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Collaborating and Exploring Opportunities in Manitoba

The Winnipeg team dropping off recycled bikes to a local school following their participation in the annual W.R.E.N.C.H. Cycle of Giving. From left to right: Jamie Hilland, Shoni Madden, School Representative, Mike Wakely (Co-op Student), Greg Propp

In May of this year, we entered new territory, expanding our reach eastward and launching an office in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The goal is to be more present locally and build on the work we are already doing with the community. Just under eight months later, and a lot has happened in our branch to the east. Three talented, local consultants have been welcomed to the team, joining Mike Wakely who has been working in the office since May, and all with very specific and complimentary skills that will serve their community well.

Finding local professionals is always a priority for any new branch, and Shoni Madden, Jamie Hilland and Greg Propp are no exceptions. All born and raised in Winnipeg, they are proud of their hometown and excited to be able to work on projects that will make it an even better place to live, not just for themselves, but in the case of Shoni and Jamie, their children as well.

Shoni and Jamie taking the South Coast cargo bike for a spin

“I only got into this because I wanted my kids to bike,” Jamie reveals. “A former co-worker advertised a position with Green Action Centre on Facebook. It was the first job I applied for after being a stay-at-home dad for a number of years.” Jamie, along with Shoni, have been working together for several years, focusing on Active School Travel for Green Action Centre. Shoni’s passion for sustainable transportation grew from a motivation to live car-free, and has worked in this area for ten years. Her previous work challenged her to bring new approaches and understandings about transportation options to the city, from alternative vehicles to the establishment of School Travel Planning nationally. As a founding director of Peg City Car Co-op, Shoni says, “I had the opportunity to come to learn from the Modo team in Vancouver, and we used a lot of their systems and knowledge to build an effective model for our city!”

Meanwhile, having graduated from the University of Manitoba’s Civil Engineering program in 2011, Greg immediately launched himself into a career in land development in a large firm. Two years on, however, he felt his focus shifting and transitioned into transportation. In 2014, he developed a strong interest in active transportation, solidified following the 2014 Winter Cycling Congress (WCC), hosted in Winnipeg. “That’s when my interest in active transportation design really took off, especially cycling facility design,” Greg recalls. “I knew I really wanted to get into those kinds of projects if I could.” In fact, it was at the WCC that he attended a full-day bicycle facilities design course run by Brian Patterson from our Vancouver office. Greg viewed Urban Systems as a leader in active transportation, but without an office in Winnipeg, it wasn’t a career direction he could realistically pursue. So, when the local branch was announced, he started reaching out and setting a plan for how he could join the team, successfully adding his name to the office staff list in late November this year.

For Jamie and Shoni, it was a chance collaboration between the Green Action Centre and Urban Systems that began the rumblings of them joining the team. Jamie had previously met Brian at the Walk Bike Places Conference in Vancouver in 2016 (formerly Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place), but for Shoni her transition started a cold day in March. “I just remember us going out for a bike ride in the middle of March when it was minus 30 and afterward, we were invited to attend the meeting with the design team who would be designing the bike lanes for the route we were riding,” Shoni shares. They participated in the discussion, with she and Jamie having a great time and feeling valued. “Sometimes coming from the non-profit sector you fight so hard to push an agenda forward and be taken seriously. It was incredible to be invited into the design process by a team of consultants that really wanted to find a way to work closely together.”

Shoni admits that it was Jamie’s idea to push for their joining the Urban Systems team, and thanks to what he calls a “casual” email about the potential to join forces on School Travel Planning in Canada, Shoni and Jamie officially joined the team mid-October. Their goal is to continue building on the work they have been doing around school travel planning both within Manitoba but also across the country. They have been chairing the national working group for active school travel for the last year and a half, testing out models that have worked in other communities, learning from each other, measuring results and addressing challenges. Shoni sees the opportunity – and need – for the current models to evolve, aligning advocacy with professional services to really look at all the transportation challenges schools face.

Introducing Greg Propp

“I like the holistic model, looking at the bigger picture,” Jamie states. “Especially now that we have a broader team of engineers and planners to tap into.” He sees this as a way forward to providing a more sustainable program to the schools and communities they will work with – a collaboration that looks at how everyone travels through an area, and not just through a narrow active transportation lens. And it’s in these areas where having Greg to collaborate with will enhance the work they are all doing.

“What was so intriguing about joining the Winnipeg team was that it is such a small office,” Greg explains, “and there’s an opportunity to help grow the office and develop our own culture here.” While the three build the market in Winnipeg, Greg will also be working closely with the transportation team in the South Coast, and is excited for the opportunity to work in other areas of Canada.

The opportunities for the Winnipeg office to work locally and further afield are growing day by day, whether through continued work on school travel planning, traffic and safety studies, public engagement or cycling network plans. Shoni, Jamie and Greg are all eager to explore the possibilities of this new adventure and how their small but mighty branch will grow. As Greg points out, “It’s an exciting challenge to see what else is out there.”


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