I’ve always been a wanderer and as a young boy would roam the streets of downtown Winnipeg. Pocketing the bus money given to me by my parents, I walked for hours just to get somewhere. Portage Place fountain, the skywalks, Centennial library and even the underground concourse beneath Portage and Main St. were all places of destination for a young curious mind.
I guess, you could say, I learned to navigate my city at a young age. Back then, I never gave the barricades lining the most iconic intersection much of a second notice. It was all I ever knew, although I do recall a time or two bolting over the wall and sprinting across the street to save time.
As I grew up, I began to travel the world. Europe, Asia, Africa, Central America. So many amazing cities and places. Vibrant, walkable, cycling cities stood out in my mind. There was so much life on the streets. In Bangladesh and India, I learned the skill of crossing between rickshaws, cars, trucks and people – head up and keep walking, don’t hesitate. In south east Asia and China, it was the street sellers and food vendors. I recall vividly the rush of cycling through Beijing and Tiananmen square with thousands of other cyclists. Europe had narrow streets, slower traffic and much more developed public transport systems.
In these downtown places, traffic was often chaotic, noisy, unpredictable and, as in Varanasi, India – unorganized. But pedestrians and cyclists had the same right to be on the street as vehicles. It wasn’t a “car” going somewhere or a “bike” going somewhere, it was a person going somewhere and their choice of transportation did not restrict their movement.
Winnipeg has an intense car culture. We drive big, fast vehicles. We hate getting stopped at red lights and we race off the line at greens. Our predilection to our metal beasts often causes irrational thinking while behind the wheel if any little thing hinders a smooth commute. I know. I am a driver and I have been there. But I am a walker and a cyclist too. I want to see a downtown vibrant with life and people on the streets.
Opening Portage and Main to pedestrian traffic is good for the city. It is good for the future growth and development of our downtown. It is good for accessibility and it is good for improving safety on our streets.
Crossing Portage & Main Outside – What is Involved: A simple tour
Looking at the Richardson Building and faced with barricades, I left from the TD building and made my way to McDermot Ave. I waited for some time before the light said to walk and then I crossed 8 lanes of traffic quite uneventfully.
I noted that it took me 24 seconds to cross the street at a moderate pace. The distance was 342 meters and 4 minutes and 15 seconds to reach the Richardson Building. Funny enough, there was not a single car in sight at Portage & Main when I arrived.
I could see the Bank of Montreal across the street. There was no traffic and there was no way to cross. If I were to cross at a controlled crosswalk, I would have to walk to Westbrook St and back – 447 meters. To heck with that – it took me less than 15 seconds to saunter 20 meters across the street with two other pedestrians.
While standing in front of the majestic Bank of Montreal building I had a thought that I would poke my head into the underground for old times sake and see how long it would take me to get back to the Richardson Building. I quickly changed my mind after going down the stairs and through the door. I just did not feel comfortable being alone with the group of people I saw in the dimly lit hallway between me and the concourse beyond.
From the Bank of Montreal, I continued on to Pioneer Ave and waiting for the crossing light. Once again, I crossed 8 lanes of traffic without any fanfare and made my way to the Scotia Bank Building.
It was a much shorter distance at 227 meters but not a lot shorter in time at 4 minutes 8 seconds after waiting for the lights.
Upon reaching the Scotia Bank Building I found a sign pointing west to the pedestrian underground crossing. Also on that sign, is a map that seems to be there to help pedestrians and tourists understand where they are and orient themselves.
It is no wonder some people get confused. The sign is not even oriented properly to what you see in front of you.
The Dead Zone
Pushing people underground at Portage and Main St. causes a dead zone to pedestrian traffic. There is an area of 16,424 sq meters or 177,000 sq ft, 19,463 sq yards or 4.06 acres of downtown Winnipeg where people cannot cross the street. To put it into some perspective, that would be equivalent to 3.07 football fields.
Referendum, Plebiscite, Poll, Opinion – same difference, same bad idea
Posing this issue as a question on our ballot in October is not a great idea.
How will that question be worded? Will it ask, “Do you want Portage & Main to be opened to pedestrian traffic?” or will it ask, “Would you support the opening of Portage & Main if a comprehensive traffic plan to minimize vehicle delay and maximize pedestrian accessibility can be devised?”
A question can be leading. A question can be too simple if people have not taken the time to properly inform themselves and come to an educated decision before standing in the voting hall.
If most Winnipeggers were honest with themselves, the vast majority would admit that removing the barricades will not affect their daily life one bit. If they remained honest, they would probably admit that they actually really don’t care what happens to the barricades.
Yet when the majority of voters see the question on the ballot, it will evoke a visceral, gut reaction. And they will answer that question, whatever it may be, by how they feel in that moment.
Let’s hope that question is well worded and that Winnipeggers think positively and optimistically about what our future downtown could look like if we remain progressive in our ideas.