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Portage and Main reopening has legs

Councillor has support to kick-start debate

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It's the debate in Winnipeg that never seems to end: Should Portage and Main be reopened to pedestrians?

The issue resurfaces at city council today.

Coun. Jenny Gerbasi said Tuesday the city should consider having a plan in place to reopen the famous intersection before the window of opportunity arrives in 2017.

"If we had a plan in place, (if) there was political will, we could work with the property owners," said Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry), who will introduce a motion calling for the administration to produce options to facilitate pedestrian movement at the intersection.

The intersection was closed in the late 1970s for construction of the underground shopping mall and cannot be reopened until the end of 2016.

Previous attempts to reopen the intersection failed.

The most recent was in 2004 by former mayor Glen Murray, but the affected property owners wouldn't give unanimous consent.

Opponents argue reopening the intersection would pose a threat to pedestrians -- who would be unable to cross eight lanes of traffic in the standard time before a light change -- and traffic patterns would be disrupted.

Coun. Dan Vandal, chairman of the public works committee, supports Gerbasi's motion. He recently secured support for a study to prohibit heavy truck traffic along Provencher Boulevard and through the intersection of Portage and Main.

Gerbasi said other communities have dealt with the issue of traffic flow versus pedestrians in key intersections, adding a report on the available options and methods should be prepared in advance of 2017, the date when the city has the legal right to reopen Portage and Main.

"This is the most famous intersection in Winnipeg, but people have been removed from it for the past 35 years," Gerbasi said.

"We should revisit this issue -- just how unsafe it is or not" to reopen it.

Architect Brent Bellamy applauds Gerbasi.

He said keeping the intersection closed is a major obstacle for downtown development.

"The arguments against (reopening it) have just been ridiculous," Bellamy said.

"People are going to die because they're going to get hit by all the cars... or it's too cold to go outside..."

Bellamy said reopening the intersection is the first step in redesigning downtown and making it more people-oriented.

"The pedestrian environment (downtown) has been completely destroyed because we've been planning for the car," Bellamy said.

"In a city with almost nothing significant about it, we have one thing that's famous (Portage and Main) and it's closed off to people."

Bellamy said Portage and Main has been a barrier to development of the east Portage area because people don't cross the intersection and venture into that area.

Portage and Main "acts as a wall dividing the downtown because people get there and they stop.

"If you open it up, The Forks is connected to the Exchange District, which is then connected to Portage Avenue, and they all feed off each other."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 25, 2013 B2


Updated on Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 8:16 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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