Imagine a scene from sometime in the future when car owners gather together in Winnipeg to celebrate car culture and to raise awareness about advocacy efforts for better roads and driver safety. At the end of Bike Week 2016, a speaker at the closing events on the University of Winnipeg’s front lawn encouraged listeners to imagine just that scenario.
This year marks the third annual Bike Week Winnipeg, with Fri. Jun. 24 as the ninth annual Bike to Work Day, according to Mark Cohoe of Bike Winnipeg.
The week was filled with all kind of events, from infrastructure tours to breakfasts and a wind-up event on the front lawn of the University of Winnipeg, where cyclists and bike advocates gathered to discuss the challenges of riding a bicycle in the city or just to enjoy each others’ company while gathering bicycle-related information or watching demonstrations of riding skill.
Holding the barbecue at the end of Bike to Work Day gave commuters the chance to share stories of their rides to work and also to win a special prize. The Bike Winnipeg website notes that this year, the city had approximately sixty pit stops where riders could get a snack or something to drink while having their bicycles tuned up by the mechanics who were at many of the sites.
Free food and a chance to get the tires pumped up, a chain oiled, or brakes tightened — what could be better for a commuter than that? The bicycle enthusiasts who helped out at the pit stops and who went to the final event on Friday all seemed to believe that cycling has a future in this city and that it is important to encourage, not discourage, people who want to take active transportation.
Promoting biking is especially relevant in light of a proposal from City Hall to make helmets mandatory for adults as well as for children. While helmets can definitely help in some cases, research from the University of Bath in England suggests the benefits of wearing a helmet could be hugely overstated, since drivers tend to leave less space on the road for cyclists with helmets than those without.
The focus on equipment to reduce injuries rather than infrastructure to reduce accidents might discourage many cyclists, but the Bike Week Winnipeg events offered alternatives to those views.
Although prizes for the draws included four specially-made helmets decorated with unique designs and accessories, the need for a better cycling infrastructure was also a concern. At one of the booths, visitors could view and give their opinions on a proposal for new protected bicycle lanes that would be on some of the downtown streets where there is currently no protection for cyclists.
Not everything about the event was bike-related, which also included acts with a juggler and an expert in working with hula hoops. Conversations, comparing stories of good and bad bike riding experiences, and a feeling of solidarity with people who shared at least one interest in common were all part of the wind-up.
As the interest in bicycle riding continues to grow in Winnipeg, events such as Bike Week will be more important than ever. Next year’s celebration will be another chance to build on what people have already accomplished and to plan for the future.