Manitoba

Winnipeg gets failing grade on safety, connectivity for cyclists in survey of best biking cities

Winnipeg’s cycling network scored a failing grade on a recent survey of more than a thousand North American cities because of shortcomings long identified by cycling advocates. 

Lack of protected bike lanes, safety concerns keeping many people off bikes in Winnipeg, says local advocate

A woman on a bike gives a hand signal as she rides down a city street.
Winnipeg cyclist Lyndsey Wallis said she tries to encourage friends and family members to ditch their cars for bikes, but said safety concerns hold them back. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

Winnipeg's cycling network scored a failing grade on a recent survey of more than a thousand North American cities, because of shortcomings long identified by local cycling advocates. 

PeopleForBikes, a Colorado-based cycling advocacy organization, gave Winnipeg a grade of just 31 out of 100 in its latest Best Places to Bike report, citing high speed limits — even in residential areas — as one major safety concern.

"With many of those streets being 50 kilometres per hour, that results in a lot of streets not being as comfortable for people riding bikes and increases the likelihood of injuries or fatalities," said Rebecca Davies, program director for the city ratings report.

The report considers factors like speed, protected lanes and network connections, along with input from a community survey, to rate each city.

Connectivity was also identified as a problem in Winnipeg, with many routes ending abruptly, sending cyclists straight into traffic. The City of Winnipeg's own map of its bike network reflects a number of problem intersections where paths don't connect.

Cycling enthusiast Lyndsey Wallis said she's accustomed to these dangers now, but that wasn't always the case.

"I was terrified to ride my bike," she exclaimed with a laugh. "I used to have a bike that I stored outside for, like, seven or eight years. It was rusty and made a lot of noises."

Wallis said she only recently overcame her fear of biking on the streets of Winnipeg, after inflation and high gas prices forced her to find a cheaper form of transportation. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

She said she only overcame that fear recently, as driving became unaffordable.

"With inflation, you're trying to save money wherever you can," said Wallis.

She's nearly given up using her car. Between gas, insurance and parking, she estimates she's saving close to $200 a month, and is healthier, too.

She wishes more people would start getting around by bike, but finds friends and family run into the same roadblock.

"The first thing that they mention is how much they'd love to do it, but they're scared of riding a bike on the street," said Wallis. "And I don't blame them."

She's still a bit shaken up after being hit by a car this spring while she was in a city bike lane.

"I tried to avoid the vehicle and I ended up face-first on the pavement," said Wallis, who felt lucky to end up with just a few scrapes and bruises.

The local advocacy group Bike Winnipeg said most of the city's cycling routes are too narrow and dangerously unclear. Many are simply "sharrows" — painted symbols in a lane to remind drivers bikes may be sharing the road.

Cycling advocates said most Winnipeg bike lanes are too narrow and dangerously unclear, many of them just being a series of 'sharrows' like this. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Bike Winnipeg executive director Mark Cohoe pointed to the bike route on St. Matthew's Avenue as an example.

"At every third block, it alternates into a painted bike lane that's squeezed between parking and traffic," he said. "If someone opens a door on you, you're heading straight into that door or you're into traffic."

A lack of protected bike lanes is the top concern of would-be cyclists, Cohoe said.

"They're enthused, they're curious about biking," he said. "But unless you provide something that's safe, connected and convenient, they're not going to switch."

Bike Winnipeg executive director Mark Cohoe said drivers won't make the switch to cycling until the city has a well-connected network of protected bike lanes, even as gas prices soar. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Cohoe said getting downtown is especially scary for cyclists from neighbourhoods that aren't well connected to the bike network, such as the North End.

"You're probably breaking the laws" to make such trips, he said. "And ultimately you're someone who's maybe a bit braver or taking more risks, out of necessity, often."

City not always following bike route policy

Manitoba Public Insurance said between 2016 and 2020, the province saw an average of 296 collisions a year involving cyclists. That led to 162 cyclists being injured, including 10 who were killed. Most of those collisions happened on weekdays, during afternoon traffic.

City of Winnipeg policy calls for active transportation routes to be put in when major streets are overhauled. But that doesn't always happen, much to the dismay of Coun. Matt Allard, who chairs the city's infrastructure renewal and public works committee.

"I've been supporting these [city] budgets with the understanding that active transportation would be built at a time of road reconstruction," the St. Boniface councillor said. "Unfortunately, there are many cases where that hasn't been done."

He's concerned that might mean those bike paths are never built.

"You have big parts of the network that are broken, with no plan on how to make it whole again," Allard said.

"I don't want the funding to be lost. If it's earmarked for active transportation, then I want that money to go into active transportation."

Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface) said city policy calls for active transportation routes to be put in when streets are overhauled, but that doesn't always happen. (Zoom)

Cohoe hopes Winnipeg voters keep this in mind.

"I think the councillors, as they're coming towards the municipal election in October, need to make a commitment to actually follow through on policy, create that network and get people biking," he said.

The city's public works department said it's working on nine new stretches of active transportation routes this summer, but only half will be protected bike lanes:

  • Northwest Hydro Corridor multi-use path — Leila Avenue to Church Avenue.
  • Saskatchewan Avenue multi-use path — Sherwin Road to St. James Street.
  • Main Street separated bike lane — Assiniboine Avenue to Fort Gibraltar Trail.
  • Archibald Street protected bike lane — Doucet Street to Plinquet Street.
  • Pembina Highway protected bike lanes — McGillivray Boulevard to Chevrier Boulevard.
  • University Crescent protected bike lane — Pembina Highway to Thatcher Drive.
  • Transcona Trail extension (Reenders Drive multi-use path) — Panet Road to Stapon Drive.
  • Day Street protected bike lane — Transcona Trail multi-use path to McMeans Avenue and Kildare Avenue to Ravelston Avenue.
  • Pandora Avenue protected bike lane — Wayota Street to Redonda Street.

Winnipeg gets failing grade on cycling network

2 months ago
Duration 2:17
A lot of Winnipeggers are feeling the pinch from high gas prices. But a recent study found the city has a lot of work to do before people feel safe ditching their car for a bike.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emily Brass is a journalist at CBC Manitoba and host of the podcast Type Taboo: Diary of a New Diabetic. She's also worked for CBC in Montreal, Toronto, St. John's, Victoria and London, U.K.

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