Culture Winnipeg

The False Dichotomy of Bikes v. Cars

I’ve been engaging with a lot of anti-bike folks on twitter over the past few months.

Observations and Thoughts.

[Note: these people are sometimes pejoratively called “carbrains” but that’s unfair, I think at lot of people share these views, even if they are not against bikes]

1. The built environment is immutable.

When someone says “Winnipeg is a car city,” they’re stating a fact, like “the sky is blue.”

It’s not right or wrong. It’s the way it is.

Whether it can or should change is beyond consideration.

2. Driving is frustrating.

Their arguments undoubtedly include an anecdote about a frustrating driving experience. Often with an accusation that I must never have experienced a similar frustration.

Drivers demand funding for road improvements as a remedy to this frustration.

3. Induced demand adds frustration.

While it’s important to inform drivers that adding more roads won’t solve their driving frustration, pointing this out only makes them more frustrated.

You’ve just told them that they live in a frustrating environment with no way out.

4. Cycling infrastructure demands that everyone bike.

This belief stems from a feeling that bike lanes are disruptive and expensive. So funding them can only be justified if most people bikes most places.

And it’s a nonstarter b/c of the how far most people would have to bike.

5. Safety isn’t a consideration.

Car violence is seen as state of nature.

Cars are so ingrained in our world that we’ve come to regard them as similar to a force of nature like weather.

Much like the built environment, it’s just the way it is. Shit happens.

Ok. So given these observations, I think we could make great strides by emphasizing the positive knock-on effects of funding bike lanes.

Namely that bike lanes actually make driving EASIER, save money and are a better use of land.

I would even go so far as to say that the tension between the two groups is false.

Bikes and cars are only at odds with each other because of 70 years of poor planning based on bad math.

Once you understand that the way forward becomes clear.


My Top 3 Winnipeg Mayoral Election Issues

I spent more of my long weekend than intended summarizing Winnipeg’s Mayoral candidates’ platforms for an epic tweet thread.

This got me thinking about what the most important issues to me personally.

Fund Winter

This city is very bad at winter!

Last year especially was an epic disaster of unplowed sidewalks and streets. Forget winter biking, winter walking is often impossible.

We’ve been at this for nearly 150years we should be better at this.

Some ideas:

  • For starters dump as much money as physically possible into the snow clearing/winter maintenance budget!
  • Plow sidewalks and bike lanes at the same time as the streets that border them. If not sooner.
  • Investigate grooming bike paths instead of plowing them (like the do in Finland).
  • Mandate Edmonton’s Winter City Design guidelines.
  • Fine contractors who use active transport to dump snow. Set aggressive timelines in their contracts and fine them when they fail to meet them.

Defund Cars

Cars have their place in modern cities, I am probably more pro-car than the average subscriber to Not Just Bikes.

But it’s becoming exceedingly clear that North American car-centric urban design was a giant mistake! We need to reverse course before it’s too late.

Some ideas:

  • Make it more expensive and inconvenient to drive: eliminate free parking, slow streets to a reasonable level, implement traffic calming measure.
  • Eliminate parking minimums.
  • Disincentivize surface parking lots.
  • Make public transit free.
  • Invest heavily in bike infrastructure.

Defund The Police

It’s becoming incredibly obvious that the current incarnation of the police are not very good at stopping or solving crime. And they just seem to eat up massive amounts of city budgets (with helicopters and robot dogs) for no apparent reason.

I don’t have specific ideas on this one, it’s a difficult problem and the city governments have limited ability to make changes without provincial help.

BTW if you think defunding the police is wacky left-wing idea, just remember that we wouldn’t have paramedics if City of Pittsburgh hasn’t allowed their police to be defunded.


On Winnipeg Urban Planning

Late last week I wrote the following tweet that generated quite a bit of conversation:

Unfortunately, the original intent of my tweet was partially lost in the conversation. So I thought I’d clarify here on my blog.

The two main knee-jerk reactions that I had upon visiting Sage Creek were essentially:

1. It is (a) so far away from the city centre (b) that it should not be part of Winnipeg.
2. “Why are we still building suburbs like this?!”

For those of you from out of town, Sage Creek is one of the most recent suburban developments in Winnipeg. It doesn’t seem to have a Wikipedia entry so here is a link to the developer’s sales page.

