Keep Winnipeg's Open Streets Open & Expand Them Until We Have a Safer And Connected City

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Act Now! On July 7th, 2020, the City of Winnipeg is planning to shut down the few pieces of expanded emergency walking and cycling network started in response to COVID-19. This decision by the City is deeply disappointing to us. We need more healthy transportation options, not less. Now, more than ever. 

With summer approaching, amid unprecedented uncertainty about our health and economy, individuals will be experiencing the long-term effects of isolation, working from home or being out of a job and families will be out and about exploring. Tens of thousands of people will have come to see Winnipeg in a new way only to have the few key, fragile, and rare pieces of a temporary healthy street network shut down without explanation and despite the overwhelming popularity of the facilities themselves and a clear window of opportunity to create change. 

Cities worldwide are racing to open bicycle pathway networks using cones, flower planters, and jersey barriers - anything they can find. More cities are changing laws and fast-tracking their healthy transportation plans and expanding sidewalks to maintain social distancing. Meanwhile, the City of Winnipeg’s decision is to move backwards.

Look at other Canadian cities: Montreal recently announced a plan to add 50 km in 2 weeks, totalling 320kms in just a few months. Calgary and Edmonton quietly increased their pathway networks by closing a few streets at a time throughout the crisis with more to come. Toronto continues to expand its walking and cycling network with its #ActiveTO plan. Meanwhile, Winnipeg is going back to the status quo. We are a city, at times, unwelcoming to people on foot or bicycle; we have no backup plan for transit riders who wish to keep their distance; we have no shortage of people who, having confronted their own mortality out of necessity, are rethinking the wisdom of driving a car so much for the sake of healthy air, mind and body. 

The City of Winnipeg and the Emergency Operations Centre are not taking the needs of transit users seriously. If they were, we would see a plan. At the same time, they do not appear to recognize the bigger problem Winnipeg faces in the future of undesirable modal shift. We simply can not handle that many cars; it already affects our commute times and quality of life in measurable ways.

For these reasons, we are taking the extraordinary steps of starting this petition. If driving is perceived as the only safe option, we all lose. That includes those of us who drive and will now face more traffic in front of us. It means young family members will be clamouring for a ride when they could have safely gone on their own.

We deserve better options. 

Once the pandemic lockdown hit, it became clear to an entire planet that large swaths of roadway were being used inefficiently mostly to move machines instead of people. A lot of them have said repeatedly they would prefer a better way. And when close quarters became untenable on transit and people were asked to stay, the folly of neglecting investment in the simpler human modes became clear.  

Luckily, there is no shortage of space and plenty of willingness to try something different. Repeatedly, the majority of people in Winnipeg have said they would like to be healthy, stay active and feel safe. Nearly 3/4 of us say we would like bike lanes on major streets and it would get us to bike either “more” or "a lot" more; we'll take both, especially now. We know children are not capable of handling the high speeds on roads today. It will get worse if we allow it to continue.

COVID-19 made things clear. There is a better way. Families are experiencing streets free of traffic for the first time. Some learned to ride a bicycle during the pandemic and won't look back. Bike shops are running out of supplies. Your own grandparents may have suddenly felt a little bit safer. 

Winnipeg's cycling and walking networks have many gaps. We have to keep everything we have and expand them until it all connects.