Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/11/2015 (2124 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Well, it didn’t take long to feel the blowback of a winter wind Thursday.
Granted, the 7:45 a.m. root canal was a rough start, but the snow tires are still in the garage waiting to be fixed in place. Greasy roads aside, the traffic backups a kilometre and more on Waverley (train) and Route 90 (a stalled semi) gave me a distinctly Bela Lugosi look for the morning commute, but slightly more homicidal.
Remind me to get the bloody windshield wiper fixed. And the electric garage door replaced. Winnipeggers are winter survivalists. We spend weeks girding for war and then do our best to evade the enemy.
What’s really making me cranky is the fact the bike is in storage for the next four months. I don’t like it.
I don’t like the person I become behind the wheel, crawling in traffic on (what passes for) a thoroughfare ostensibly designed for a 70 km/h limit. But I’m not prepared to kit the bike out for the snow and blow in the cold. It’s expensive; it’s signing up for a whole new workshop on roadworthiness (me, not the bike). It would turn my 35-minute commute into a marathon.
Even were I to pay up for a fat bike, I’m not up for a meet-and-greet with ice ridges, particularly intimidating in the dark of the two industrial parks on my ride. Doable for short commutes, but a 45-minute grind, twice a day? Give me the sofa and a glass of red.
It’s this time of year we seasonal cyclists console ourselves with pithy aphorisms: I’m not soft, just cautious. I’d rather drive than die.
It’s a good time to reflect, on the heels of a first year of biking to work.
❚ To the motorists on Logan, the busiest street on my route, thanks for being alert, deferential and kind. The Highway Traffic Act’s insistence I stay as close to the curb as practicable is of no practical value on much of Logan, with spots that feel like someone took the sledgehammer to a washboard.
❚ Driving at night requires lights, people; that includes bicycles. Hipsters dressed in black, riding without illumination are breaking the law, tempting fate and giving the rest of us a bad rap. They make driving through Wolseley after dark a terror. So, let’s abide by and enforce the law and save a life.
❚ City councillors who called the downtown bike plan rushed, and written in stealth, have been asleep at the wheel. Pay attention. And maybe travel a bit. The rest of the "new world" is adjusting to cycling as a modern transportation, putting money on the (proven) wager it keeps people healthy and pays economic dividends, especially for businesses on bike routes.
❚ Bike culture is something only the new world talks about. In other parts of the world, the bicycle has always been a part of transportation. In Japan, the bicycle is not culture, it is everyday ordinary, utilitarian and necessary. Key to preserving the bicycle as transportation is street design; their monster cities retain their ubiquitous, impossibly narrow streets, and most of the roads have lower speed limits. We could use some of that.
❚ While we’re on bike culture, let’s admit we’re not going to get there until we regard bicycles (and walking) as everyday ordinary, useful and necessary. Cyclists and pedestrians have a right to useful, safe streets and facilities. Sure, let’s separate lanes. But traffic engineers should get on a bike for a few days to see the hundred little things that need fixing. First, redesign signalled intersections. Traffic lights that don’t turn green, even when the cross route is also on red — yes, four-way reds! Good job, signals department! — are confusing and dangerous and discourage compliance. (Unless you enjoy looking like a colossal idiot, waiting-waiting-still waiting at lonely intersections.)
Winnipeg is miles behind big-city counterparts in integrating cycling and walking as a commute. Almost 70 per cent of Winnipeggers surveyed say they own a bike, and cycling is growing fast in popularity. Yet, significant numbers say barriers, such as a lack of bike lanes, dissuade them from cycling to work or school.
I think I’m not a winter cyclist, until and unless streets are groomed for cycling.
But, I could be tempted.
The Italian city of Massarosa is paying people to commute by bike, 25 cents a kilometre in euro currency, following the pilot project in France. The program is funded by traffic fines. Long-term dividends include a healthier population, less pollution and less spent on roads and bridges. My commute is 25 kilometres, round trip, which means real, immediate dividends, too.
It might be petty cash for some, but consider this: you’ll save as much or more in gas and parking (or on monthly bus passes.) Add it up over six months. It’s return airfare to a warmer place, in January.
Catherine Mitchell is a member of the Free Press editorial board.