Winnipeg EPC gives green light to bike, pedestrian plan

Winnipeg's proposed cycling and pedestrian strategy has crossed a major hurdle, after the city's executive policy committee voted to approve it.

Proposed $334M, 20-year plan now goes to council for final vote

Winnipeg's proposed cycling and pedestrian strategy has crossed a major hurdle today, after the city's executive policy committee voted to approve it. 2:07

Winnipeg's proposed cycling and pedestrian strategy has crossed a major hurdle, after the city's executive policy committee voted to approve it.

North Kildonan Coun. Jeff Browaty was the only councillor to vote against the plan, which has the support of Mayor Brian Bowman and other members of his cabinet.

The plan will now go to council as a whole for a final vote.

The committee voted after hearing from a number of cycling and health advocates on Wednesday morning.

The 20-year, $334-million strategy calls for expanding the city's bicycle and sidewalk network, improving bicycle parking and pedestrian and cyclist crossings, having more safe and well-lit routes, offering facilities for pedestrians and cyclists and maintaining the bicycle and sidewalk network.

However, it has recently been criticized by Browaty and fellow councillors Russ Wyatt (Transcona) and Jason Schreyer (Elmwood-East Kildonan), who say the plan is too expensive and, in some cases, not planned out properly.

Critics of the plan say the city should instead focus on fixing Winnipeg's crumbling roads.

Supporters speak out

But those who appeared before the EPC meeting on Wednesday morning voiced support for the strategy, including representatives from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, Bike Winnipeg and the River East Trail Association.

One delegate, 13-year-old Peyton Wareham, told councillors he likes to ride his bicycle 20 kilometres to school in the Fort Garry area, but he finds that cycling on parts of Pembina Highway is too dangerous for him.

Winnipegger Peyton Wareham, 13, told councillors on the executive policy committee Wednesday that cycling in some parts of the city can be "kind of nerve-wracking." (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)
"It's nerve-wracking when there's cars going crazy fast and, you know, then there's people … [who are] slower and you kind of want to get around them. That can also be crazy because you can touch the car; you're that close to it sometimes," he said.

"That's the main reason why I think people don't cycle," he added. "One mistake can get you hit."

Wareham said the city should do all it can to make cycling safer and easier, including building better routes.

The committee also heard from Dr. Lisa Richards, the WRHA's medical officer of health, who said better walking and cycling infrastructure would make Winnipeg a healthier community and possibly reduce health care-related costs.

Richards said a pedestrian and cycling plan would help prevent illness, which is an important part of an overall health strategy.

Several delegates took aim at the councillors who oppose pedestrian and cycling strategy.

Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry Coun. Jenny Gerbasi told EPC she's worried about a "campaign of misinformation" against the strategy.

She called on the city to look at a cost-benefit analysis of all modes of civic spending, including what's spent on roads.

Critics release radio ads

Browaty told the committee he would like to have seen more residents consulted, and he believes there are some "glaring errors" in the strategy that need to be addressed.

Browaty, Wyatt and Schreyer, along with St. Charles Coun. Shawn Dobson and Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie, released radio ads on Wednesday urging the city to focus on roads and sidewalks instead of bike paths.

"In last fall's civic election Winnipeggers spoke loud and clear: it's time to fix our basic transportation infrastructure - roads and sidewalks. Now, the Mayor and council are rushing through a long-term plan to spend over $300 million on commuter cycling infrastructure, while our roads continue to crumble," one ad says.

"It's too much. Let's get back to common sense! Let's get back to fixing our existing roads and sidewalks first!"

The radio ads also pan an idea, contained in the pedestrian strategy, of making residents responsible for clearing the snow on the sidewalks outside their homes.

The five councillors paid for the ads with their ward allowances, according to Browaty, who added that they cost about $600 per councillor.

Mayor 'very disappointed' with 'misinformation'

After the meeting, Bowman told reporters that he's unhappy with what he calls "misinformation" related to opposition to to cycling and pedestrian strategy.

The mayor said while he won't kick Browaty off EPC, Bowman said he will have a talk with the North Kildonan councillor.

"I'll be honest, I am very disappointed, and I suspect that many of the constituents in his ward would be disappointed with money being spent this way," Bowman said of Browaty.

Bowman's office also took to Twitter to express disappointment with the radio ads.

In defending the strategy, Bowman said council's first priority is to fix roads, and the pedestrian and cycling plan would not stop that from happening.

The mayor stressed that no money will be spent and nothing will be built until council approves each project with the guidance of the strategy.

Bowman also stressed that the strategy will not change the city's current snow-clearing policy.

Both Bowman and St. Norbert Coun. Janice Lukes remarked on what they called "misinformation" and "pure misrepresentation of the facts" in the rhetoric against the plan.