Winnipeg playing 'catch up' in cycling infrastructure, mayor says

Mayor Brian Bowman is getting tired of people suggesting Winnipeg needs more cycling lanes — because he completely agrees.
Winnipeg has been criticized for not having enough cycling lanes, and Mayor Brian Bowman agrees, saying the city is trying to improve that. (CBC)

Mayor Brian Bowman is getting tired of people suggesting Winnipeg needs more cycling lanes — because he completely agrees.

"There's no doubt that, as a city, we are playing catch up with regards to our active transportation infrastructure," he said. "I totally agree it's insufficient. That's why we're working on it."

The city increased its active transportation budget for 2017 by 57 per cent over what it spent in 2016 and is working hard every year to identify projects that should get the highest attention.

"I wish we could have it all implemented at the same time," Bowman said. "But we are getting it done."

Jason Carter, past president of the Manitoba Cycling Association, has been one of those vocal critics of the city's lack of bicycle lanes and slow pace of rectifying it.

"I think that we believe here in Winnipeg that we're a backwater, that we're something different from the rest of the country," he said.

"In cycling and infrastructure and moving people around, we're not really in touch with the rest of the country."

Kitty Bernes, who owns a business in the Exchange District and cycles all the time, said the number of cyclists in the city has surged in the past several years but the infrastructure has not kept up.

"Sherbrook Street is the only street I feel confident I'm not going to get hit," she said, pointing to the city's only stretch of barricaded cycling lanes, protected from traffic by curbing and parking space.

Bowman, who sounds clearly frustrated with the criticism, said his council is working to make the city more safe for cyclists, but it's not like you can snap your fingers and have it done. It will take time.

He blames previous administrations for their lack of planning and for letting so many of the city's roads deteriorate, leaving a heavy financial burden on the current council.

One of the first things Bowman's council did after being elected in the fall of 2014 was implement a 20-year active-transportation strategy.

He has been criticized for planning too much, instead of jumping into the job, but Bowman said it's necessary to first have "a big picture plan" to develop the proper connectivity and safe linkages.

"We've got that plan. Now we're implementing it," he said. "There is a process and it is important that we follow that process."

Others, including one of his own council members, have questioned why the city isn't focused on the area where the most vehicular and cycling traffic mix — downtown.

"It's a lack of leadership. It comes down to priorities," said Coun. Janice Lukes. "Out in St. Norbert, where I live, they're putting in protected bike lanes but really, in the big picture, those protected bike lanes would serve thousands more downtown."

Every year, council votes on what projects will be the priority for the next budget term. The ones it chose to do this year include an extension of buffered bike lanes along Pembina Highway, this time between DeVos Road and Killarney Avenue, as well as protected bike lanes on Empress Street between Portage Avenue and St. Matthews Avenue.

"Members of council, including Coun. Lukes, voted to implement this year's action plan," Bowman said.

"Next year, all members of council will have their say again on what projects [to do] and how we will proceed with that action plan."