It’s Really Far Away

My route to Sage Creek took me down to the very far edge of Fermor Ave and then south down Lagimodiere Blvd past Bishop Grandin Blvd. Most of this drive was completely desolate, I passed a “power centre” style retail development, The Royal Canadian Mint and a bunch of empty nothingness. Most Winnipeggers would consider this drive to have already taken them “out of town” but low and behold, you take a left turn on Sage Creek Blvd and there you are heading into a self contained “Qualico Community.”

My initial reaction was just a kneejerk to my boring drive, so let’s take a quick look at the numbers.

I’ll use the intersection of Sage Creek Blvd & Edward Turner Dr as the “centre” of Sage Creek – since this appears to be the midpoint of housing development and compare this to Portage & Main – the defacto (and literal?) centre of Winnipeg.

The straight-line distance is 10.27km. For comparison, the west Perimeter Hwy bordering the city is only 13.15km from Portage & Main. The northern perimeter is only 10.47km. East is 12.82km.

Sage Creek is demonstrably on the edge of the city.

A screenshot of a google map of Winnipeg showing a ruler measuring the distance between Portage & Main and Sage Creek
Straight Line Distance to Sage Creek

For comparison, by car it’s 12.8km.

A screenshot of a Google Map showing driving directions from Sage Creek to Portage & Main, in Winnipeg, Manitoba
The Drive From Sage Creek

At 13.1km, the ideal bike ride is slightly longer than by car. I suspect this is a fairly pleasant bike ride as it runs through some nice parks and quiet streets. But TBH keeping track of all those turns would be challenging and I would be surprised if Winnipeg has the way-finding to simplify this route.

FWIW if these suburbs are going to exist, I would love to see prioritizing bike freeways over car infrastructure and SE Winnipeg would be a good place to start (but that’s a topic for another post).

A screenshot of a Google Map showing cycling directions from Sage Creek to Portage & Main, in Winnipeg, Manitoba
Cycling Distance From Sage Creek

“But it’s quick!”

A few people in my Twitter replies mentioned that the distance doesn’t matter because the drive is quick.

This is entirely missing the point.

First, it means that you absolutely need a car to leave your neighbourhood.

Second, you’re still driving further, burning more gas, wasting money and needlessly polluting.

Third, supporting infrastructure on the fringes of the city is completely unsustainable.

It shouldn’t be part of Winnipeg

If you’ve ever played Sim City 2000, you should have a pretty good sense of just way this suburb is unsustainable. In the game, every segment of water/waste pipe, power line and road costs $10 (plus upkeep). If you build a mini-town on the edge of your simulated city you end up running out of money very quickly! Often before you even have a chance to build schools or provide fire and police services.

Now, the infrastructure for Sage Creek almost certainly isn’t being piped directly from Portage & Main, it’s not technically as isolated as my Sim City losing strategy. The pipes and power are likely connected to Island Lakes (the suburb directly to the west of Sage Creek).

But get a load of this satellite picture:

A Satellite Image of Island Lakes and Sage Creek
A Satellite Image of Island Lakes and Sage Creek

It doesn’t look like Qualico have really taking advantage of their proximity to Island Lakes. They haven’t built a bunch of connecting paths, parks or streets. They haven’t packed the dense developments right next to the existing infrastructure for maximum efficiency. It’s mainly unused land, parking lots and parks.

It’s fine for you

Many people on Twitter assumed that I was “slagging” Sage Creek.

This was not my intent. I understand that people like living in developments like Sage Creek. My general attitude is “that’s fine for you.”

The problem is – as illustrated in Sim City 2000 – every new low density development decreases the city’s ability to provide services efficiently.

Take a look at the bus routes as an example.

A screenshot of a Google Map showing bus directions from Sage Creek to Portage & Main, in Winnipeg, Manitoba
Bus directions from Sage Creek

A minimum of 67 minutes! If public transit was operating efficiently, this travel time should be in the same ballpark is the travel by car. Not 3.5x!

But with Winnipeg’s dozens of suburbs on the sprawled out on the periphery this becomes an impossible problem to try to solve efficiently.

Don’t ask me to subsidize it

Let’s take a quick look at some generalized math.

Since all parts of the city expect similar levels of city services and all parts of the city pay similar property taxes, the basic math of it is that higher density areas subsidize lower density areas.

If each suburb was its own town, they would each have their own tax rates that make sense for their specific concerns.

They could still benefit from city services if they chose to but the big difference would be that The City could make a profit from those agreements.

Rather than each suburb stretching the city’s budgets or making things like efficient transit service totally impossible. Suburbs could be a profit centre!

It’ll be the centre of town soon enough

A few replies on Twitter suggested that building suburbs on the edge of town is how we’ve always done it and after a few decades the city will fill in around it.

