We’ve all seen them: they’re on two tires, relegated to the corners of the road where the incline to the snowbanks begins.
Likely, they have icicles dangling from any of their exposed skin or facial hair, and they look like they’re taking part in an extreme sport rather than just making their morning commute to work or class.
These committed winter warriors are the winter cyclists, often dreaded by motorists for the risk of collision. But what about their rights to the road?
Frustrated by being constantly outranked by motorists, winter cyclists teamed up by the dozen to stage a “shovel-in”; they took to clearing a pedestrian bridge themselves that links St. Boniface to Elmwood and Transcona over the Seine River.
The shoveling team – volunteers with Bike Winnipeg – attest that the critical trail hasn’t been cleared all winter, in addition to other routes regularly used by cyclists and pedestrians. They hoped the protest would show the city that snow clearance is important to their active community, and that it is unfair that they can’t expect to use a bike route safely without shoveling a path for themselves.
Bike Winnipeg executives say the active commuters save the government money due to their health-conscious lifestyles, and deserve at least better roadway and bike path snow clearance. In the future, they’d also like to be included in road condition reports.
What used to seem like a relatively small, guerilla group of riders has become a marginalized community, along with pedestrians and transit users.
The snowbanks at bus stops are often packed down at best by other recent commuters, and the leap off the bus is a wobbly one. Elderly people or persons with disabilities are especially disadvantaged by the high banks and snow-covered sidewalks.
Recent rapid transit improvements are noted, but in our winter city, we need to include timely snow clearance at bus stops to make the services useful and safe.
On the heels of the “shovel-in” by cyclists, Winnipeg played host to the second International Winter Cycling Congress. People from all over North America and Europe came to share how winter cycling works and is viewed in their cities.
In Canada, the highest number of non-motorists in an urban centre occurs in Whitehorse. Montreal was one of the first Canadian cities to plan a network of cycle tracks, which define bike/pedestrian lanes with a physical barrier, protecting the commuters. Many innovations that come to the aid of cyclists also solve issues for motorists, pedestrians and persons with disabilities.
In Scandinavia, Northern Finland and Sweden, winter cycling is widespread. In Copenhagen, Denmark, which has cycle tracks, record snowfall in 2010 caused the city to ration salt, and since cycling is so prominent and the cyclists simply persisted, the city prioritized the cycle tracks over the roads.
There is much to learn from international cities on how they accommodate their winter cyclists, and Winnipeg needs to catch up.
Cycling is often viewed as a necessity for its proponents. It is often an economically driven choice, or a matter of sustainability. It has health, environmental and economic benefits.
Winter cycling has too many things going for it to simply ignore the issue and allow the cyclists to continue at their own risk. It’s time for the city to rally and support our winter athletes.