Bike-trail betrayal alleged – June 24

June 24, Winnipeg Free Press,

The city and province have reneged on a long-held promise to build a commuter-cycling route alongside the southwest rapid transit corridor, a senior official with The Forks claims in a letter to Mayor Sam Katz and Premier Gary Doer.The active-transportation pathway, slated to be built alongside the first phase of Winnipeg’s forthcoming bus corridor, will prove circuitous or even dangerous to commuter cyclists because of a gap at the Osborne Street CN Rail underpass, according to Paul Jordan, chief operating officer of The Forks and the volunteer chairman of the Winnipeg Trails Association.

On Monday, the city began construction on Phase One of the southwest rapid transit corridor, a $138-million, 3.6-kilometre busway that will run from Queen Elizabeth Way near The Forks to Jubilee Avenue near Pembina Highway. According to plans unveiled by Winnipeg Transit in May, a paved bike-and-pedestrian pathway will be constructed alongside the corridor, except for a gap near the Osborne underpass.

The underpass is not wide enough to accommodate a dedicated bike corridor, according to Winnipeg Transit. But a new busway bridge that will cross Osborne Street will be long enough to allow a bike path to run below it, should the city decide to spend millions on a wider underpass in the future, transit officials said in May.

That promise is not good enough, charges Jordan, who is best known for his work in extending the winter skating and walking trail on the Assiniboine River. “The safe, connected pathway has disappeared,” he writes in a letter criticizing the busway plans on behalf of The Forks, the Winnipeg Trails Association and five other Winnipeg non-profit organizations. “The fragmented remains of the pathway will (funnel) people into a treacherous bottleneck.”

Jordan argues Winnipeg Transit’s pathway design will force cyclists attempting to ride from either side of the Osborne underpass to either compete for space with motor vehicles on a four-lane roadway or ride on a narrow stretch of sidewalk. He argues the concerns of cyclists and pedestrians have been ignored as part of a project that was supposed to benefit active transportation. “This is being designed by transit guys, so they want to move buses,” he said in an interview on Tuesday. “They’re not interested in building bike lanes.” In May, transit officials said cyclists who don’t want to negotiate the Osborne underpass can use the South Winnipeg Parkway, an existing gravel path that runs southwest from The Forks along the Red River. That route is too circuitous and is also submerged during the spring flooding season, Jordan said.

City officials in charge of the bus corridor were unavailable for comment on Tuesday. But Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, a bus-rapid transit proponent whose ward encompasses the Osborne underpass, said she understands why Winnipeg Transit would be reluctant to spend additional millions on an underpass-widening project. The construction of a busway bridge over Osborne Street, a tunnel below CN’s Fort Rouge Yards and the purchase of 11 pieces of private property accounts for a large portion of Phase One’s $138-million price tag. There is no room in that budget to widen a motor-vehicle underpass, surmised Gerbasi, although she said she’s heartened non-profit organizations are pushing for better active-transportation amenities.

All seven organizations — The Forks, the Winnipeg Trails Association, the Prairie Pathfinders Walking Club, the Manitoba Cycling Association, One Green City, Bike To The Future and the Winnipeg Rapid Transit Coalition — plan to hold a demonstration at the Osborne underpass on Thursday at noon.

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