But this is just totally backwards! Cities should be built from the inside out. Again, if this is not obvious play some Sim City 2000.

Why Are We Still Approving Car-Centric Suburbs?

A screenshot of a Google search ad for Sage creek. The title reads "South Winnipeg's Sage Creek - Live in Sage Creek". The body reads "A completely walkable new community with a variety of homes for all lifestyles. Learn more. Contemporary design, lasting materials & the highest construction standards. Come visit! Over 9Km of Trails. Home Styles for All. Vibrant &..."
Qaulico’s Ad For Sage Creek

I’m quite uncertain how Qualico came to the conclusion that their new community is “completely walkable.” It’s got to be a joke, right?

Wikipedia defines walkability as:

…a term for planning concepts best understood by the mixed-use of amenities in high-density neighborhoods where people can access said amenities by foot. It is based on the idea that urban spaces should be more than just transport corridors designed for maximum vehicle throughput. Instead, it should be relatively complete livable spaces that serve a variety of uses, users, and transportation modes and reduce the need for cars for travel.

Walkability – Wikipedia

Sage Creek simply does not have any mixed-use, period. The retail is a good distances away from the apartments and both are segregated from the expensive single-family homes by wide parkland.

A more generous (and perhaps more realistic in the North American context) definition of “walkability” might be the idea of a “15-minute city.” i.e. the idea that nothing should be more than 15 minutes away (without a car).

But here again Sage Creek fails. Since they’ve positioned the retail sector at the entrance of the development almost none of the single-family housing is within a 15 minute walk (I’ve used the Tim Hortons in this calculation).

A screenshot of highlighting the area within Sage Creek that can reach the Tim Hortons within a 15 minute walk.

The Biggest Sin of Them All!

If that wasn’t bad enough, Qualico has the audacity to call this neighbourhood “walkable” without even providing sidewalks to walk on!!

As you can see from the City of Winnipeg’s sidewalk clearing map, they have only built sidewalks on the main thoroughfares. This is absolutely not a way to encourage walking!

A screenshot of the City of Winnipeg's sidewalk snow clearing priority map for Sage Creek.
Side snow clearing priority

I do not understand why city hall continues to approve this garbage.

In all seriousness, by “walkable” I think Qualico actually means “there are parks where you can walk your dog only a 2 minute drive away!” Qualico certainly is not committed to walkability in any common sense of the word.

But we’ve always done it this way

A few commentors on Twitter mentioned that Sage Creek is just like many other suburbs in Winnipeg and that I shouldn’t be singling them out.

I actually agree. All of the post WWII suburbs are pretty terrible.

In Conclusion

City hall needs to do better!

We can bite bullet and stop approving new developments. They’re a ponzi scheme that has to end, the sooner we rip of the band-aid the better.

We can retrofit existing neighbourhoods with sidewalks and infill housing. We’re already doing a decent job on the latter. I would like to see a candidate in this upcoming election suggest building sidewalks. Hell, we could just steal Edmonton’s 15-minute city playbook, it seems like a good one.

Oh and we should probably at least consider breaking up Unicity before it’s too late.


Winnipeg COVID-19 Controversies

…and other associated weirdness.

Winnipeg is weird at the best of times. Coronavirus is bringing the weirdest of the weird.

Here is a chronological list of all the controversies and other we’re occurances that have unfolded in Winnipeg during the ongoing self-quarantine period:


12: First case of COVID-19 in Manitoba.

15: Zillionaire owners of the Winnipeg Jets refuse to continue to pay their employees (well except for their Millionaire players). Redditors vow to stop chanting “TRUE NORTH” during the anthem when the NHL season starts back up. It takes them 5 days to reverse their decision.

I’m sure everyone will forget all of this when sports are back in 2023.

20: Provincial Government briefly threatens pull childcare providers’ operating grants if they choose to close during quarantine.

I’m glad they “corrected the record.”

25: Government liquor stores cite serving alcoholics justifications to stay open.

I guess that makes some sense, but sounds bad when you put it that way.

26 — notable non-Winnipeg mention: Workers ‘bunkered in’ at water treatment plant in Brandon, to ensure service during pandemic.

This is when it really started feeling like a zombie apocalypse to me.

30: Shindico exploits a loophole to increase rents during COVID rent freeze.

Assholes. I didn’t see a follow up to this so I assume it actually happened.


11: Owner of water park Fun Mountain accuses medical workers of being actors.


