Manitoba

Is Winnipeg's 'patchwork' of bike lanes putting cyclists in harm's way?

Despite improvements in recent years, Winnipeg cyclists say the city’s bike lane system remains disjointed, difficult and risky to navigate.

System still difficult to navigate, some advocates say

The City of Winnipeg has invested millions in bike infrastructure in recent years, but it still remains disjointed at best, some cyclists say. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Despite improvements in recent years, Winnipeg cyclists say the city's bike lane system remains disjointed, difficult and risky to navigate. 

But the director of a Winnipeg cycling hub says more education around how to share the road with cyclists, not more infrastructure, may be the answer to concerns about cyclists' safety. 

The city increased its active transportation budget by 31 per cent in 2018, from $13.2 million to $17.3 million.

It has earmarked $5.4-million for bike and pedestrian infrastructure in 2019, most of which will be spent on a new section of the Transcona Trail, and also recently announced proposals to add new bike routes through Wolseley and West Broadway. 

Still, the current system remains a "patchwork" at best, with some cyclists having no protection from cars at all, said Anders Swanson, executive director of the Winnipeg Trails Association. 

"There's so many specific infrastructure gaps throughout Winnipeg that it's almost impossible to even list them all," he said. 

"I would say that there are some areas of our city that have more bike paths, but I would say that [in] no area of the city are they properly integrated and connected, because the crossings are often dangerous and difficult to understand and navigate."

Anders Swanson describes the current system as a patchwork. (CBC)

This makes it difficult for people to see how cycling can become their preferred mode of transportation, he said. 

The dangers cyclists face when trying to share the road have been in the news recently.

A woman in her 50s died in a collision while riding a bike in the area of Higgins Avenue and King Street last month. 

This week, a cyclist was rushed to hospital on Wednesday morning after he was hit by an SUV in the city's Fort Garry neighbourhood.

Risky patches

The routes around or over the Canadian Pacific Railway yards that divide the northern and southern halves of the city, and some of the city's major arteries, such as Kenaston Boulevard and McPhillips Avenue, are among the riskiest places to cycle, said Swanson and Mark Cohoe, executive director of cycling advocacy group Bike Winnipeg.

Mark Cohoe with Bike Winnipeg says bike lanes should be designed into each road the city renovates or rebuilds. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

"Those roads are not at all fun to bike on," Cohoe said. 

"If we really do want to encourage people to bike, we need to make sure that those roadways are bicycle friendly."

Swanson thinks the part of the city north of the CPR tracks and west of the Red River has the biggest gaps in bike infrastructure. 

"That really is a big problem," he said. 

Both cyclists said the city should work bike lanes into each road it rebuilds or refurbishes. 

"We really see the need to see a shift in thinking of the city that as we rebuild our roads … we're going to include space for people to walk, space for people to bike, and we're going to include transit thinking in that," Cohoe said. 

Get people on bikes

Still, Patrick Krawec, an avid cyclist and managing director of The WRENCH (Winnipeg Repair, Education and Cycling Hub) said he braves traffic regardless of the current lane system. 

Patrick Krawec, managing director of The WRENCH, says the more people get on bikes, the more political will there will be to improve biking infrastructure in the city. (Travis Golby/CBC)

"Personally, I'm confident in my skills and ability, and I'm definitely aware of the actual risk, so that's why I feel just as comfortable being on the road," he said. 

He thinks it might actually be more effective for the city and other organizations to educate people on the benefits of cycling, how to do it safely, and how drivers can respect cyclists on the road. 

"If it's proving so difficult to have a cohesive plan to lay out a safe and effective network through the city, well, you start by getting people on bikes, educating all road users about the place of bicycles and other vulnerable road users and active transportation on our roads and just, like, removing barriers through the community," he said. 

"The more people you get on bikes, the more [other] people will get on bikes, so that it can change from the bottom up."

Once people start riding, they will see what an enriching experience it is, he said. 

"It's all about … convenience. It's just the most pleasant way to navigate a city and meet all the other marvellous humans there. It's just really easy, I guess, and joyful."

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