Sunday, October 28, 2007

Now there's an idea...

A new piece of infrastructure opened up in the city this week. Even though it was by all accounts "Green", and located in the Inner City, there were no tri-level funding agreements, and no flashy conceptual renderings gracing the front page of the Free Press' City section. No one--not even Transcona councillor Russ Wyatt--attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony. It was simply a few city workers taking some time (between their lunch break and afternoon nap, perhaps) to paint a few lines on a street.

It's a bike lane, located in Point Douglas on Annabella Street between Higgins and Sutherland Avenue, which serves as a link between the paths along Waterfront Drive to The Forks, and Scotia Street to Kildonan Park.

This is significant not only because this is perhaps the first stretch of street in the City of Winnipeg that has a dedicated bike lane (for the exclusive use of cyclists, not cyclists and transit buses together), but because it was so simple and inexpensive to do. Winnipeg and Manitoba take particular interest in measuring things with dollar figures, and the more dollars spent, the better it must be--nevermind how much or how little all of that money actually benefits the public. There is a certain aversion to doing things simply, cheaply and practically, and things that should be fundamentals of road work in 2007, like painting bike lanes on the side of roads, can't seem to get done.

Two blocks of bike lane is also significant because it's actually a small recognition that bicycles carry humans who are going the same places cars are: to work, home, school, etc. Like the Bus-rapid transit advocates who think that abandoned rail lines that run through industrial armpits of the city can become the new transportation corridors of tomorrow, too many people are tragically preoccupied with bike paths on rights-of-ways, which usually aren't where people are or where they're going. How is it physically possible for a bike path to work for Winnipeggers who live around, say, Mountain and Arlington, Sargent and Balmoral, Morley and Osborne, or Sherburn and St. Matthews? How would they serve students at the University of Winnipeg, or office workers at Portage and Main? Can you think of any abandoned rights-of-ways nearby?

Bike paths for cyclists are like expressways for cars: they can bring people generally close to and from one macro-destination to another (ie- Fort Garry to downtown), but can't serve the tens of thousands of micro-destinations (ie- 123 Elm St to Gunn's Bakery, Bar Italia, Pho No. 1 restaurant, or the Duckworth Centre) people go to every day. That's why streets matter. And for cyclists, that's why bike lanes on streets matter.

For local governments, "we've added ten more kilometres of bike lanes and paths in the city this year" must replace "we've spent ten more millions of dollars on cycling infrastructure". For cycling advocates, bike lanes, not bike paths, are what are needed to be talked about most if Winnipeg is to be a better, safer, and more practical place to ride a bike.


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