Winnipeg committee votes to slash budget for bike, pedestrian plan

A Winnipeg city councillor wants to halt a $334-million, 20-year cycling strategy that he says is being rammed through council by Mayor Brian Bowman and pro-bike proponents on social media.

Committee chair Coun. Russ Wyatt blames 'tweeting class' for pushing cycling strategy

Councillors on the East Kildonan-Transcona Community Committee voted on Tuesday to reduce the $344-million budget for the proposed cycling and pedestrian strategy to $55 million. (Bert Savard/CBC)

The head of a Winnipeg cycling advocacy group was shocked when a community committee voted to slash the budget for the city's proposed bike and pedestrian strategy.

Councillors on the East Kildonan-Transcona Community Committee voted on Tuesday morning to reduce the $334-million budget for the 20-year strategy to $55 million.

Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt, who chairs the committee, has long been critical of funding active transportation.

Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt says Winnipeggers elected Mayor Brian Bowman and council members in October to fix roads and sidewalks, not build cycling paths. (CBC)
As recently as this week, he accused Mayor Brian Bowman and pro-bike proponents on Twitter of trying to push the strategy through council.

Mark Cohoe, the executive director of Bike Winnipeg, said he's stunned and appalled by the committee's decision.

"People biking, for sidewalks, for pedestrians — takes it away from programs like Bike to Work. It removes all of that funding simply on a whim," Cohoe said after the meeting.

"I can't believe that is public engagement in any way whatsoever."

The community committee's vote will proceed to city administration and work its way through other committees. Cohoe said he hopes the budget cut stops at the administration level.

'Dictatorship of the tweeting class,' says Wyatt

Prior to Tuesday's meeting, Wyatt said the strategy, which proposes dedicated cycling paths along with other recommendations to encourage more walking and cycling in the city, is moving through city hall too quickly and should not be decided right before councillors go on their summer break.

"If there is nothing wrong with the report, why ram it through in July? Let there be time. Let there be time for discussion, let there be time for improvements," he said Monday, adding that pushing through proposals is "another tactic of the old administration."

Wyatt said he believes people on social media are partly behind efforts to get the strategy approved sooner rather than later.

"It's like the dictatorship of the tweeting class, is what we're seeing here," he said.

"You have this bike lobby which ... relatively speaking, demographically is younger, and at the same time you have this technological burst of this thing called Twitter. And I think what you have is a mayor that is very literate in these things … yet seven per cent of the people are on Twitter and 93 per cent are not."

The views of the remaining 93 per cent are not being reflected in the cycling and pedestrian strategy, he argued.

Wyatt also said Winnipeggers elected Bowman and council members in October to fix roads and sidewalks, not build cycling paths.

"People who are paying the taxes … are not participating in this discussion," he said.

"Talking to the majority of Winnipeggers, they want their basic key infrastructure addressed. I don't think that has changed since last October."

Don't fear technology, mayor says

Wyatt said he believes Bowman relies too heavily on social media to gauge public opinion, but Bowman said social media is a useful tool for engaging with the public.

"You don't want to fear technology," Bowman said on CBC's Information Radio.

"I try to get out and about as much as I can — nothing replaces meeting with people in person — but I made a commitment during the campaign to be open and accessible, and social media is one positive way in which you can listen, you can learn from Winnipeggers at large, but also planners, experts, business owners."

Bowman had ordered the city's Office of Public Engagement to review the consultations that were done for the pedestrian and cycling strategy.

That review concluded that the consultations were done properly, a spokesperson for the mayor's office said.

With files from the CBC's Sean Kavanagh


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