Clearing a path for active transportation

The white stuff has barely settled in, and Winnipeggers are already displaying dissatisfaction with the city’s snow clearing efforts.

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The white stuff has barely settled in, and Winnipeggers are already displaying dissatisfaction with the city’s snow clearing efforts.

Over the last week, a brigade of local cyclists has taken it upon themselves to dig out and chip away at the icy ruts left along bike lanes across the city following a recent freeze-thaw cycle. By taking up shovels, these concerned citizens have effectively captured the attention of politicians and public works officials.

After their complaints to 311 went unresolved, the group of 10 or so cyclists cleared a path in West Broadway, and then later turned their attention to a protected lane in the Exchange District. The latter action resulted in threats of fines for contravening the city’s streets bylaw, which prohibits residents from occupying or working on public roadways.

Though the city is well within its rights to dole out penalties — people mingling in roadways and conducting unpermitted work on public property can create a safety hazard and a potential liability nightmare — officials walked back the position on Wednesday, saying there are no plans to issue fines to those involved.

This isn’t the first time Winnipeggers have taken snow clearing matters into their own hands.

In 2019, a pair of neighbours chipped and shovelled ice from the Omand’s Creek pedestrian bridge after the city closed it for the season, citing safety concerns. Without citizen intervention, the corridor would have remained cordoned off for months. Had this happened on a main road, more than a few drivers would have been up in arms.

The fact taxpayers are, yet again, taking to the streets is a sign snow clearing services in some areas need improvement. For the sake of user safety, enjoyment and accessibility, let’s hope the city takes heed.

By virtue of urban sprawl and a spotty public transportation system, Winnipeg has grown into a staunchly car-centric city. Year-round, there are numerous barriers — such as unconnected bike routes — for those who get around by cycling, walking, rolling and scooting.

In the winter, active transportation ceases to be an option for many people unwilling to deal with dodgy road conditions in addition to dodging vehicles. Seventy-six per cent of respondents to a Bike Winnipeg survey reported riding less last winter because of inadequately plowed routes.

The latest group of self-appointed snow clearers expressed frustration with city policy, which sees cycling and walking paths left with a compacted layer of snow instead of being cleared to bare pavement. Roads are also given priority after a snowfall, leaving sidewalks and bike lanes to languish, often for days.

Last week, the city’s manager of street maintenance said it’s not feasible to plow these routes to the pavement, owing to equipment capabilities and infrastructure concerns. Perhaps, then, we should look to other jurisdictions for workable solutions.

A white paper out of Chicago on best practices for winter bike lane maintenance recommends prioritizing busy cycling routes after a snowfall and being proactive about de-icing. An example from North Dakota suggests applying salt or sugar-beet juice — options the city is already employing — before a snow event can actually reduce costs because less de-icing material is needed in the long run.

Winnipeg is a winter city, and treating cycling and walking as if they’re three-season activities is a disservice to those who can’t afford or don’t want to use a personal motor vehicle. If shovel disobedience is ruffling feathers at city hall, perhaps it’s a sign officials need to roll up their sleeves and scrape their way toward a solution.


Updated on Saturday, December 3, 2022 1:00 PM CST: Minor copy edit

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