Dear Winnipeg

A Fun Blog About Infrastructure and Municipal Finance

It’s What Cities Crave

Dear Winnipeg,

Well it’s official: the NFL is 100% better than the CFL. The proof?

The City of Winnipeg, home of the 2019 Grey Cup Champions, has announced they will be phasing out the 9 temporarily-opened active transportation streets, as of July 6.

Meanwhile, Kansas City, MO, home of the 2020 Super Bowl Champions, puts out this DIY guide so that all citizens can make their own neighbourhood streets into Open Streets.

This is what it looks like when an NFL-Champion city pwns a CFL-Champion city.

Here’s an excerpt:

And, a couple weeks ago, KCMO joined that growing list of cities with its Open Streets Program. Unlike most other cities, however, KCMO has taken it a step further with its Open Streets Neighborhood Permit, giving you the chance to transform your neighborhood streets

— KCMO Neighborhood Open Street How-To Guide, page 3

[“Unlike most other cities”… dang KCMO, that’s some choice Public Works Department smack-talk!]

And it goes on:

The KCMO Neighborhood Open Streets program is made possible by you—and tactical urbanism. What is tactical urbanism? It’s a movement that began a little more than a decade ago by neighbors who wanted to make improvements to their streets and sidewalks. Generally, the initiatives are grassroots, and quickly implemented with lower-cost items that can demonstrate a potential long-term change.

In this case, we’re using this technique so you can close your neighborhood street to thru traffic (but still allow local traffic, such as deliveries, emergency vehicles, and residents’ vehicles). By closing your street to thru traffic, you’re opening it up to allow more space for pedestrians, bicyclists, and scooters.

— KCMO Neighborhood Open Streets How-To Guide, page 8

[What is all this, witchcraft?]

Wait, it gets even more unbelievable… the remaining 20 pages are then used to give the average citizen a step-by-step guide on how to do it all themselves! [Gasp!]

Yeah, that’s the kind of stuff that’s happening in cities all over the world. But not here. No, just the mere mention of taking any roadspace away from cars to give it to other modes seems to be met with eyerolls, scoffs and even outright derision.

Look, I like me a car as much as the next guy. Cars are amazing. They are the ultimate in personal comfort, speed and convenience.

Where things start to fall apart for the car is when you try to build your city so that EVERYONE can drive EVERYWHERE, EVERY TIME. We’ve already done the math together on that. That’s a city nobody is willing nor able to pay for.

Look at it this way: cars are like beer. One beer, great. A couple beers, still pretty awesome. Keep adding beers though, and eventually you start to get diminishing returns.

Start replacing all your liquids with beer, and your world falls apart. So the moral of that story is: beer sometimes, other liquids, sometimes too.

And the same goes for transportation: cars, sometimes, other transportation modes, sometimes too.

Because if we can’t afford a city with all cars, and people are hesitant to take the bus right now, then we have an even more massive problem coming our way. Luckily, it’s a problem that can be solved by walking (sometimes), and by bikes (sometimes). Yes, bikes.

And yes, even in winter. We’ve already talked about that. A transportation mode is only as good as the snow clearing we provide for it. The rest is solved with mittens.

You know, all of this reminds me a little of the movie Idiocracy.

If you’ve never seen it, I’ll be honest. It’s a crass, stupid movie. But it’s also bitingly satirical, and really funny, assuming you’re the kind of person who has a weird, twisted sense of humour. [Since you keep coming back to read these letters, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that you are definitely that kind of person.]

Anyways, in the movie, the character Joe, played by Luke Wilson, is just a regular average guy who is cryogenically frozen for 5 centuries to awaken in a time where humanity’s collective intelligence has significantly lowered, making him the smartest guy in the world.

[Yes, it stars Luke Wilson. I warned you it was a stupid movie. I mean, it could be worse, it could’ve been Owen Wilson…]

What he finds is a future society overrun by marketing and consumerism. Of note is a popular sports drink named Brawndo (the Thirst Mutilator!), which has replaced water in almost every way. They even water their plants and crops with it. [It’s what plants crave! It has electrolytes!]

When, predictably, the crops all start failing, Wilson’s now-relatively-super-smart-but-still-average-to-us-Joe suggests that using Brawndo everywhere is likely the problem, and that maybe they should be using plain water for the crops, all he gets are incredulous, blank stares.

[Water? Like out the toilet?]

And that’s pretty much the general reaction you get when you suggest bikes as an answer to our transportation problems. To say nothing of our financial ones.

But there’s a lot we can learn from Joe.

Joe: “I’m no botanist, but I do know that if you put water on plants, they grow”.

Secretary of Energy: “Well, I’ve never seen no plants grow out of no toilet.”

Joe: “Okay, look. You wanna solve this problem. I wanna get my pardon. So why don’t we just try it, okay, and not worry about what plants crave?”

— Quote from the movie Idiocracy (2006)

And there you have it: so why don’t we just try it.

If it’s good enough for the home of the Kansas City Chiefs, it’s certainly good enough for the home of the Bombers.

So let’s look at an example in Elmwood to see what the future could hold.

Here’s a map of my neighbourhood with the bikes routes that exist today:

And here it is again, this time with all the “planned” routes from the Pedestrian and Cycling Strategies added:

Looks nice on a map. But just where exactly does the Public Works department think everyone is trying to go on their bike?

As Freddie Mercury used to sing, I want to ride it where I like!

And where I like is the Liquor Mart.

And the library. And the ice cream shop. And my kids’ school. And the pharmacy. And the dentist. And the delicious taco place.

[Ok, ok! Here’s the music video since I know you’re already singing it in your head. A fair warning before you watch it though, if you were one of the weirdos who was upset about what our Federal Infrastructure Minister wore while biking, you are NOT gonna like what these ladies chose to wear.]

With cars, sometimes you just want to “go for a drive”, but the rest of the time, you’re trying to get to all of the things. Likewise, people on bikes, like all people, are just trying to get to all of the things.

So here’s that map of the bike routes again, this time with all of the things on it.

Now you see the problem. These bike routes are fine for recreation, but they don’t take you to the things. That makes them useless as transportation.

And we don’t have the money to be making brutal mistakes like this.

So let’s let Luke Wilson and Kansas City show us the way. [Never thought THAT would be a sentence I would write…]

Now is the time for tactical urbanism. Now is the time for temporary, small-scale, low-cost initiatives that can demonstrate a potential long-term change. Paint, pylons and pilot projects.

And anyone can do it. Just look at what Elmwood is planning with a budget of $400 and a dedicated group of volunteer residents, businesses and community organizations. [Full disclosure: I am part of the planning committee for this initiative.]

And it doesn’t need to be that big or that complex. It can be as easy as installing a planter box in a parking space to calm traffic on your street.

I will say that we are very lucky here in Elmwood to have such a supportive elected official in Councillor Jason Schreyer.

But I’d venture to guess that if you live in St.Boniface (Matt Allard), St. James (Scott Gillingham), Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry (Sherri Rollins) or Waverley West (Janice Lukes), you’ll find your Councillor is just as supportive.

Basically, if you are a person who lives in any neighbourhood, and is tired of a status quo that doesn’t work for anyone and is bankrupting our city, then contact your Councillor, and get started now!

Love,

Elmwood Guy