UPDATE: Council voted 13-1 to keep Wellington Crescent open 7 days per week through to the original close date in early November. Thank you to everyone who supported this motion, from the Mayor and Councillors to the residents of Wellington Crescent who spoke up to express their support and the many other Winnipeggers who value this open route.
An Open Letter to Mayor Bowman and Councillors,
We were deeply concerned to hear about the proposed closure of the Enhanced Cycling Network (ECN) on Wellington Crescent and Kings Drive, and surprised to hear how quickly this issue has passed to council, undermining yet another effort to create safe and comfortable travel routes beyond personal vehicles.
Indeed, in just the past two months we have seen the omission of the Scotia ECN, as well as the elimination of the Roch Street Greenway Pilot, due to objections from their local councillor. We note that local councillors aren’t able to dictate decisions on waste, water, fire or policing. Why do we allow councillors the power to surpass the City’s plans and policies on transportation?
Green Action Centre is often contacted by residents after these decisions are made, asking us why their neighbourhoods are being left out, and asking if we can do anything to help. Sadly, all we can do is encourage them to keep petitioning their local councillor.
The Stakes Are High
The City of Winnipeg has the highest rate of injury and deaths of vulnerable road users in Canada. We have a high driving mode share in Winnipeg, at approximately 80%. (We remind councillors that they are required to have a 50% driving mode share by 2030 to achieve the City’s climate goals, which means councillors must convert 1 of every 4 trips in their ward to a sustainable mode, in less than 9 years.)
According to the City’s Road Safety Report, 86% of Winnipeggers feel the roads are safe for drivers, but 63% say they are unsafe for people biking and 37% feel it’s unsafe for people walking.
We could quote more stats and statistics, but in short: Winnipeg is in significant trouble when it comes to transportation. We have spent decades of time, and hundreds of millions of dollars, ensuring those with personal vehicles are prioritized first, while those who travel, or want to travel, in sustainable and healthy ways face danger, hostility, inequity and inconvenience.
“When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”
The City of Winnipeg has placed the convenience of personal vehicle drivers ahead of the comfort and safety of those walking, biking and taking transit for decades. We can see the results in our high driving mode share. The reality is, if the City of Winnipeg plans to meet its climate goals or Our Winnipeg desires, the convenience of drivers must fall to the bottom of the priority pyramid. Restoring a sustainable, healthy and equitable transportation system is possible, but it would be foolish to assume there will be no resistance to change. Councillors and city staff must keep focused on the priorities and vision, even when the going gets tough.
Then and Now
When Green Action Centre presented on the Open Streets program in the spring of 2020, we noted that only one route served a high needs community, based on Winnipeg’s High Needs map.
Do we really want to be a city that instinctively serves our more privileged neighbourhoods first during an emergency, and then allows them to decide the fate of the program when it longer personally serves them?
Transportation Systems Move People, Not Cars
Concerns were raised about the increased traffic to Academy and that this has inconvenienced local residents. In June of 2020, Councillor Santos raised a motion at IRPW for a pop-up connected walk/bike network to address the transportation needs with the collapse of transit during those early pandemic days. Cities around the world were recognizing the need to ensure residents could access their city without having to depend on personal vehicles, and Cllr Santos’ motion had this same vision. This motion was defeated in favour of a traffic study.
And now, here we are in 2021, with one of the precious few programs to serve transportation in Winnipeg facing cancellations due to, of course, the increase in traffic. We at Green Action Centre are not surprised that traffic has remained stubbornly high through all phases of the lockdown, as Winnipeggers were given no other choice. We continue to make the same mistakes.
All Ages and Abilities
One of the positives of the Open Streets/ECN project has been seeing folks who are often not represented, like small children, seniors, people with disabilities and more BIPOC folks, out enjoying access to this public space. Few people choose to bike when they have to ride with traffic moving 50 km/hr.
In fact, between 2016 and 2020, Wellington Crescent saw five times as many pedestrians and double the number of people biking. Clearly, reducing the number of vehicles going 50 km/hr has invited more people to travel on foot or by bike. We heard many of those opposed to Open Streets/ECN commenting that Wellington Crescent has always worked “just fine.” The reality is, it has not.
If the City of Winnipeg chooses to remove the ECN, a pop-up protected bike lane and/or a reduced speed limit of 30 km/hr should replace the program.
A Reliable Transportation System
Councillor Gillingam noted at June’s EPC meeting how vital it was for developers to have “consistency, certainty and predictability” through the Infill Strategies. The citizens of Winnipeg also deserve consistency, certainty and predictability when it comes to transportation. Access to safe, comfortable routes to walk, bike and bus should be delivered as part of our Master Transportation Plan, not the whims of councillors and influential residents.
Green Action Centre urges members of council to vote no to the motion allowing for the undermining of the latest Open Streets program before the end date. Moving forward, we urge council members to execute the plans and strategies that are necessary to offer residents sustainable commuting choices, and not just recreational options.
To meet that 50% driving mode share in less than 9 years, we’re going to need the City of Winnipeg to focus on making sustainable trips as convenient, comfortable and desirable as possible across the city.
The Sustainable Transportation Team
Green Action Centre
Recommended Reads & Links
Dear Winnipeg: I agree with Gail Asper
Petition to keep Wellington Open
Wellington Crescent residents start petition urging City of Winnipeg to keep cars off street
Crescent Conflict Going to City Hall
Winnipeg Trails statement