Can biking transform your life and our downtown?

Stefano Grande

Cycling in Winnipeg has come a long way in 10 years and has been a greater priority over the last two, primarily because of record investment in cycling infrastructure by our mayor and city hall. There is a better understanding of the importance of cycling in the day-to-day lives of people, in particular our downtown.

For me, I love cycling and no doubt it has defined who I am today, as it has for so many people.

At the early age of around eight I discovered my independence by simply jumping on the bike my parents bought me and exploring my neighbourhood on my own. At 12 years old, I discovered that you can go a long way on your bike. I explored other neighbourhoods and visited friends, often playing into the late hours of the evening before racing home and going to bed.

Cycling provided me with more independence and more adventure. As with many kids, my bike was my best friend. At 15, I discovered that my bike was needed in order to make some cash, as it was the instrument getting me to my jobs, which included delivering newspapers, cutting lawns and pumping gas. My bike was my wheels and my means to buy that special gadget I always wanted.

Safety was always a concern for my parents, but somehow I survived!

As I got older I discovered I could go longer distances and explore even more – from East St. Paul to Lockport and Selkirk to Old River Road. Still in adventure mode, cycling was becoming part of who I was. Cycling was becoming more than just a recreational thing and a mode of transportation, but was morphing into a sport I loved.

In my late teens, I went to University of Winnipeg and worked at the Old Spaghetti Factory downtown. While I could have cycled there, it was too dangerous to ride down Henderson Highway. Biking to the bus stop and locking my bike and jumping on the bus was now the norm for my transportation, as my parents could not afford to buy a car for each of my three siblings. I relied on these two modes of transportation to get my first degree and earn cash to pay for some of my tuition.

As I got older, I lived and worked downtown, and my bike was my everything. I cycled downtown to work, to the Y, to Osborne Village to grab some groceries, to head out to a pub, and more. There were no bike lines back then, barely any bike racks, and I became a master of urban cycling. What I saved on gas and car insurance, I spent on my mortgage payment for my condo and had lots left for food, drink and fashion!

Biking became my escape from the day-to-day work stress and my workout, which was often so hard to find time for during the work week.

I have a family with three boys now. They all have bikes, and my passion for cycling has influenced them. I feel I have become a better father because of the time I spend with them biking and bonding over something we love and share.

Today, I still bike to work two or three days a week during the summer, and drag the bikes on almost every family vacation, discovering different places.

Our city has come a long way in embracing cycling as an essential means of transportation for people, and in understanding the importance of creating a safe environment for cycling to flourish.

Today our downtown business community understands the importance of cycling and how it’s tied to the overall growth and sustainability of our downtown and city. Cycling attracts a younger workforce, which expects and wants to bike to work. A growing number of cycling consumers want bike racks in front of restaurants, and these racks are more valuable than the single consumer in a car taking up the single on-street parking spot.

Whatever your reasons for riding, whether you ride for recreation, fitness, transportation, sport or just for fun, if you enjoying riding a bike, then cycling is for you. We’re continuing to work with the city to create the infrastructure needed, and we love working with organizations to celebrate cycling with events like June’s Bike Week Winnipeg.

Stefano Grande is executive director of Downtown Winnipeg BIZ

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