AT the height of evening rush hour, winding Wellington Crescent is abuzz with all kinds of traffic — even with automobiles limited to one block of travel.
Cyclists, joggers, rollerbladers, children on skateboards and scooters, families out for an evening walk with the dog all crowd to the tree-canopied route, taking advantage of the barricaded streets and wide pedestrian boulevard in the warm, sunny afternoon.
While most car traffic stuck to the open block, a handful still trekked further, one earning a flash of police lights and a conversation with an officer.
Since May, the Winnipeg street has been closed to most vehicle traffic between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.; cyclists are permitted to use the roads, pedestrians are asked to use walkways, and drivers allowed only to travel a block to and from their homes.
Though the policy has drawn ire from Wellington and River Heights residents who feel the "open street" brings more problems than opportunities, others say the program provides more accessible ways to get outside and get active — provided everyone shares the road.
In a recent package of submissions to the City of Winnipeg public works committee, some disgruntled residents took issue with the increases in traffic on the alternate route, Academy Road.
Some residents noted difficulty turning onto the alternate route during rush hour, "bumper-to-bumper" traffic, or tacking extra minutes onto their commute.
Others described frustrating encounters with pedestrians and cyclists aggravated by cars on the road — even while driving just one block to their residences.
For Sarah Manteuffel, who lives in the Fort Rouge/River Heights area and uses Wellington Crescent when it’s closed to vehicle traffic, the wide-open road provides a safer place for her to ride.
On her day off Monday, Manteuffel went for a leisure ride down Wellington and posted a photo of herself — smiling wide next to road barriers outlining the open street rules — in response to criticism of an initiative she feels "makes Winnipeg great."
"I have dwarfism, so I ride a smaller bike and on the streets don’t usually feel very safe," Manteuffel said in an interview Tuesday. "Even in a designated bike lane, am I going to be trusted to be seen by large vehicles? I go pretty slow, so even other passing cyclists can sometimes be a hazard."
Brian Szklarczuk, an adaptive cycling advocate who co-owns Wolseley’s upcoming bike shop Prairie Velo, said more inclusive forms of movement (three-wheeled bikes, handcycles) often take up a little more space, but those who use them also want to feel safe and comfortable on the road.
"We know we need a little more space in the adaptive world, but we really want to be able to not be on the margins all the time," he said.
"(We want) to be able to use the other areas and just feel normal, just feel like we’re another person riding — and that’s what the open streets have allowed folks to do."
As some area residents argued the streets were inaccessible to those who are not as mobile and unable to travel the street except by car, Manteuffel said she found that perspective "challenging" to hear.
"I understand that people may want to participate in driving down the crescent to utilize it but, there are other methods and opening the street allows for a different variety of body types to take advantage of that space," Manteuffel countered.
Szklarczuk agrees, and hopes to see all Winnipeggers mindful of each other’s needs when out on the roads.
"If we can have the conversations about true inclusiveness, we can have everyone feel safe on whatever mode of transportation they’re using: cyclists, walkers, folks using mobility devices, power chairs, manual chairs — everything you can think of can co-exist really well. We can also co-exist with vehicles really well if there is a shared responsibility that we are all using the road," he said.
Coun. Matt Allard, public works chairman, said a recent motion to knock Wellington Crescent off the holiday closure list came about in an effort to both satisfy the community’s needs and keep the street program running.
After Wellington’s ward councillor, John Orlikow, tabled a motion asking for more flexibility on open street rules, by putting power in the hands of the public works director, Allard feared staff could have the power to nix the program.
After talking off-the-record with legal advisors, public works instead motioned to take Wellington Crescent off the list and let the area councillor and the public works team decide how best to proceed.
Allard said the intent was not to see Wellington permanently dropped from the list, but rather to empower the local councillor and public works director to add routes in a way that works best for constituents.
Internal conversations about Wellington Crescent — and its future use as a Sunday/holiday closure street — are still underway at city hall.
"The road belongs to everyone, at the end of the day," Allard said. "All of our taxes pay for the roads, and they are a public space and meant to be shared."
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.