Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pedestrians risk life and limb

Dodge traffic after pathway submerged

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High water and heavy construction have choked off key walkways through one of Winnipeg's busiest downtown routes, triggering a jaywalking jam many fear is a disaster waiting to happen.

On Monday afternoon, as the first waves of southbound rush-hour traffic started to flow south down Osborne Street from downtown, dozens of pedestrians and cyclists gingerly picked their way between oncoming cars to make it to Osborne Bridge's single open sidewalk.

"This is what passes for planning in this city," said Paul Hesse, who walks or bikes every day from his Osborne Village home to his downtown law office. "It's terrible. Something has to be done."

The problem: Since Monday morning, the east side of the Osborne Bridge sidewalk has been closed to accommodate the bridge's year-long rehabilitation.

The city expected pedestrians and cyclists crossing the bridge from Osborne Village to use a path underneath the bridge's north side to get to the legislature grounds or the Assiniboine Avenue bikeway.

But with that walkway deep under the swollen Assiniboine River and no temporary crossing from Mostyn Place to the legislature grounds, pedestrians walking downtown are forced to either walk north to Broadway -- or, as hundreds of people did on Monday, nip across three lanes of bustling Osborne Street traffic.

Until the underpass reopens, Hesse worries, a scheme that pushes dozens of people an hour across Osborne Street traffic risks tragedy. "People haven't been warned about this," he said, minutes after a construction worker in a bright orange vest helped escort an elderly woman through the traffic.

"Will people have to risk lives crossing illegally through Osborne's traffic?"

Monday was a holiday for city employees, who were not available to discuss the issue in-depth.

But in an email to Hesse on April 21, a city bridge engineer acknowledged the concern and said the city had "considered installing a temporary crossing at street level but determined that it is not safe to do so."

The letter also noted that once the Assiniboine River water level retreats, the city will raise the walking path so it isn't impacted by future flooding.

The bridge-level sidewalk will not re-open until October. The bridge project will also add a permanent pedestrian crosswalk between Assiniboine Avenue and Mostyn Place, the city said, but that will not be open until October 2012.

At the impromptu crossing on Monday, some pedestrians scooting between cars were taken aback by the city's decision.

"It's too dangerous (to put a temporary crossing)? Oh, that's good," said Kendall Hinds, an Osborne Village resident, on his way to toss a Frisbee on the legislature grounds.

"They really thought this one through -- this is the major access point into the village."

On the flip side, drivers seemed to understand that too, as they slowed down and stopped on Monday to let pedestrians and bikers cross. "It's a little inconvenient, but for the most part motorists have been really considerate," said bike commuter Bonnie Van Steelandt, waiting for an opening in traffic to pedal across to the west side of Osborne Street.

"But it would be nice to have a crosswalk here. I don't know the right answer -- I just hope it doesn't last long."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2011 B1

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