Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Offensive linemen move faster than buses

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On opening night for Winnipeg's new football stadium, at the height of the evening rush, it took one hour and four minutes for a 161 Super Express bus to make the 12-kilometre trip from the University of Winnipeg to the University of Manitoba.

The first 11 kilometres took 35 minutes. So-called rapid transit appeared somewhat rapid.

But the final kilometre took 27 minutes as buses piled up in a jam at the intersection of Pembina Highway and University Crescent and then crawled toward Investors Group Field.

"We have some work to do," said the driver as the bus pulled up at the new $200-million stadium. Most of his passengers got off at Pembina Highway and walked the rest of the way.

This inauspicious debut does not bode well for what was, until Wednesday, a grand attempt to convince many Winnipeggers to use transit.

Residents of this city are brought up to believe they have a God-given right to drive wherever they want, whenever they want and park directly in front of the door of their destination. When that expectation is not met, Winnipeggers become angry, frustrated and confused -- at least at first.

Then we do what all humans do when confronted with a problem: We solve it by changing our behaviour.

Some fans, predicting congestion Wednesday night, tried to take transit instead.

"I thought this would be more rapid transit than it is," said Ken Marbach, a Southdale resident who had not been on a bus for 20 years before Wednesday night.

After his bus crawled along University Crescent for almost half an hour, he said he wouldn't try transit again on game day unless the kinks are worked out.

Eventually, transit and Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans alike will figure out how to get to and from Investors Group Field. But it's going to take time.

When the MTS Centre was about to open on Portage Avenue in 2004, some pessimists complained the downtown hockey arena would create traffic and parking chaos. Some feared there wouldn't be enough parking spots despite the fact there are tens of thousands of stalls downtown.

In 2013, even though the Winnipeg Jets attract larger crowds than the Manitoba Moose ever did, it's easy to find a free parking spot on a street within seven blocks of the MTS Centre.

The opening of the MTS Centre also elicited fears of downtown traffic gridlock before and after events at the new arena. To be fair, there were traffic tie-ups the first few occasions the MTS Centre was sold out for a major concert.

But since motorists have an amazing capacity to adapt, avoiding those bottlenecks soon became as instinctive as slowing down before red-light-camera intersections.

As soon as the U of M was revealed as the new home for the Blue Bombers, new fears about gridlock and parking emerged. This happened in spite of the fact many Bombers fans who travelled by car to reach Canad Inns Stadium routinely walked long distances from parking spots scattered about the Polo Park neighbourhood, the fringes of the West End and even the south side of the Assiniboine River.

Almost every regular stadium-goer had a favourite place to park at the old stadium. It will take time for tens of thousands of fans to find a similar preferred spot at the new stadium. It's obvious this adjustment period will take longer than it did for the MTS Centre, which holds events more frequently than this stadium will.

Transit must adapt. Drivers will probably adapt even sooner.

What will be interesting is whether more Winnipeggers will take transit to the new stadium. Though free bus rides have been available to Bombers ticket-holders for years, only about one in 20 took transit to Canad Inns Stadium.

The hope is about three in 20 will take transit to Investors Group Field, using park-and-ride routes or buses themselves. That could be a tough sell, given the long delays Wednesday night.

This ride would be easier if the city and province ever find a way to complete the Southwest Transitway and create a new transit hub outside Investors Group Field. The vacant Southwood Golf Course land, awaiting redevelopment just north of the stadium, is a blank slate for a new transit corridor or spur line.

But that's five years away, at best. In the meantime, it took far too long for many transit riders to reach the stadium Wednesday.

Only when it becomes more convenient to ride will motorists give up the drive.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 13, 2013 B1


Updated on Thursday, June 13, 2013 at 6:57 AM CDT: adds video

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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