After carefully steering through a layer of road sand on key bike lanes to avoid losing their grip, some cyclists are urging the city to guarantee a quicker spring cleanup in the future.
Bicycle commuters argue it’s time the busiest active transportation routes and on-road bike lanes are prioritized to promptly sweep away the debris.
"At this time of year, the existing infrastructure … is not properly maintained and it makes it borderline impassable in a lot of spots," said Evan Krosney, who regularly commutes to work by bike. "The winter that we’ve had has certainly exacerbated the problem this year but it is a recurring scene."
Krosney recently took his complaints to social media, tweeting images of the Maryland Street bike lane, between Broadway and Sara Avenue, which he said was still not cleaned up by Friday.
"The bike lanes that are most heavily used seem to fall to the bottom of the priority list," he said.
Krosney is urging the city to prioritize major bike routes for street sweeping, in a similar fashion to the snow-clearing schedule, which bases the plowing order on the demand level for each type of route.
Cyclist Julie Penner said she expected some delay on bike lane sweeping due to this year’s spring snowstorms. But she questions why her own quiet residential street was cleaned weeks ago, while at least part of a key bike route connecting Wolseley to the downtown was only partially cleared this week.
"There were so many examples of … unsafe cycling conditions that I had to stop and just start taking pictures. In some areas, you kind of just have to cycle at a crawl basically, because if you’re going to be making turns and there’s so much gravel, you run the risk of wiping out," said Penner.
After tweeting her photos of the route, Penner received a social media response from the city that noted spring cleanup will continue until June 19, urging her to report any routes that aren’t cleared by that date.
"It’s a month away. That to me is not acceptable," said Penner.
Active transportation advocates argue the city should give bike routes a higher spring cleaning priority because excess gravel and sand can prove more treacherous to bicycles than motorized vehicles.
"(At some spots) there’s probably three inches of sand sitting in the bike lane and that’s more than enough to easily cause someone to lose control of their bike … If you’re making a turn, it’s very easy to lose that contact with the pavement. It’s almost like you’re back on ice," said Mark Cohoe, executive director of Bike Winnipeg.
Cohoe said quicker cleaning of the routes would support Winnipeg’s goal to combat climate change by making it easier for more residents to switch from single-passenger vehicles to active transportation.
Anders Swanson, executive director of the Winnipeg Trails Association, said spring cleaning delays pose a "chronic issue" for cyclists.
"At some point … a proper bike lane network (must be) maintained to a standard that makes everybody feel safe and comfortable, period. And that includes not having a beach in the middle of a bike lane," said Swanson.
Current city policy does not set a demand-based priority system for street and bike lane sweeping. That differs from the standards for Winnipeg snow clearing, which require the busiest streets and active transportation routes to be cleared first, said Michael Cantor, the city’s manager of streets maintenance.
Instead, a spring maintenance program targets set geographic zones for clearing, with the goal of ensuring entire areas can be cleaned up quickly while minimizing traffic and noise concerns, he said.
"There’s no priority system, really. In spring cleanup, we are cleaning the (non-regional bus routes and collector streets) and (residential) streets during the days and the (major routes) during the night because of traffic. So we do everything at the same time," said Cantor.
He said it would be possible for council to change the policy and add a priority element for clearing the busiest bike lanes and paths but that would cost taxpayers more.
"It’s a matter of resources and budget and what the city would like to do to do it faster and sooner. Bottom line, it’s always about funding," said Cantor.
The current spring cleanup process is expected to cost the city about $6 million this year and usually takes about six weeks to complete.
Cantor noted inclement weather has played a key role in delaying the cleanup this year. The city wasn’t able to start street and path sweeping until May 1, when it’s usually able to do so by mid-April.
Even after it finally stopped snowing and began warming up, a series of rainstorms caused some additional delays, Cantor said. The process is now expected to wrap up around June 24, instead of the usual June 1.
"It’s really weather dependent and this a ripple effect from this interesting winter that we had, when we had lots of snow and melting snow, so it was wet all the time. And we had rain events, so it’s kind of a perfect storm happening for us," he said.
City crews had swept about 33 per cent of all Winnipeg bike lanes by Thursday afternoon.
While cyclists have complained about some residential roads being swept before major bike lanes, Cantor said it’s tough to compare the two. He noted buffered bike lanes require smaller equipment to access, meaning they’re maintenance dates compete for resources with sidewalks, not roads.
"We sweep all of the inventory within six weeks. There will be streets that will be swept on the last week and there will be bike paths that will be swept on the (last week)," said Cantor.
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.