Thursday, March 19, 2009

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day with the Cyclists!

I attended the Bike To The Future's (BTTF) open-house on the Disraeli cycling/pedestrian crossing on St. Patricks's day. I was surprised that none of the other Elmwood candidates attended, since the Disraeli Bridge Rehabilitation has been such a hot topic of the campaign. I suppose that active transportation is really not on their radar. It seems that most of the talk on the Disraeli bridge has centered around personal vehicular traffic. I am merely speculating here, but my understanding is that the other three candidates typically commute by car, which explains why they might be less empathetic to cyclists, pedestrians, or bus riders (read my previous post below "Politicians: Priorities Please!" or "Time for Politicians to take the bus?" for further opinion) .

It is unfortunate that the candidates missed this meeting because the one presenter hit the exact problem underlying the Disraeli Bridge closure right on the head, stating: "There is no coherent plan to decrease the amount of traffic going over the Disraeli Bridge."

It is not that I do not sympathize with the inconvenience that any bridge closure will cause (regardless of whether that is a full or a partial closure). Nobody likes to be stuck in traffic, whether you are in a car, on a bus, or on your bike. As a business owner myself I can sympathize with the business owners in the area who will more than see a decline in there profits. I know how hard fluctuations in income can be for entrepreneurs and business people.

Having knocked on the doors of many residents of Elmwood I am keenly aware how upset and divided the residents of Elmwood are about this issue! It is clear that the less time the bridge is ultimately closed the better it will be. Right now the City of Winnipeg is in the process of receiving proposals for the project, which will include details such as whether an attached or separate pedestrian bridge will be built, how long the bridge will be closed and whether this will be a full or partial closure. One of the interesting things that came from the meeting is how fast the entire process is moving and therefore how little time is allowed for public discussion from the residents of Elmwood, other surrounding communities and concerned groups. While this is ultimately a civic issue, it seems to me that the decision-making process should be opened up to the public, especially the people of Elmwood so that the community can choose the repair tender that best meets their needs.

Unlike the other candidates I do not think that adding more lanes for automobile traffic is the cure This is nothing more than a temporary treatment that will alleviate the pain. Fellow blogger David Watson has a great quote on his blog Waverly West and beyond:

"Adding lanes to solve traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to solve obesity." - Glen Hemistra

The answer is to slim down!

According to Winnipeg Transit, 20% of Winnipeggers travel by bus and 2 buses can replace as many as a hundred cars, thereby reducing traffic congestion by 90%. Therefore if we improved bus frequency and service the transit ridership rate would increase and this would decrease traffic congestion not only during the Disraeli Closure (whether that be a partial or full closure), but beyond as well.

Promoting cycling is another way to slim down traffic congestion. For cyclists and pedestrians the Disraeli Rehabilitation process cannot be completed fast enough as many are looking forward to the new segregated bike lane across the Disraeli. The high pitch of the Disraeli Bridge and the high speed of traffic on Henderson Highway make the Disraeli Bridge in its present form one of the least bike friendly locations in the city.

It is key to recognize that Winnipeg's active transportation network do not connect to each other, and this historic lack of investment in active transportation is one of the reasons that inhibit people from riding their bikes. Can you imagine if our paved roads suddenly ended and motor vehicles were forced to cross mud paths to get to the next paved road? That is the situation that cyclists currently face.

Cycling and transit need to be our priorities. They should not be merely afterthoughts, to be incorporated if it is convenient to do so. This is exactly why we presently have an incoherent bike infrastructure system across the city. At the BTTF meeting numerous residents from Elmwood and Point Douglas indicated that they would like active transportation crossings at both the Disraeli and Louise bridges. They worry the construction of a Disraeli active transportation corridor will inhibit the conversion of the Louise into an active transportation corridor as well. It is too bad that none of the other candidates were present to hear this concern.


Authorized by the Official Agent for James Beddome


Leslie said...

This is an excellent critique of the situation! I would just like a bit of fine-tuning on the political side. You wrote: "One of the interesting things that came from the meeting is how fast the entire process is moving and therefore how little time is allowed for public discussion from the residents of Elmwood, other surrounding communities and concerned groups. While this is ultimately a civic issue . . ." This implies a sense of political framework that is probably incorrect. The politicians' notions of process may mean "faster" because they are avoiding public discussion: that is, they know for a certainty that an informed public might well demand options they're not prepared to back. Also, it's not good to get hung up on the "civic issue" distinction: an important point is that, when a bad decision is made about such a project, as was made in the case of Provencher Bridge, everyone in the Province pays. And so far as construction, transit, and other policy views are concerned, this is a Green issue requiring a province-wide--if not a global--perspective. Good post!Did you also put it on the transportation research blog?


donaldstreet said...

Any predictions, James?

I'm taking predictions at the Don Street Blog!