Break the grid, a week of ModeShift

Last week the ModeShift festival was organized in Winnipeg for the second time. I had the honor to be the guest of managing director Anders Swanson of Winnipeg trails all week to follow this thrilling week from close by. A week with many varied activities for a varied target group that does justice to the inhabitants of this Canadian city with brutal cycling circumstances. A week that I conclude with hope and excitement for a better future for active modes in Winnipeg.dav

Bearing in mind we were in Treaty 1 territory, the traditional territory of Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene Peoples, and the homeland of the Métis Nation I moderated Monday and Tuesday a workshop in the North End. This is a old neighborhood of Winnipeg, separated from the city center by a large train yard. Characteristics of the area are the classic North American grid allotment and low density housing, dating from the tramway and trolleybus era.EFFECTS 
The district houses many people with low incomes and therefore a relatively low car ownership. Even bicycles are too expensive for some people to buy and maintain. We investigated the spread of daily destinations such as schools, shops and the quality of the cycling network. There were many destinations within walking and cycling distance, which means there is much potential for more bicycle use. With the help of the bikewalkroll app we gained insight into walking and cycling to schools. There seemed to be a clear link with the location of bus stops and bus lines. I found the relatively small schools and the spread of neighborhood stores in the neighborhood striking.

During the site visit we came across a good example of a temporary road diet. There was clearly enough room for the construction of a protected cycle path. Marking the residential streets as 30 km/h zones would make it much better for many people to be able to cycle in the neighborhood. An urgent topic, a lot of victims of car traffic can be avoided every week. The best idea was not to replace an old car bridge over the railway line with a new bridge, but to redesign it as a parkbridge for cyclists and pedestrians, serving both as a connection and as a destination to honor the railroad history of Winnipeg.

Talk, workshop, act!

The panel session in the evening about walking and road safety was impressive, with thanks to Shannon Furness. The other week she was hit in a pedestrian crossing by an inpatient driver and still had the stitches in her head. Shout out to her to share her story. The next day, dementia was given a face by Amina Yasin who in her workshop introduced the confusion that people diagnosed with dementia or mental illness can face with unclearly designed public spaces. Mirrored windows, dark asphalt on the footpath and height differences do not contribute to a public space that is inclusive for everyone. Confusing for me, because in the Netherlands we often use this type of design to make public space more attractive and elderly also indicate that they prefer such a small-scale layout. Would the difference in urban planning between North America and Europe also lead to a difference in dealing with dementia? You are welcome to share your thoughts in the comment section.

Place with hight differences and various  forms to get seated. Might be confusing for people diagnosed with Alzheimer disease, but to me it looks attractive.

Hope and inspiration was taken from the street party in front of the home of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba. The street was officially restricted for car traffic and many activities took place. Original Canadian street hockey with ice hockey sticks and a tennis ball was a great activity for everyone to participate in or to watch. Road painting, woodwork, bicycle repairs and an Eritrean coffee ceremony completed the street. At the wood workshop a silent man from Syria appeared and on his phone he showed the work he made as carpenter back in Syria. Doesn’t need a say he was embraced in the wood work community.

The screening of the film Mama Agata in which Dutch immigrant women receive cycling lessons was recognizable to the new Canadians. During the closing bonfire the neighbouring fire brigade curiously passed by. According to the residents, they regularly hold a barbecue in the case they don’t have to extinguish a fire.
Thursday was the day with a jam-packed program with numerous excellent speakers.  Despite the good line-up, few students and politicians found their way to the Children’s museum. Perhaps the most inspiring was theater maker Debbie Patterson who told us in a powerful speech she was happy with her progressive muscular disease. It gave her many new people to acknoledge and new perspectives. Respect for that point of view, I don’t think I am ready for that at this moment.
The Dutch cycling perspective was shown in the film “Why We Cycle“, followed by a panel discussion and a good dance party.

The art of changing

The last day of Modeshift was intended to put what was learned into practice with a hands on crash course by Jenny Malzer in tactical urbanism and change development. The traditional approach to study all options before they are set in concrete, might lead to endless hearings, watered down compromises and disillusioned volunteers. Practical temporary interventions might reduce the fear of change and support political decision-making. Even in the Netherlands we can learn from this, as the voice of people is becoming more important.
Speaking about politicians: For the final meeting all municipal councilors were invited. A bit unsurprising, only the politicians who actively support bicycle plans showed up. They heard that the quality of the Winnipeg bicycle plans is good, but that much more money and ambition is needed to make a real shift in transport modes. By the current investments it will take 70 years to convert Winnipeg’s infrastructure to a low standard Dutch city.
The festival concluded with downtown street dance introduced by the outspoken Maribeth Tabanera and a classic game of street hockey. Shouting every now and then “Car” and apologizing drivers to interfere in the human space. We want more of this!


2 thoughts on “Break the grid, a week of ModeShift

  1. Seems like a good annual fest. Great choice of movies Mama Agatha and Why We Cycle, i have seen both. Not surprised to read only politicians who have faith in cycling turned up, its quite similar scenario in mumbai. Nicely compiled article, thank you.


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