Active transportation gets going

February 11, 2010

by Marlo Campbell, Uptown – Canstar

Design plans ramp up as Winnipeg prepares to spend some serious cash on cycling infrastructure.Winnipeg’s cycling infrastructure is about to get a major facelift thanks to an unprecedented financial investment in active transportation.Last September, as part of the federal government’s stimulus plan, $20.4 million was committed to the expansion and improvement of Winnipeg’s AT network, an amount confirmed by city council in December when it approved the 2010 capital budget.

The money will be provided by all three levels of government (each will give $6.8 million) and will pay for 35 new projects – everything from improved signage to the adaptation of certain residential streets for cycling usage (what are known as “bike boulevards”) to the creation of stand-alone, multi-use pathways. The projects will add approximately 70 km of various on-road infrastructure and 30 km of new paths to the 275 km of assorted people-powered transportation routes already in existence.

The funding announcement came as a happy shock to those who have been lobbying for years for better AT options in Winnipeg since it far exceeds any previous civic investment in such facilities; the 2010 capital budget, for example, earmarks just $2.75 million for active transportation – and that’s actually up significantly from 2006 when the city allocated only $200,000 to such projects.

There’s a catch to the good news, however. Because it’s tied to federal stimulus dollars, the $20.4 million must be spent completely by the end of March 2011 – a use-it-or-lose-it stipulation that has the city working hard to finalize plans in advance of the 2010 construction season.

Kevin Nixon, Winnipeg’s active transportation coordinator, says priority routes were identified through an extensive consultation process that began in July 2007 – the same month he was hired and an 11-member civic AT advisory committee was struck. The city is now looking for feedback on the proposed projects, particularly from residents of the communities that will be most affected by them.
“The neighbourhood has to be comfortable,” Nixon says. “If you’re going to make some changes, you’ve really got to make sure it doesn’t inconvenience people any more than it has to.”

Winnipeggers are being encouraged to share their opinions online at winnipegatrans.wordpress.com, and a series of open houses has also been launched to gather public input. One such event was held Feb. 4 at St. Matthews Anglican Church. Of the dozen area residents who stopped by during the hour Uptown was there, several expressed concerns that the proposals under consideration – such as the plan to paint bike lanes on Sherbrook and Maryland – will do little to improve cyclists’ safety, especially in the winter when the designated lane markings will be covered in snow.

“I wish there were more physical barriers,” said Heather Stewart, who cycles from March to November. “It seems like a lot of paint and signage right now, rather than infrastructure changes.”

Winnipeg Trails Association coordinator Janice Lukes sits on the city’s AT advisory committee. She’s also a member of Bike to the Future, a grassroots commuter cycling advocacy group, and chair of the province’s recently formed AT advisory committee. Lukes is thrilled by the funding and excited about the connectivity it will provide to the city’s existing AT network, which some cyclists complain is fine for recreational bike trips but inadequate for commuters.

She’s also realistic about the work that’s about to begin, noting the city has never before attempted to build the kinds of on-road AT infrastructure now being considered.

“If they get 75% of it right, we’re lucky,” Lukes says. “It’s not all going to be done right and they’re going to have to fix it here and there, and that’s just the way it is – but it’s a good kick-start to having people embrace (cycling) as a real form of transportation verses fun.”

The next open house is Thursday, Feb. 16 at Dakota Community Club, 1188 Dakota St., from 4 to 7 p.m. More information on the city’s AT plan, including a list of projects and detailed maps, can be found at
www.winnipeg.ca/publicworks/MajorProjects/ActiveTransportation/HikeIt …

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