Time to separate bikes, cars on Winnipeg streets is now

When the snow finally melted, I was excited to ditch the bus and start biking to my new job downtown. I soon learned the commuters on Henderson Highway don’t take kindly to cyclists in the morning.

A message for Winnipeg’s next mayor: Hop on a bike during rush hour, please

A cyclist rides in a bike lane in Winnipeg in July 2013. But should cyclists and motorists be separated for good in the city? (Bert Savard/CBC)

After a summer of cycling to work, I’m left with a few conclusions, or frustrations, depending on how you look at it.

When the snow finally melted, I was excited to ditch the bus and start biking to my new job downtown. I soon learned the commuters on Henderson Highway don’t take kindly to cyclists in the morning.

They make their opinions known with subtle gestures that you can pick up on, like swiping at you with their car. That may sound like attempted murder, but they were likely late for work.

Drivers, if you’ve ever been frustrated by the cyclist in front of you who isn’t close enough to the curb for you to get by, please note that the curb lane is often filled with potholes (naturally), garbage, broken glass, possibly a dead animal and other fun surprises.

I will even suggest that navigating Winnipeg roads on a bike, without the additional hazard of cars, is dangerous enough already. And I have the scars to prove that even mechanical failures with the bike can lead to some pretty impressive wipeouts, so massive trucks only add to the excitement.

I always took note whenever a bike accident made the news this summer. Was the driver speeding? Was the cyclist wearing a helmet? These accidents are a terrible thing for all involved, and if there is one clear conclusion I can draw from those stories and my own experiences, it’s that cars and bikes just don’t mix.

I’m now a firm believer in the separation of bike and car.

It would be lovely indeed if I could ride to work at my usual pace and the cars could do their thing, and never the twain shall meet.

No cars lining up behind a bike (which is incredibly unnerving) or bikes making sudden moves that freak out the drivers, but that’s not the reality.

Despite the city’s extremely limited efforts, the bike lane initiative has done little to improve the downtown commute for cyclists.

In fact, I would say following the city’s designated bike lanes could actually land a cyclist in more trouble than just staying in and amongst the vehicles.

One example, of many, is the nice bike lane on McDermot Avenue that runs from Waterfront Drive to… the Health Sciences Centre maybe? No, only to Main Street, where it promptly disappears.

No big deal you say? Just go around the parked cars? Well, you could do that, but you’ll end up in the traffic lane anyway.

If you did stay in the “bike lane” that doesn’t actually exist, you wouldn’t be able to make a left turn into the Exchange without a risky maneuver through traffic.

Another example is the York Avenue underpass from The Forks -- another bike lane that runs for a ridiculously short distance (to Main, once again) and then suddenly disappears.

I would like to know the mindset of the people who “installed” this bike lane with the help of some white paint.

Where did they think cyclists would go once they got to Main? Just join in with the traffic at that point, or, as I do, utilize the sidewalk for a short distance until Fort Street? That seems unlikely.

Portage Avenue is also complicated by turning cars and buses. Graham Avenue is purportedly for cyclists and buses but that may be the worst option of all, unless one enjoys being surrounded by buses and exhaust while waiting for rush-hour passengers to load and unload.

It’s frustrating because this city could very easily be bike friendly – I mean actually bike friendly.

We don’t have rolling hills or constant rain, and believe it or not, the weather is actually quite favourable for a majority of the year.

We could have dedicated bike paths between the sidewalks and the road, like Amsterdam, the cycling capital of the world. It’s a worthy investment.

On Aug. 18, CBC News ran a story about a new barricaded cycling lane in West Broadway. This is welcome news, but this new, safer bike lane only goes for a short distance and then cyclists are exposed to traffic once again.

As the mayoral race continues, I’d like to see every candidate ride through downtown at rush hour.

I’d even like to join them and point out how my morning ride always involves at least a little bit of danger.

I’d also point out how things like Juba Park seem to be good for bikes, but now, there’s a boutique hotel right on the path.

Even with new developments, city planners continue to make the same mistakes.

Separate the bikes from the cars with connected, dedicated bike lanes and paths. There are a lot more bike commuters than there used to be and that means fewer cars on the road.

Even an enraged driver on Henderson should be able to appreciate that.

And cyclists, always wear a helmet.

David Garvey is a writer and English teacher who has worked in Thailand and the Middle East. He now lives in Winnipeg with his wife and daughter.


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