By Megan Benedictson
While the weather put a wrench in plans to have civic election candidates experience what it feels like to ride a mile along someone else’s route, the ElectionCycle: Accessing UWinnipeg and Downtown did manage to successfully draw attention to several serious challenges.
The event was the brainchild of staff and volunteers with the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) Bike Lab, an award-winning community bicycle facility located on the university’s downtown campus.
“Winnipeg’s cycling community is growing stronger every day, and we need civic leadership that can respond to this shift in how people get from A to B,” says Bike Lab advocacy coordinator Jacob Nikkel. “It’s vital to hear how candidates will support active transportation, especially considering the positive impact it can have on the health of people and the environment.”
Initially, Nikkel and his team invited candidates for the bike ride to be followed by a discussion, but faced with a rainy weather forecast the day before the event, organizers quickly assembled a detailed photographic tour of bike routes cyclists must use to reach The University of Winnipeg. And so as rain fell across the campus, candidates gathered inside a boardroom to explore the obstacles along Nikkel’s virtual tour: difficult road crossings, pseudo-bike lanes that disappear without warning, and – you guessed it – potholes.
As for the discussion, just about everyone in attendance spoke to the importance of making cycling safer and more accessible to all Winnipeggers, particularly through infrastructure such as protected bike lanes across the city.
Mayoral candidate Dr. Robert Falcon Ouellette spoke of the importance of workplace support, such as shower facilities for employees. His competitor Judy Wasylycia-Leis is pushing for a more comprehensive, connected network of bike routes.
Other visions shared included designing more efficient cycling routes, encouraging a widespread and enthusiastic winter cycling culture, and ensuring bicycles are available for all people.
In addition to those vying for the mayoralty, candidates for city council John Orlikow, Keith Bellamy, Shane Nestruck and Anne Thompson also joined the conversation, along with cycling advocates, students, inner-city community leaders, representatives of the UWSA, and University of Winnipeg president and vice-chancellor Dr. Annette Trimbee.
“A big thank you goes out to participants for taking the time to connect with these young voters,” says Dr. Trimbee. “Our University has a strong history of social engagement and working toward meaningful change in our community, and I’m proud the UWSA is carrying on that tradition.”
The event was a natural extension of what all staff and volunteers with the Bike Lab do. The Bike Lab opened in 2011, after several years of planning and collaboration among the UWSA and its partners, particularly in the school’s Campus Sustainability Office.
The idea was to build something on campus that could support cycling through education and advocacy. Today, the Bike Lab is open several days each week, with experts on hand who can teach anyone from the community how to build, repair and maintain bicycles. And as was the case with the ElectionCycle, they’re also there to continue the conversation toward a more active future.