Time to park cars outside parks


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As the pandemic grinds on and confinement in our homes becomes bleak at times, Winnipeg’s abundant green spaces offer a therapeutic escape. It’s unfortunate motorized vehicles are allowed to intrude.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/04/2020 (840 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As the pandemic grinds on and confinement in our homes becomes bleak at times, Winnipeg’s abundant green spaces offer a therapeutic escape. It’s unfortunate motorized vehicles are allowed to intrude.

A temporary ban on cars, trucks and motorcycles from city parks would go a long way toward helping pedestrians enjoy outings while still keeping the required physical distance. Pedestrians in parks could use the full width of the the roadways to keep a safe space from each other.

Vancouver did it with Stanley Park on April 8, banning vehicles from its world-class park so pedestrians can walk on roads and enjoy the tonic of the natural world while remaining distanced from other people. Minneapolis-St. Paul has banned vehicle traffic from three of its parkways. Portland, Ore., has closed 10 of its parks to cars and trucks. Similar sensible measures are underway in U.S. cities including Cleveland, Philadelphia and Denver.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESs fileS Eliminating vehicles in parks would allow pedestrians to more effectively adhere to physical-distancing guidelines.

Like all urban centres struggling to contain COVID-19, these cities banned vehicles from green spaces because of two pragmatic realities: 1) it’s physically and mentally healthy for people to enjoy the rejuvenating effects of nature as a break from being cooped up under stressful circumstances; and 2) city parks can accommodate a lot of people safely, with everyone heeding physical distancing guidelines, as long as vehicles are removed so pedestrians have room to spread out.

Personally, the need to bar vehicles from Winnipeg parks was clear last weekend when my wife and I, in dire need of fresh air and exercise, walked the two-kilometre loop around Kildonan Park, the green-space jewel in north Winnipeg. The main walking path is a rind of the roadway’s edge, only one metre wide, so walkers are separated from traffic only by lines painted on asphalt. The vehicle traffic is often bumper-to-bumper, so close that walkers could literally touch moving vehicles.

With pedestrians at Kildonan Park squeezed into such narrow paths, we couldn’t adhere to the physical distancing guidelines as we met and passed other pedestrians.

The vehicles also marred our walk in other ways. The constant din of vehicle engines erased the soothing sounds of birds and the wind blowing through branches. The smell of exhaust fumes overpowered the delicate scents of grass and tree foliage springing into new life.

I’m told some pedestrians who use Assiniboine Park feel the same way. If vehicles were barred, people in search of a pandemic panacea would be better able to appreciate the sights, sounds and smells of the natural world.

Some of our area’s most precious green spaces have been closed or changed by COVID-19 restrictions. The showcase gathering at Birds Hill Provincial Park, the Winnipeg Folk Festival, was cancelled on Tuesday, but the park itself remains open for people who want trees to massage their minds (although washroom facilities at Birds Hill remain closed).

Unfortunately, Fort Whyte Alive is completely closed (perhaps the geese are wondering when the humans will flock back).

Winnipeg is fortunate to have more than 1,200 neighbourhood, community and regional parks, and this pandemic crisis is a time when they are needed more than ever.

Banning vehicles from parks to allow pedestrians room to roam is the natural next step after the city decided earlier this month to designate four streets in Winnipeg as bicycle/active transportation routes. Sections of Lyndale Drive, Scotia Street, Wellington Crescent and Wolseley Avenue have been largely freed from vehicles, so the space is free and clear for pedestrians, joggers and cyclists.

Winnipeg’s green spaces have long been urban treasures that greatly enhance the quality of life by providing mini-oases amid the buildings, concrete roads and parking lots. That said, the trees that tower over Winnipeg’s green spaces have had a tough time in recent years, battered by the triple assault of Dutch elm disease, the emerald ash borer and a freak ice story in October that damaged or destroyed tens of thousands of trees.

The mayor had planned a planting spree called the Million Tree Challenge to restore the giant sentinels, but now the roles can be reversed. Trees can restore us.

Plenty of evidence shows connecting with nature can refresh our brains, relieve tension and brighten grim moods. These healing properties are particularly appealing to the many Winnipeggers whose lives have been disrupted by pandemic measures and might make one feel a bit stir-crazy after weeks of sitting at home and watching the walls.

Winter-weary Manitobans traditionally have a zealous appreciation for spring and summer, but our usual methods of enjoying the warmer weather — cottages, camping, restaurant patios, picnics and festivals — have been cancelled, prohibited or declared inadvisable.

City green spaces remain open, however, and if vehicles are banned from entry, our parks offer the breathing space we need to recuperate before returning to our residences to resume our submission to the necessary discipline of confinement.


Carl DeGurse is a member of the Free Press editorial board.

Carl DeGurse

Carl DeGurse
Senior copy editor

Carl DeGurse’s role at the Free Press is a matter of opinion. A lot of opinions.

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