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Poor planning, more spending

Blog of the week: Observations, reservations, conversations

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I have written a lot about Polo Park over the years. It has become in my lifetime the central shopping district — so much so that it has squeezed out its entertainment neighbours of hockey and football.

There has been some sullenness about consumerism and moving people from box store to box store and I get that. However, the city was started as a trading area and remains a commercial city to this day. How soon we forget that Portage and Main began when one merchant tramped his way to that road corner, thumbing his nose at convention and damning the fact that the infrastructure was elsewhere.

The Bartley Kives article (Katz vs. congestion, Sunday Xtra, Dec. 9) on what is happening to improve traffic flow around Polo Park points out that Sam Katz has put a lot of stock in moving cars around the city. The amount spent on Polo Park traffic enhancement will be $30 million.

And the sad thing is that on streets where we want faster flow as motorists, more traffic lights are going up. For purely self-interested reasons, most people want to be able to step out of their house when they want, go where they want and do it as fast as they want. Faster is better.

Many cities have tried to accommodate that and have built infrastructure to achieve that. However, like health care, it can break the budget if we don’t control ourselves. In other words, if we don’t take some responsibility for our own decisions, we can expect it may cost us more time and money in the end.

By way of example: If you move to Waverley West, don’t be surprised if there isn’t a school or daycare right away and that you are caught in traffic. Despite tens of millions being spent, the roads still can’t handle the cars and the money isn’t in place to build schools.

Politicians and city planners will never be able to keep up. And like Sim City, riots and fires will erupt.

That is not to say infrastructure changes around Polo Park are not necessary. While the Free Press mentions that the route from downtown to Transcona and downtown to University of Manitoba are listed as higher priorities, the area around Polo Park has remained pretty much as we see it now for decades — aside from Silver Avenue being extended and a centre turning lane on St. James Street.

I think we can safely say that tens of millions more have been spent on Regent Avenue and Pembina Highway.

But that is neither here nor there. The city has infrastructure needs all over the place as a result of low density, low investment and poor planning.

I do want the city to invest in rapid transit. We have waited far too long to do anything and have let valuable rail lands be bought up for various developments rather that grabbing them even if it was future use as bus or light-rail corridors. At the very least, they should have been used as pedestrian and bike corridors. The Oakbank line through Polo Park and River Heights comes to mind.

But recriminations can wait.

The question is: Does Polo Park warrant $30 million in infrastructure improvements? The answer is yes.

One big change mentioned was to extend St. Matthews Avenue. This is good, except for the fact that like Silver Avenue’s extension, it doesn’t meet up in a true intersection. A retail strip blocks a true connection. Now, I am not a traffic engineer but it doesn’t take a genius to see that a solution might be to curve the street through the stadium site and the retail building. However, that seems unlikely as the city usually takes the path of least resistance.

In short, it will be a Route 90 to St. James extension and a bit of a mash-up with poor turning lanes and a pile up at the new Target. That is my guess.

There is talk about changes at Ellice Avenue and St. James Street. The lack of turning lanes means left and right lanes are often blocked through a few light cycles.

One interesting possibility is making Empress Street one way from St. Matthews north to Sargent Avenue, and making Milt Stegall Drive one way from Sargent south to St. Matthews.

In principle, I am not huge on one-way streets. I think we have far too many of them downtown and many should be turned back to two way. However, they do have their place and this might be one case. Empress is very narrow and cars turning left at Ellice Avenue or into Walmart cause chaos.

The stores along Empress such as Walmart are not nice to be around a lot of the time because the two-way traffic along the street is brutal.

The city must start taking a principled stand on developers creating turning lanes on their property, and landscaping and burying hydro lines on their streets before getting their approvals.

To the people who say this can’t be done without driving away business, the argument is bogus. Look at Grand Forks and Fargo to see how the malls there have managed traffic.

The city already has a policy about drive-thrus to prevent places like Tim Hortons having traffic lined up 20 cars deep on Kenaston Boulevard. The lineups must take place on the restaurant’s property.

As far as other traffic issues and rapid transit, I suggest the province of Manitoba get off its butt and take ownership of the rapid-transit issue. The University of Manitoba is a provincial institution. The province chose to put it at the tail end of the city. It ought to build the rapid connection to it or at least a large share of it.

And for God’s sake, stop letting abandoned rail lands get taken up for development. If Burlington Northern or CP ever give up their rail lines or land, buy the property!

The best development in the city of Winnipeg has been The Forks and that was federally driven with the province and the city along as partners. I think that success can be duplicated. It might be good to see what sort of transportation plan might originate from such a partnership.

However, back to Polo Park: There is without question good reasons to work on the roads in the area. We just have to ensure the developers are paying a lot of the freight in terms of traffic so that turning lanes and service roads are part of the solution.


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