As the number of cyclists increases on Winnipeg streets, more tickets are being handed out for riding on sidewalks.
Winnipeg police handed out more than double the number of tickets to people for riding bikes on the sidewalk last year, issuing 87 in 2020 compared to 43 in 2019, said spokeswoman Const. Dani McKinnon.
So far this year, police have handed out 38 tickets, which ding a rider $113.
Anders Swanson, cycling advocate and executive director at Winnipeg Trails Association, believes people shouldn't get fined for such an infraction.
"Fundamentally, we should be giving out tickets to anyone who does a road without putting in bike lanes — that’s who should be getting the sidewalk tickets because it’s not the fault of the people who are doing it. The people who are doing it are trying to save lives," he said.
The Winnipeg Trails Association warns people they could be ticketed for taking to the sidewalks on bikes, but Swanson thinks it’s often necessary for them to do so at times because of dangerous stretches or intersections where traffic squeezes out cyclists.
"The reality is when you’re giving tickets like that, the message it’s sending is that you should be doing something else, and that something else is usually driving, which is far more dangerous for everybody for all kinds of reasons, whether it’s for health and environment or road violence and trauma. There has to be a better way, because there are places around the world that have figured that out," Swanson said.,
Orly Linovski, who researches transportation equity at the University of Manitoba, said there’s another issue: cycling tickets disproportionately target certain demographics.
Linovski and other researchers acquired ticketing data through a freedom of information request for the years 2018 through 2020. The data include all cycling tickets, which Linovski has mapped out but has yet to publish.
"The vast majority were in probably four or five different census tracts in the downtown core, but also north of it," she said.
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Data showed a few hundred cycling tickets in those areas, including downtown and the neighbourhoods bordering Main Street north to Higgins Avenue, she said. Tickets were almost non-existent outside central Winnipeg, with most neighbourhoods registering either zero or one ticket for all three years.
"There’s a few reasons for this: there’s no cycling infrastructure in some of those neighbourhoods. You know what Main Street is like. On top of having an underpass, in some places there’s four lanes in each direction of very fast moving traffic. It makes sense that people would cycle on the sidewalks," she said.
Linovski doesn’t believe the frequency of sidewalk cycling is specific to those neighbourhoods.
"I think the level of policing in that neighbourhood is higher. You see cyclists on the sidewalk everywhere, but they’re not ticketed," she said.
While the ticketing data didn’t include racial or socioeconomic information, the areas with higher ticket counts generally have populations with lower incomes and higher rates of visible minorities than the rest of the city, Linovski said.
When asked for the city's stance on sidewalk cycling, a spokesman for the public works declined to comment, instead referring the Free Press to the Winnipeg police, who said they were unable to respond before publishing time Tuesday.
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The pandemic has boosted the number of cyclists, but has disrupted its supply chain. Global factory shutdowns, particularly in Asia, shipping delays due to various COVID-19 protocols and high demand for product have kneecapped bike shops, leaving them scrambling to serve customers.
“The supply chain for bikes has been broken for over a year now,” said Phil Roadley, owner of Bikes and Beyond on Henderson Highway. “Bikes are trickling in, but they’re selling as fast as they’re trickling in.”
Roadley said he has approximately $500,000 less in inventory this year than usual. He doesn't know if the demand for bikes is still as high as it was in the first year of the pandemic because the consistent shortage has made it difficult to quantify — it’s impossible to count what people would, but cannot, buy.
Zach Allard, co-owner of Natural Cycle on Albert Street, said the supply shortage has reflected poorly on his company. Customers tend to view a stock shortage as a lack of preparation on the part of the store, unaware it is a nationwide, even global, phenomenon.
To try to keep up, Natural Cycle has had to branch out to three times more distributors than previous years.
“For our ordering manager, it’s a real nightmare for him because he’s having to deal with and be invoiced by up to 15 or 20 different distributors,” Allard said.