July 6, 2009
By Marlo Campbell, Winnipeg Free Press
Judging from the hue and cry that arises whenever anything they do makes the news, it would appear some Winnipeggers continue to harbour a deep resentment towards cyclists.
This attitude makes no sense, of course; cycling is an activity that should be encouraged for all sorts of exceedingly obvious reasons — it’s environmentally sustainable, it gets people physically active, it helps alleviate traffic congestion, etc., etc.
Yet animosity clearly exists. Irrational though it may be (at times confoundingly so), it exists. Bring up the topic of cycling in any public forum and I guarantee you’ll encounter it.
In a typical discussion on the topic, those who ride bikes are pitted against those who drive cars — as if the two camps are somehow mutually exclusive and always will be — and, more often than not, the conversation involves one or more of the following themes:
Cyclists are reckless idiots who don’t follow the rules of the road. Therefore, they deserve no respect or accommodation.
Tax dollars should not be spent on cycling infrastructure because the majority of Winnipeggers don’t cycle. (a.k.a. “If they want a damn bike path so badly they should have to pay for it themselves.”)
Investing in cycling infrastructure is stupid because it will only get used during summer months.
Winnipeg cyclists make up a radical special-interest lobby group that has infiltrated city hall to advance an agenda no one else wants.
It doesn’t matter that all of these statements are easy to discredit — and really, all of them are. (The last one is particularly funny to me; I agree that the cycling community has got its act together over the last few years and has been working hard to get its issues heard by those with the power to do something. But when did being engaged in civic politics become a bad thing?) They will be trotted out nonetheless. Indeed, each made an appearance — yet again — in the public response to a demonstration held recently by members of several local cycling groups.
Cyclists were trying to draw attention to what they perceived as a serious flaw in the active-transportation pathway being built by the city in conjunction with the first leg of the long-awaited bus rapid transit corridor. They were concerned — rightfully so — that the planned AT pathway will stop at the South Osborne underpass, forcing those on bikes to use the sidewalks to get to the other side or gamble their lives and brave the road.
Their stunt was successful in that it forced the city to clarify its plans, such as they are. While things remain nebulous, it seems a continuous AT route will be built sometime in the future and, in the meantime, city engineers are looking into redesigning one of the sidewalks for bike use. I should hope so.
However, in much the same way that the Critical Mass bike rides of 2006 were a flashpoint — remember how riled up everyone got about them? — all this talk about active transportation initiatives also serves to highlight the rift between those who see value in supporting cycling and those who don’t. Three years later and the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Here’s the thing: Cyclists and car drivers are more similar than they are different.
In each group, you’ll find those who act like idiots. (Show me a cyclist who runs red lights and I’ll show you a driver who doesn’t understand the concept of a turning signal.) Both are comprised of people who pay taxes — if not on gas, then certainly on property, goods and services — and, on any given day, whether they’re in a car or on a bike, they have the same goal: get to where they need to go, preferably in a safe and efficient way.
It’s time we all dropped the counter-productive, divide-and-conquer approach to this issue. We all live in this city together.
The sooner we realize this, the happier we’ll all be.