Several voices in Winnipeg are calling on the city to continue to restrict vehicle traffic on designated streets in favour of pedestrian and bicycle traffic throughout the summer, and beyond.
They want active transportation routes that were expanded amid a COVID-19 pandemic-induced drop in traffic extended at least until the end of summer.
In late March, the city opened its four regular active transportation routes — stretches of Lyndale Drive, Scotia Street, Wellington Crescent and Wolseley Avenue — 12 hours a day, seven days a week until early May. That came ahead of the typical June opening that sees the routes virtually closed to vehicle traffic from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays and holidays.
Motorists are allowed to travel one block on the active transportation routes.
Later, in April, the city added five other stretches of road to the list — Assiniboine Avenue, Churchill Drive, Egerton Road, Kildonan Drive and Kilkenny Drive.
This week city hall again extended how long the routes would remain open — July 6.
But St. Boniface Coun. Matt Allard, an active and public transportation advocate in the council chambers, signaled he plans to put forward a motion at city council Friday to extend the routes until Labour Day.
“In the evenings this place is bustling with happy people [of] all ages, people on their bikes, people walking their dogs, young couples, older couples,” Allard said in an interview on Lyndale Drive Wednesday. “I’ve never seen so many smiling faces in Winnipeg and people are really taking advantage of what is a healthy activity that doesn’t cost anything, it’s accessible to everyone who lives within any proximity to these nine routes.”
Two of Allard’s council colleagues, Coun. Janice Lukes and Coun. Scott Gillingham, have publicly stated they intend to support Allard’s motion.
Lukes plans to second Allard’s Friday motion, she wrote on Twitter, adding that she had intended to introduce a similar motion.
Gillingham said he would like to see the routes extended all summer, he wrote on Twitter, noting it could be an opportunity for a longer pilot project.
If the motion passes Friday, it would then need to be considered by the public service before making its way back to council through committee.
But cycling advocate Anders Swanson said now is the time for the city to make permanent moves to improve cycling infrastructure in Winnipeg, rather than axing the expanded routes in either July or September.
“Something’s wrong when you could even consider closing these down a week after Canada Day, the busiest cycling day ever — you’re going to have families exploring, and a week later you’re going to rip the rug out from under them?” said Swanson, the executive director of the Winnipeg Trails Association.
Swanson created an online petition to implore the city to not only keep the routes open but expand them — as of Wednesday evening, it had over 2,000 signatures.
Swanson pointed to reduced bus service, which the city has said was due to the massive drop in ridership amid the pandemic, as a reason to improve Winnipeg’s active transportation system.
“We don’t have a transportation system, we lost one, there were 168,000 trips taken on an average day on transit,” Swanson said. “Those people are right now choosing whether they want to keep going on transit or whether they want to buy a car if they can afford one.”
“I don’t want to see the nine routes that open only at 8 a.m.,” he said. “I think this idea of floating an extension of these things for a couple months is wrong, I think that people need certainty, they need a plan.”
Allard said that in his opinion Winnipeg needs to do more to improve active transportation — but pointed to city council process while adding that an extension is an initial move.
“This is a council decision, we have to have a council debate, and for now I’m hoping my colleagues agree to keep these open all summer,” Allard said.
“In terms of future conversations of what might happen next, we have to have that debate at council and we haven’t had it yet.”
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