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Concept of re-opening Portage & Main kept alive at committee

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A public works official said more than 200,000 people drive through the intersection of Portage & Main every day in vehicles, while the department estimates only about 1,000 people would cross the intersection on a daily basis if it were re-opened.

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A public works official said more than 200,000 people drive through the intersection of Portage & Main every day in vehicles, while the department estimates only about 1,000 people would cross the intersection on a daily basis if it were re-opened.

The potential for re-opening Portage and Main to pedestrians was kept alive at city hall this morning.

But the members of the public works committee were unable to agree on how they did it.

The four councillors – chairman Justin Swandel, Jenny Gerbasi, Devi Sharma and Dan Vandal – voted on a motion to keep the concept alive but later they each had their own version of the wording of what they had voted on.

It may not have mattered so much to Swandel – he was the lone vote against the motion.

Gerbasi was the most vocal supporter of re-opening the intersection, saying that city council has to champion the concept if it’s ever to become a reality.

"I think there is some real momentum on this," Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) said. "It’s a question of political will."

Gerbasi wanted the committee to vote on a motion that would forward the issue to the standing downtown committee, which would take the lead in pushing it ahead.

The intersection was closed to pedestrians when the property owners on the corner built the underground complex. The deal expires in 2019 but Swandel said any one of the property owners can trigger a 40-year extension. Swandel (St. Norbert) said the city has to first convince the property owners to re-open the intersection or all their efforts will be wasted.

Vandal (St. Boniface) repeatedly asked for the wording of the motion before voting; Gerbasi kept changing the wording and said it should include everything everyone was talking about, as long as the priority was re-opening the intersection to pedestrians.

It was left to the committee clerk to piece together everything that was said and to formally write out a motion to be included in the meeting minutes.

Stephanie Voyce, of the Downtown BIZ, appeared as a delegation in support of the re-opening.

Voyce said the BIZ favours a one-year pilot opening, where the various options considered in an administrative report could be tried and seen the impact on businesses on the street and in the underground.

Swandel said Gerbasi was focused on re-opening the intersection, when he believed the issue should be to develop ways to make the famous corner more pedestrian-friendly, including re-opening it to pedestrians.

Swandel said all hopes for reviving the intersection die if the Gerbasi’ narrow goal of re-opening the intersection fails.

Gerbasi countered that there have been numerous studies examining the intersection and they all conclude that re-opening the intersection is the key to luring more pedestrians, adding other initiatives will only complement the re-opening.

An administrative report examined options to re-opening the intersection to pedestrians but staff’s comments showed they weren’t supportive of the idea.

The report ruled out a "scramble" crossing – where traffic lights in all directions are red for a period of time to allow people to cross as they like – but said other crossing methods should be studied further before any decision is made to commit to re-opening the intersection.

A public works official said more than 200,000 people drive through the intersection every day in vehicles, while the department estimated only about 1,000 people would cross the intersection on a daily basis if it were re-opened.

"That puts everything into context," said Luis Escobar, the city’s traffic czar.

 

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 2:01 PM CDT: Corrects typos

2:28 PM: Update and writethru.

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