City & Politics, Prairie Post, Transportation

Winnipeg winter cycling: A guy can dream

As this past weekend’s Colorado Low upchucked its snowy contents on Winnipeg, my bike moved from the garage to the basement where it will wait out the winter in the warmth of my house.

Sadly, my cycling is officially over for this season. From where I live to where I travel to for work, the type of bike I use (road bike with thin tires) and the city’s winter-cycling infrastructure, year-round cycling is just not in the cards for me. If I lived in a more central neighbourhood I could easily cycle through the winter on Winnipeg roads but traveling 9 to 10 kilometres outside of the downtown core with my thin tires is not something I particularly want to do.

My 2010 Raleigh Grand Sport – not ideal for Winnipeg winters

The way Winnipeg’s cycling infrastructure is set up and maintained isn’t exactly conducive to winter cycling. So I’m not rushing to buy winter tires for this bike and I’m not very open to biking on the sidewalk as snow buildup along the curbs decreases the width of the street, making it more difficult for passing cyclists safely on the road. So unless you exclusively bike around in the core, where the streets are traversed frequently enough to be mostly-free of snow and the speed of car traffic isn’t so disparate from cyclists that your presence will frustrate motorists, it’s easy to be turned off from winter cycling in Winnipeg.

For me, it’s not about the weather- covering up, layering your clothing and getting your blood moving is sufficient to be comfortable in almost any temperature – it’s about the City of Winnipeg doing their part if they’re serious about “active transportation” and not just in the summer months. A safe, convenient option to transport yourself actively must be made available year-round if we ever want to move beyond our reliance on cars in Winnipeg, and a huge part of that is safe cycling.

People in Winnipeg want to bike throughout the year but in most cases, it’s not really possible or comfortable. (Select) motorists are angry enough in the summer about sharing the road with cyclists and having to do this in the winter seems absurd to them. Though people do cycle throughout the winter in Winnipeg, the City of Winnipeg has not recognized or met the demand for year-round cycling.

Brent Toderian, former director of planning for the City of Vancouver, discusses the broader implications and benefits of cycling in his article for the Huffington Post Canada:

We need a more sophisticated discussion about how we get around in cities, and it starts with this — it’s not about loving your bike. It’s about loving what biking does for cities. If more cars make cities worse, the opposite is true for bikes. Expanding urban biking is about making better, fiscally smarter, healthier, more flexible and resilient cities.

That’s what I just said! The advantages of cycling do not stop in the winter months and we must implement changes to make winter cycling easier and more accessible for people before we ever realize the true potential of urban biking. So how can we make this possible? This Winnipeg Free Press article from Jen Skerritt outlines Minneapolis’ success in providing winter cycling infrastructure and can serve as a good model for Winnipeg.

Cycling year-round will not remain a fringe activity or desire in Winnipeg if it’s taken seriously by legislators and policy-makers. The City of Winnipeg has begun to identify the possibilities of “active transportation” but it must reach beyond its current scope and recognize the demand for safe winter cycling before Winnipeg truly becomes a multi-modal city. Now let’s all take a page from Field of Dreams: ”…if you build it, [they] will come…”

Palmer Fritschy works in communications and recently bought a new watch. Follow him on Twitter: @palmerfritschy .

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