Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Getting in not bad, but try leaving

Still some kinks to be ironed out as new stadium welcomes fans

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Based on the first two football games at Investors Group Field, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have an incredibly accommodating group of fans.

At least 13,000 of the 33,500 people who paid to watch the first regular-season Canadian Football League game at Winnipeg's new football stadium travelled to the $200-million venue by means other than cars.

That works out to an astounding 39 per cent of the audience in a city where conventional wisdom held -- as recently as three weeks ago -- ordinary people would sooner immerse themselves in a vat of wood ticks than use Winnipeg Transit or take a bicycle to a football game.

According to the Winnipeg Football Club, approximately 10,000 fans took buses to Thursday night's Blue Bomber home opener, while about 12,000 took transit or chartered school buses home.

On top of that, 1,222 bicycles were locked up at the stadium, either inside the free bicycle valet or elsewhere on the grounds, according to Anders Swanson, a Winnipeg cycling activist and one of the bike-valet volunteers on Thursday.

These tallies, which do not account for the unknown number of south Winnipeg residents who walked to the game, speak to a remarkable willingness on behalf of Bomber fans to get out of that most cherished of comforts, the personal motor vehicle.

A cynic would argue so many fans took transit or rode bikes because driving to Investors Group Field is too much of a pain in the posterior. But even if that's the case, there's something heartening about the notion football fans are capable of not just accommodating the requests of the game-day planners but actually exceeding their expectations.

According to almost every account, getting to Investors Group Field on June 27 was a vastly more efficient experience than it was on June 12, when traffic clogged all arteries around the stadium and thousands of fans couldn't make it on time.

For example, park-and-ride buses made it to the stadium from as far away as Garden City in as little as 35 minutes on Thursday. The comparable figure for June 12 was one hour and 15 minutes.

Given only 15 days to amend the game plan, the combined efforts of football club officials, Winnipeg Transit, the Winnipeg Police Service, the University of Manitoba and senior City of Winnipeg officials resulted in a dramatic and marked improvement in stadium access.

Thursday was far from perfect, though. While the overwhelming majority of fans who attended both games found it easier to get to the stadium, getting out was a less efficient experience for thousands of fans.

A walk around the U of M campus following Thursday's game revealed long waits for motorists who purchased on-campus parking spots. Some were still trying to leave their lots one hour after the game.

More significantly, there was widespread confusion among transit passengers about where they should catch their buses. This became potentially dangerous due to a Manitoba Hydro failure that resulted in no streetlights along Chancellor Matheson Road.

There also was either a shortage or misallocation of buses for several park-and-ride routes. Some fans bound for Transcona waited until 12:30 a.m. -- well over an hour after the game ended -- to board buses that would get them home after 1 a.m. on a weeknight.

A trio of Transcona-bound fans, after giving up on the park-and-ride wait, jumped on the last downtown-bound Route 160 bus and wondered aloud about whether they could afford the time commitments now required of attending Bomber games. For fans living far from the stadium, the CFL is now a seven-hour commitment, as it takes at least two hours to get both to and from a three-hour football game.

Of course, Winnipeggers will eventually grow accustomed to the new stadium. But the loss of even a few hundred season-ticket holders in the short term would mean trouble for the Bombers, whose business plan depends on a bustling building.

The good news is, concession revenues appear to be strong, based on the constant bustle of activity on the concourse -- and the only complaint espoused by cycling activist Swanson about the stadium.

"The ATMs are down," he said. "Either that, or they're out of money."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2013 A4

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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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