calm the streets because of the limited vehicle traffic," said Allard (St. Boniface).
The councillor noted the current motion calls upon civic staff to report back on pedestrian access discussions with the province next month.
A provincial minister has publicly stated the Manitoba government will "never" change the Highway Traffic Act to let a municipality mix pedestrians with vehicle traffic on such routes. Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler said Winnipeg could instead close a section of a street or lane to vehicles to reserve it for pedestrians and cyclists. He said the city would need to use road paint and add signs at every affected block to make the rule obvious.
So far, councillors have not officially called for that change, though some believe the city should consider it. Coun. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River) said all options should be explored to invite pedestrians back to the routes.
"The success of this last year, the ability to have people out and about on the streets, that’s what we want to promote. So, if there’s a way we can do that safely, that’s our objective," said Chambers.
Mayor Brian Bowman stressed Winnipeggers should obey the current "rules of the road," despite the fact they could walk on the active transportation routes last year.
"The Highway Traffic Act is there to protect the safety of residents… and I think it’s important that we, as a municipal government, and citizens respect the legislation," said Bowman.
The mayor declined to weigh in on whether he thinks police should ticket pedestrians who walk on this year’s cycling routes. He also stopped short of stating whether or not he personally wants to restore foot traffic on the routes, only noting he supports discussing that option with the province.
"We’re doing our best to navigate the legislation in way that provides more recreation amenities for our residents."
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.
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