Manitoba·Opinion

Navigating Winnipeg parking, driving, cycling bylaws a dizzying affair

Trying to make sense of the City of Winnipeg’s regulations and bylaws can be a dizzying experience, writes Winnipeg writer Joanne Seiff
Writer Joanne Seiff says unlike other big North American cities, the City of Winnipeg doesn't enforce noise and transportation bylaws evenly across the board and in stead makes exceptions for certain parts of the population. (CBC)

Trying to make sense of the City of Winnipeg's regulations and bylaws can be a dizzying experience.

When I moved to Winnipeg, my family waited 10 days for our belongings to enter the country, clear customs, and for the truck to arrive at our new house. There was no room for the moving truck on the car-lined street. The back lane was out, as it blocked a dermatologist office's rear entrance and parking lot.  The truck parked around the corner. 

Moments later, a city official formally welcomed us. The bylaw enforcement officer told us that unless we immediately paid the city for a temporary permit to move the nearby bus stop to make space to park the truck, we'd be fined. 

I was tired of sleeping on the floor so I rushed to call City Hall to pay the $70 and be done with it. When I mentioned this ransom to the moving company, they pointed out that, sure, moving trucks needed permits to unload in New York City, but they'd never heard of such a thing in Winnipeg.

"Welcome to Canada" the bylaw officer said as he strolled away.

Uneven enforcement

Over time, I've come to see that this uneven enforcement isn't the exception — it's the rule. Prairie drivers are supposed to know all the legislative details or risk fines, even if it's quirky, time sensitive, or the signage is poorly marked.

I'll admit, I've mistakenly turned onto Wellington Crescent or Wolseley Avenue on a Sunday during the "bikes only" period of the year. Mistakes happen. Learning the regulations has taken a while. Perhaps I'm not the only person who can't remember what day it is or the date as I turn every corner. 
Wellington Crescent, Wolseley Avenue, Scotia Street and Lyndale Drive are four Winnipeg streets that become cycling routes -- and are closed to vehicular traffic -- every Sunday during the summer. (CBC)

Now, if I turn onto the empty street, I may be fined after driving more than a block. Yet, the cyclists ride everywhere — and not just on Sundays.

It's legal to bike on the road every day, right? It's not legal to bike on sidewalks, but the cyclists are there, too. There are also designated paths (there's one in the middle of Wellington Crescent) for cycling as well. 

Confusing bylaws, confusing signage

This is confusing to outsiders. For instance, the approved path for cycling down to Bombers' games on Pembina Highway includes some sidewalks. What's legal? Do the bicyclists get ticketed when they are on the wrong sidewalk, or just those Sunday drivers on Wolseley Avenue who misunderstood the signs?  If a cyclist runs a red light or hits a pedestrian, will he get a ticket, too?

Once, while we walked on Main Street near The Forks, a cyclist, illegally riding on the sidewalk, hit my husband from behind. They both fell. After the cyclist got up, he asked for money to buy band aids for his scrapes. Where was that bylaw enforcement officer when I needed him?

School zones are another time when the date and time of day matter. Kids' lives matter, so this is important legislation. Yet with poor or uneven signage, a person who is unfamiliar with a neighborhood might not know he or she is driving too fast until it is too late. At best, it's a photo radar ticket. At worst, someone's life may be in danger.

Many of Winnipeg's bylaws seem to be observed in the breach. One of my neighbors hires someone to landscape and clear snow. He uses a leaf blower year round, and starts work long before the legally allowed time of 7 a.m.

Most Tuesday mornings, I wake up at around 3 a.m. because even though the city has clear noise bylaws with nighttime quiet hours, the trash trucks emptying dumpsters don't have to abide by the law. Big U.S. cities like New York City and Washington D.C. legislate quiet hours that include all noise, including dumpster trash pickup. These cities prohibitively fine contractors whose trucks empty dumpsters and make noise at night. 

City services disruptive

That isn't the case in Winnipeg. Both 311 operators and a trash removal company told me that it would be too dangerous to empty Winnipeg dumpsters during the day in traffic. Apparently, prairie drivers aren't able to see trash trucks and stop in time.

Perhaps they're focused on slowing down at school zones or dodging cyclists as they go between sidewalks and bike lanes? No, I'd argue it's because the city's loud nighttime "essential services" disrupt drivers' sleep. Sleep deprivation impairs their daytime driving.

Winnipeg penalizes citizens with fees and tickets if we don't immediately understand the city's systems for moving trucks and bicycle routes. Yet, for those of us already up at night because of the 3 a.m. trash collection, you have to wonder: If the city needs money, why not fine those noisy nighttime dumpster contractors?

What about fining those who endanger their pets and waste police time by locking up their dogs in overheated cars?

I'm still new here, but it sure does sound like rules should be for everyone.

Joanne Seiff is a Winnipeg writer.

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