Main Street bike bridge needed to bring cyclists downtown, columnist writes

If you’re cycling downtown from any point north or east, you most likely have to cross Main Street at some point, and currently there is no safe way to do this — not that David Garvey has found, anyway.

Give people a safe path to get downtown and the number of cyclists is sure to increase, David Garvey writes

It's worth a detour to avoid cycling in city traffic, columnist David Garvey says. (John Rieti/CBC)

It's Bike Week once again, when daily commuters are urged to leave their cars in the garage and take two wheels to work instead. 

As a regular bike commuter, I think it's a great initiative. Anecdotally, this already seems like the busiest bike season I can recall. If you doubt that, come down to the back of the legislature on a weekday morning. You might be surprised to see just how many people are biking to work. It's like a little expressway down there.

I sure hope that anyone inspired to ride for the first time doesn't have an accident when they suddenly find themselves running out of road, or panicking when they're nestled between two cars on St. Mary Avenue. 

I tend to go farther out of my way if an extended route will keep me away from vehicle traffic. Like most people, I don't have an excessive amount of free time first thing in the morning, but not only do I feel safer staying off the roads wherever possible, it's also a more enjoyable, less nerve-racking experience. 

Though it adds a bit of extra distance, I like to go through The Forks and then down the riverwalk, but darn it if that riverwalk doesn't keep disappearing. I'm starting to think it may have been put a little too close to the river.

If it is flooded over, as it is again this week, I then divert to the clearly marked bike route that starts at the south-end corner of The Forks and goes all the way up to Main Street — a distance of about 50 metres. 

At Main, one can try to navigate their way through five lanes of traffic, two of which are lined up to turn left onto Broadway, or use the sidewalk to get to the crosswalk. Either option is annoying to all involved — to drivers especially, who have to stop at the crosswalk, but also for pedestrians getting off the bus and the cyclists who just wanted to avoid this trouble altogether.

If you're cycling downtown from any point north or east, you most likely have to cross Main Street at some point, and currently there is no safe way to do this — not that I've found, anyway. 

I mentioned Broadway, with its turning lanes and long lines of traffic in all directions. The York underpass bike lane just ends at Main, as it does at Bannatyne Avenue. Portage Avenue and Main is a jumble of buses and turning lanes and entirely unfriendly to cyclists, and Pioneer Avenue splits in two with no indication where cyclists should go.

I would suggest the ideal solution would be to have cyclists go over Main, with a pedestrian/cycling bridge from The Forks to Assiniboine Avenue, much like the one that already goes over the Chief Peguis Trail in North Kildonan. 

The city has been looking at this area as part of its active transportation plan and upgrades are currently underway, but it appears a crosswalk will still be the only way to cross Main. In my experience, drivers aren't keen on crosswalks, especially if it means stopping at random intervals.

However, a pedestrian bridge would promote foot traffic to The Forks and divert bike traffic away from Main entirely. Those commuters from the south end of the city wouldn't have to constantly stop at the crosswalk, and it would be safer for both cyclists and pedestrians.

It's encouraging to see the development of bike lanes on Garry Street, even if progress is slow. But the main issue is Main Street, in my opinion, because you already have to be downtown in order to take advantage of the expanding network of bike lanes there.

While funding for Active Transportation remains quite controversial, this idea will seem way too pie-in-the-sky for some, but with recent news that Union Station might become part of a new transit network, a pedestrian bridge in that area could become more viable.  

The Bike Week website states there are 15,000 commuting cyclists each day in Winnipeg, and that's without a complete and somewhat safe infrastructure. Give people a safe path to get into the downtown and that number is sure to increase, reducing vehicle traffic in the process.

I will gladly go well out of my way to get to one good, reliable alternative to being in morning traffic, and I'm sure drivers would be happier with us off the road, too.

David Garvey is a Winnipeg writer.