‘Crucial’ for snowpiles on Winnipeg bike lanes to be cleared properly, say cyclists

The City of Winnipeg has come under fire this week for its snow-clearing operation, and the cycling community is chiming in too.

Cyclists believe more people are choosing to bike in the winter months, but argue the city isn’t doing its part to ensure bike lanes are properly cleared in a timely manner. 

Katheryn Loewen, an avid cyclist and sustainable transportation co-ordinator with Green Action Centre said it’s “crucial” for bike lanes to be cleared.

“Bike lanes are an important network in the summer, so they are just as important in the winter,” she said. “Just like the road, the bike lanes should be cleared off as well.”

Loewen bikes to work regularly and says there are times she has to dismount for unnecessary reasons.

“When you’re biking, even if 70 per cent of your commute is perfectly cleared, if 30 per cent isn’t, that’s like if you had to get out of your car and push your car for 30 per cent of your ride,” she said. “It makes a huge difference and we do need all parts of those priorities to be connected and cleared for us to be able to do where we need to go.”

A Winnipeg cyclist rides his bike down Westminster Avenue, approaching Sherbrook Street, on Wednesday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

She adds it’s unfortunate the same things tend to happen year in and year out, and suggests some restructuring of the city’s snow removal policy is needed.

“The streets get plowed after the bike lane, the snow gets pushed into the bike lane and the progress that we saw gets erased,” Loewen said.

Although the city is set to begin clearing residential streets Thursday, Loewen says there’s a concern that the efforts of plow operators could still leave bike lanes under a pile of snow.

Snow piles in a bike lane on Westminster Avenue prompted a group of people to take matters into their own hands Tuesday evening, using ice picks and shovels to clear snow off of it.

“We shouldn’t have to rely on citizens work to make sure that the streets are clear and safe to get through,” Loewen said.

She later said it’s “heartwarming” to see people pitching in to help make bike lanes safer for cyclists.

In an email to CBC News, City of Winnipeg public works department spokesperson Ken Allen said an inspection Monday found snow clearing of sidewalks and active transportation paths on Priority 1 (regional streets ad major routes) and Priority 2 (bus routes and collector streets) streets were clear as per the council-approved policy on snow clearing and ice control.

Allen recommended residents not clear snow from the roadways due to safety concerns, and to report any trouble spots instead, by either calling 311 or completing an online form.

Daria Magnus-Walker was among those helping with the snow-clearing efforts on Westminster Avenue. 

Like Loewen, Magnus-Walker commutes to St. Boniface Hospital on her bicycle all year long. Her 20-minute cycle is primarily in bike lanes on Priority 1 streets, and doesn’t have to deal with poorly-plowed bike lanes, or vehicles parking in bike lanes.

However, there are times when she has to get off her bike, or cycle on the road.

And sometimes it’s difficult to see the bike lanes because they haven’t been cleared.

“A lot of our bike lanes here, we rely on just paint, which is not the best safety equipment to offer,” Magnus-Walker said. 

“It’s definitely tricky to see,” she said. “It’s white paint so the white snow makes it really not that visible, and as winter goes on they don’t necessarily scrape down all the way to the asphalt.

“It seems like the city doesn’t expect that there’s going to be that many people still biking.”

The route Magnus-Walker takes to work is primarily composed of Priority 1 streets, but she worries about her safety whenever she’s forced to cycle outside of bike lanes.

She’s also had two cyclist friends struck by vehicles in the last month.

“I know that any time I’m riding outside of [bike lanes], if I ever need to go on the road, or if the lanes aren’t plowed … I am for sure more scared when there’s cars around,” Magnus-Walker said.

Loewen believes having more bollards, raised curbs and signage noting bike lanes are present would help ensure snow piles or vehicles don’t impede cyclists.

“It makes a big difference being separated from traffic flow. It’s a lot safer.” she said. “You can rest assured that a car isn’t necessarily going to slide into you.”

Winnipeg cyclists clear lanes ahead of city-wide plow

6 hours ago

Duration 1:40

City will begin clearing the streets of snow on Thursday morning.

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