June 26, 2009
By Bartley Kives
Winnipeg Free Press
The so-called gap in the bike-and-pedestrian path Winnipeg plans to build alongside the southwest rapid transit corridor will not force cyclists to share a narrow underpass with motor vehicles, the city’s construction boss and Mayor Sam Katz insist in response to claims by a coalition of non-profit organizations.
Today, The Forks, the Winnipeg Trails Association and five other groups plan to hold a noon demonstration to decry a 500-metre gap in the active-transportation pathway that will run from Queen Elizabeth Way to Jubilee Avenue by 2011 and then on to the University of Manitoba by the middle of the next decade.
The $138-million city plan to build the 3.6-kilometre first phase of the southwest bus corridor includes a bike-and-pedestrian path dedicated entirely for people on foot, bikes or inline skates, except for a section in and around the Osborne Street CN Rail underpass south of Confusion Corner.
The Forks-led coalition claims the city and province have reneged on a promise to build a dedicated bike path alongside the forthcoming busway. But the so-called gap is only temporary — and will not require cyclists to drive on any roads, said Brad Sacher, the acting director of Winnipeg’s public works department.
When transportation engineers drew up the busway plans, the cost of a bike bridge over the CN Rail line turned out to be $20 million, given the height of the clearance required above moving trains, Sacher said.
An alternate plan to build a bike-and-pedestrian tunnel below the rail line would only cost $15 million, but would be pointless because the city is already planning to replace the Osborne underpass within five or 10 years, he added.
The city will build a dedicated active-transportation path through the underpass when it widens the Osborne underpass, he pledged. In the meantime, one of the sidewalks will be redesignated for cyclists and a new traffic signal for bikes and pedestrians will be built at Osborne Street, south of the underpass, said Sacher, noting cyclists will only have to stop once during the entire ride on the new pathway.
“The reality of this is (the gap is) only a stretch of 500 metres in a 3.6-kilometre section of the first phase and ultimately a 10-kilometre full phase,” he said.
Spending $15 million on a temporary fix that will cost next to nothing within a decade would be a waste of money, added the mayor.
“I would like to think no level of government wants to take taxpayers’ money and flush it down the toilet,” said Katz, adding cyclists and pedestrians should appreciate the major strides Winnipeg has made in active transportation in recent years.
The mayor also said Winnipeg’s streets are not as dangerous as some cyclists suggest. On Bike To Work Day on June 19, he got home from a trip to Israel and drove downtown and back from his home in Tuxedo without incident, he said.
“I’m here today talking to you. I’m not the most advanced cyclist. If I can do it at my age, then people can do it,” he said.
Nevertheless, the city should have made more of an effort to communicate its plan to deal with the gap in the new active-transportation corridor, Winnipeg Trails Association director Janice Lukes said in an email.