18: Police shot 3 people in 10 days.


26: Local St. James ice cream shop — Sargent Sundae — re-opens for the summer. Only accepts cash to the ire of reddit.

Extremely gross and unacceptable IMHO.

27: Firefighters alleged to have broken social-distancing rules.

30: Chainsaw-wielding man threatened arborists and others. 36-year-old charged with six offences, including assault with a weapon, uttering threats, theft.



8-9: Ice cream shop BDI opens an illegal drive-thru in a residential area. It doesn’t go over well.


9: Winnipeg saw a US-style anti-lockdown protest.


10: Director of Operations of Manitoba Jewelry Chain Appelt’s Diamonds – Sarah Appelttweets a QAnon slogan. Turns out that’s the the first time she’s posted wacky stuff.

What’s next unfriending diamonds?

Culture Winnipeg

The Portage & Main Debate

Debate surrounding the referendum to reopen the Portage & Main intersection to pedestrians has been dominating my social media so much so that I feel compelled to comment.

My feeds are filled entirely with #VoteOpenWPG proponent and in my humble opinion they could be doing a much better job. I’m not even strongly opposed to opening the intersection. Yet I’m not finding the arguments very compelling at all.

Here’s Why

I’ve organized the main points I’ve seen online into a few categories and put on my contrarian hat to illustrate how they could be seen as flimsy and irrelevant.


“The intersection was open to pedestrians for much longer than it has been closed.”

This argument has little weight because change is the inherent nature of history. A lot has changed since the intersection was founded in the 19th century. Modes of transportation are vastly different, horses and buggies are nowhere to be seen, streetcars have come and gone; skyscraper exist, etc. The fact that the intersection was once packed with pedestrians 50 years ago has little baring on what might or might not happen if the intersection was open again in 2019.


“People with mobility issues cannot cross the street because they can’t access the underground.”

This is true, but the argument is not compelling. Winnipeg’s downtown is relatively small. Taking a route that does not cross Portage & Main does not add significant distance to the trip. (Unless you need to get directly between the 3 buildings directly at the corner of Portage Ave E.)

The Underground Sucks

“The underground feels unsafe, poorly lit, the entrances smell like urine, etc.”

Again, this may be true, but if true it’s just not a compelling argument for opening the intersection to pedestrian traffic. It is an argument for spending resources on improving the underground.

“Good for business”

Making the argument that opening the intersection will be good for business automatically lumps this issue in with many other downtown revitalization projects that have been presented as magic bullets to “fix” downtown. With arguable success.

It’s also one of the only points that seems objectively false. For one, the intersection is dominated by office towers, there are literally no street-level businesses within the scope of that block. For another, if pedestrians stay above ground, the underground concourse would certainly suffer. If more pedestrians travel above ground, fewer will travel underground.

Future of the city

“It’s about what kind of city we want to be in the future.”

Do we we want a city that’s progressive and pedestrian friendly? Or do we want to live General Motors Utopia of the 1950s? As someone who grew up in the suburbs, current lives and works in the far flung reaches of St James, I get the sense that a vast majority of Winnipeggers are perfectly happy living in an autopia. If this is the argument the “yes” side is depending on, I am afraid they will be disappointed.

I think that sums up just about everything I’ve see in favour of re-opening the intersection. And to be fair (as Alyson Shane points out in her post for a few weeks ago) the arguments against opening the intersection are quite weak as well.

However, we are not being asked to vote in favour of not doing something. We are voting on investing tax dollars in a project that many Winnipeggers see as frivolous or of dubious value at best.

Status Quo Is Free!

Unless it’s not.

According to a July 24th, article in the Winnipeg Free Press by Dan Lett

All told, the city is committed to spending about $3.5 million on street-level upgrades and planning the re-opening of the intersection. We do not know the final cost of tearing down the barriers. However, the existing barriers are falling apart and removing them could very likely be less expensive than rebuilding them.

If true, this is the only point that matters. People of all political persuasions are motivated by dollars and cents. If it’s going to cost more money to keep the barricades up, taking them down should be a nobrainer. Moreover, $3.5M is well under 1% of Winnipeg $1B+ operating budget.

Lett goes to point out:

There is also the fact that private land owners at Portage and Main need to do repairs to the underground infrastructure that supports Winnipeg Square, the underground shopping mall. That work will require the removal of some of the barriers. Rebuilding them seems a pointless endeavour.

I couldn’t agree more.

The fact that we’re debating this, let a lone having a referendum is the most Winnipeg thing ever.