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Architects go bold in re-imagining Winnipeg transportation

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It is well-established that architects are somewhat obsessed with transportation. And for good reason.

It is difficult to design a new building, or a series of buildings, without thinking about moving people and vehicles to, from, in and around those structures. And for that reason, transportation is the focus of the second edition of the Re-imagining Winnipeg project (held at the Winnipeg Free Press Neww Cafe on Thursday, 7 p.m.), a joint effort by Storefront Manitoba and the Free Press to conjure wild and daring ideas for changing this city and how it functions.

In the first edition, convened last fall, some of Winnipeg's prominent architects provided us with their most eccentric visions for a re-imagined city. This produced proposals for cross-city walking trails and green spaces, a redeveloped floodway for year-round recreational use within city limits, and a daring vision to bring new, post-prairie parkland to all areas of the city including a dramatic new central park right at Portage and Main.

This time, we've turned our attention to transportation, specifically how people and vehicles move in, around, to and from downtown. The ideas submitted by the architects reflect a broad understanding that a building and its transportation routes are indelibly connected. "I think what good architects do is think not only about the building, but about the quality of the spaces, the quality of the neighborhoods and the quality of the cities as well," said Johanna Hurme of 5468796 architecture. "Although we are not claiming any specific expertise over transportation, we're always thinking about how to make a better city."

1. Curing our downtown parking woes

David Penner architect

Parking is a top-of-mind issue for downtown residents and businesses. The city is currently in the process of increasing the cost of street parking in a bid to get more turnover. Architect David Penner took an entirely different approach to "solving" downtown parking woes: redesign street parking to double the total number of spaces.

Angled parking is common in many cities, and in smaller towns where businesses are concentrated on one street. and it's important to create as much parking as possible. Penner added angled parking to a sample area on Fort and Garry Streets between Broadway and Portage Avenue. With his redesign, Penner found space for a total of 785 street parking spaces, considerably more than the 427 existing spots.

However, it's not just the sheer number of spots, it's what that additional parking can do for the vibrancy of those streets. Penner's proposal increases considerably pedestrian traffic with people moving to and from their cars. This would support and aid street-level businesses on streets that currently are among the least travelled in downtown.

2. Removing barriers to create a new Main Street pedestrian district

Smith-Carter Architects

When Smith-Carter Architects looked at downtown Winnipeg, they saw barriers that hamstring its potential to draw people. If those barriers could be removed, a new "Main Street District" would be created, the likes of which this city has never seen.

Specifically, Smith-Carter would take the elevated CN main line, which runs east of Main Street separating it from the Forks and Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and conceal it in a tunnel. The proposal also calls for Main Street between Assiniboine and Graham Avenues to be routed through a tunnel. With these two changes, a world of possibilities opens up.

A bold, new pedestrian mall would be created on top of the buried rail line and street. The Forks would now be connected to the VIA Rail Station. Farther north, the much-debated Parcel 4 -- city-owned land across from the museum -- would be converted into green space that completes a the new mall. The train station could then be redeveloped into a new central hub for public transit of all kinds.

3. Light Rail Transit Loop

James Hutchings architect

The city's own transportation master plan concedes that "innovative and proactive transportation solutions" will be needed to ensure current and future economic prosperity. Architect James Hutching's proposal certainly tests the city's commitment to its own transportation vision.

While Smith-Carter would bury the CN Main Line, Hutchings would reroute it south and east of the city limits, so that existing rail beds could be used for LRT use. VIA Rail passenger trains would continue to use the main line to access the downtown train station.

In addition, Hutchings would create a LRT loop around downtown. The loop would run at street level on Memorial Blvd. and Broadway, and below ground on Main Street and Portage Avenue. The loop would give commuters a reliable way of moving around downtown after connecting to the loop via bus or LRT from outlying areas of the city.

Here, the VIA station becomes the central rapid transit hub, with commuters disembarking buses or trains from outlying areas, and connecting to the loop for other points downtown.

-- -- --

As was the case with the first Re-Imagining Winnipeg forum, these proposals for re-inventing transportation are bold, courageous and, some might say, potentially impractical given the enormous costs. However, according to Hurme, there can be no great advance in architecture or planning without bold and sometimes impractical thinking.

"We need these visions to inspire new ways of thinking, new ideas," she said. "Without those free-wheeling exchange of ideas, we'll never be able to make the leap to what's really possible. You need to put the 'no' out of your mind to make progress."

Re-Imagining Winnipeg 2.0:

Re-inventing transportation downtown.

Winnipeg Free Press News Cafe

237 McDermot Avenue

Thursday January 24 - 7 PM

Admission is free.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 19, 2013 B1


Updated on Saturday, January 19, 2013 at 11:21 AM CST: corrects typo

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