Protecting city’s bike lanes makes cyclists safer, advocates and cyclists say
Facing south on Winnipeg’s Harrow Street during rush hour, a black truck sits in traffic, lined up bumper-to-bumper among a caterpillar of cars waiting to inch forward.
To the right of the line-up is cyclist Michael Lipinski, navigating his way south down Harrow Street’s designated bike lane, marked only by thin lines of fading white paint.
It’s a regular commute for Lipinski, who’s been cycling on the route every day since he started working at a new job downtown about three weeks ago.
“I find it’s quite like almost meditative to do versus driving and being stuck in traffic,” Lipinski said.
But what happened next was unlike Lipinski’s other rides down Harrow’s bike lane.
He makes it about halfway through the intersection of Harrow Street and McMillan Avenue when the black truck suddenly makes a right turn, knocking Lipinski to the pavement and
running over his bike’s front wheel. The truck speeds off down McMillan Avenue, leaving Lipinski stunned and lying in the middle of the road.
“I was in a bit of shock, obviously,” Lipinski said. “I tried to look up an get a license plate, but it just didn’t happen. It didn’t register, and they were gone.”
Lipinski said he got up and moved over to the boulevard, assessing the damage to both him and his bike — a Manitoba-made vintage Sekine from the 70s or 80s.
“I was pretty lucky because all that was damaged was the wheel and the fender,” he said. “It was just crushed because they rode right over it.”
The collision left him with some scrapes, including a sizeable bruise on his right elbow, still visible when talking to a reporter five days after.
Although Lipinski said he continues to use the bike lane, he feels a lot less safe ever since he was hit.
“This spot gives me anxiety now,” he said.
‘A lot more work to be done’: advocate
The city is well aware that protecting bike lanes with curbs greatly improves cyclists’ safety and, in turn, increases the number of cyclists using them. Its 2014 Winnipeg Pedestrian and Cycling Strategies report says protected lanes can increase ridership from 20 to 170 per cent within just one year of them being installed.
But for Sharee Hochman, cycling advocate and co-founder of Women in Urbanism Canada, the city has a lot more work to do to make its current bike lanes safer.
“There are many times where I’m biking…where I can easily spot out what the city is neglecting for cyclists,” she said. “I do appreciate what we do have, but I also know there’s a lot more work to be done.”
Hochman said the safest bikes lanes are ones that are well-lit, wide enough to fit bikes side-by- side, have signage that show drivers where the bike lane is, and that are protected by curbs.
Unprotected bike lanes, like the one on Harrow Street, are recipes for disaster, Hochman said.
“When I’m on a road with just paint, I’m constantly worried about everything around me,” she said. “I’m hyper-aware and always kind of anticipating what will go wrong.”
Hochman said she rides on Harrow Street’s bike lane about two to four times each day, since she lives in the area and only uses her bike to get around. With minimal lighting and drivers often parking in the bike lane, she believes it’s one of the most dangerous places to bike in Winnipeg.
“It doesn’t give us many options,” Hochman said. “It’s not a pleasant experience. I always kind of hold my breath.”
Plans to protect bike lanes on hold
In September, the city’s standing policy committee on infrastructure renewal and public works, made up of Couns. Matt Allard, Jeff Browaty, Markus Chambers, and Devi Sharma, weighed the option of adding curbs to some of Winnipeg’s unprotected bike lanes, including the one on Harrow Street. The city estimated that the project would cost $400,000.
However, with current construction on Stafford Street — a major north-south commuting route
— forcing many cars onto Harrow Street, the committee recommended that no work on Harrow Street should happen until the city completes construction on Stafford Street in fall 2023.
Other bike lanes the city plans to protect are ones on Annabella Street, Maryland Street, and Church Avenue. According to the committee, all these projects require further study before the city gives them the go-ahead.
Kyle Geske, an avid cyclist for over 30 years, uses the bike lane on Maryland Street on his way home from work. While parts of the lane are just painted, other sections — like the section south of Broadway — are raised and protected from traffic by a curb.
“You could sense, like even in your body, that there’s less safety when you’re on a painted lane,” Geske said. Protecting the entire stretch of Maryland’s bike lane would make him feel safer, he added.
With the upcoming civic election, not many mayoral candidates are talking about increasing the number of protected bike lanes in Winnipeg. Only candidate Rick Shone has specifically promised to do so.
Shaun Loney, Kevin Klein, Robert-Falcon Ouellette, Rana Bokhari, Jenny Motkaluk, Don Woodstock, Glen Murray, Scott Gillingham, Idris Adelakun, and Chris Clacio are also running for mayor.
Until more bike lanes are protected, Lipinski, Hochman, and Geske are left gambling on their safety.
“There should be more respect for cyclists in the city,” Lipinski said.
The Details: Plans to protect bike lanes on Annabella Street, Harrow Street, Maryland Street, and Church Avenue
The city has not budgeted for any of these projects
- There is a painted bike lane on Annabella Street between Higgins Avenue and Sutherland Avenue
- The road is not currently wide enough to add curbs to the lane
- Further study required
- Adding curbs to the bike lane would make all lanes at minimum standard widths
- May consider widening some sections of Harrow Street to add a curb, but not until construction on Stafford Street is complete
- Further study required about street’s current width
- The road is not currently wide enough to add curbs to the painted bike lane
- Further study required to consider upgrading the painted part of the bike line to a raised bike lane
- Existing road could be wide enough to add curbs to the lane
- Might impact trucks waiting for deliveries on Church Avenue
- Further study required to consider impact on truck operations
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Rachel Ferstl is on Substack: https://rachelferstl.substack.com/