If pedaling is a lifestyle you want to pursue year round, then be prepared for the profanity and lane hogging you will experience at the mercy of motorists.
It’s the middle of winter, temperatures consistently are in the -35oC to -40oC range, and the roads are polluted with drivers avoiding any chance of exposure to the harsh conditions. In the winter months, motorists mainly occupy the rush of traffic, but a few other modes of transportation still like to make their way about on the grimy, salted, icy streets. They are called the brave souls who bundle up to no end, not a patch of skin showing, and hop on two wheels instead of four. They are the ice riders. Yes, the cyclists who pedal around not only in spring, summer, and fall, but also in winter.
As someone who is passionate about cycling, I decided that this would be the year to try out winter cycling. I’m a University student, so the cost of transportation can be fairly pricey. I’m also a student who is fortunate enough to live on campus and only needs to use my two feet in order to get to class, so transportation is not an issue. But really, it still is.
There is still life outside of university, and in order to get from A to B, there needs to be some sort of vehicle to do so. Literally there is, it’s called a car. But, for someone like me, driving a car around in the city of Winnipeg seems, to put it straight, wrong.
At the same time, I dread taking the transit for its inconvenient bus times, weird bus routes, unpredictable waiting times, and the ongoing battle over finding enough loose change.
Now in winter, the general consensus is people don’t care if they are being transported around in gas-guzzling vehicles that are bad for the economy and environment; what matters is that they can get somewhere fast and with little effort while still being warm. Not all people have this mentality, especially in Winnipeg with more and more cyclists fighting over a spot in the driving lane.
So how does someone driving in the winter respond when cyclists occupy parts of the road, especially with road conditions the way they are? Do they respond with compassion, or do they immediately start cursing under their breath, “Get off the road, you (insert profane word) idiot”? Most likely a cyclist will hear the latter, and except it as a part of the whole winter biking experience. But why should they?
Should cyclists be honked at, cursed by passing drivers and risk getting run over? According to Manitoba Public Insurance’s road safety rules, vehicles are “to give cyclists the courtesy and space they require to ride safely.” Further, it is suggested that vehicles refrain from sounding the horn to prevent cyclist from being startled. Are these rules put into practice?
For the most part, vehicle traffic is not patient or compassionate to cyclists. When did it become crazy and dangerous to simply ride with two wheels? Where did the generosity and encouragement go to those who value preserving the environment and staying healthy?
Ethically speaking, vehicles should be willing and more patient when sharing the road, regardless of the weather and conditions. But, with the buildup of snow hugging marked bicycle routes, cyclists often ride the line by pedaling within the treads. This results in further traffic buildup.
Sidewalks are an option on main routes, especially during rush hour. It’s also a safer option because when someone yells “sidewalks are for walking”, they likely will not put a cyclist at risk.
Then there are marked bike routes. Yet, for some reason, no snow plow bothers to properly clear the paths (although if you drive down Sterling Lyon Parkway, that path is cleared. But, who cycles down there?). Basically, winter cyclists are left with the notion that there is no space for them on the road or sidewalk.
Our mentality towards transportation seems all out of whack. Psychologically speaking we’ve been led to believe that cars belong on the road and bicycles don’t.
Cyclists shouldn’t have to ride with the mindset that they are risking their lives. Instead, we ice riders pedal with the intent that our bodies are being put in danger. Physical exercise and taking care of our hearts is not being accommodated nor appreciated. A cost efficient, consumption free way of transportation is not often valued nor dealt with in a compassionate way.
So, perhaps the next time you see a cyclist in the same lane as you, and are waiting to pass them, instead of thinking or acting in a manner of profanity, consider their situation and act with generosity. Words and gestures of encouragement mean a lot to a winter cyclist. It might even warm an ice rider’s toes if you give a honk and salute, instead of a profane flip of the finger.