Ask anyone about the Polo Park shopping district and they'll tell you they avoid the area like the plague because of the enormous traffic congestion. What they really mean, however, is they arrive and leave in a bad mood.
The City of Winnipeg plans to spend a minimum of $30 million to speed up traffic in the area and hopefully improve the mood of thousands of shoppers who fight their way in and out every day.
The operative word is "minimum" because it could take much more than $30 million to do what needs to be done.
The city is looking at extending St. Matthews Avenue, which currently ends at Empress Street, to Route 90, as well as expanding several intersections to create turning lanes. Those measures alone will require the purchase or expropriation of many private properties, in addition to new road construction in one of the city's busiest and most highly valued retail areas.
The goal is to move traffic faster and more safely, which will become more imperative with the new developments planned for the area.
American retailer Target is moving in, while Shindico Realty is lining up numerous tenants, including a possible hotel, to fill the space that will be opened when the old Canad Inns Stadium is demolished.
The pressure on roads will increase many times over when these developments are completed because all of them are intended to attract people and their cars. Even now, it can take 15 minutes to travel one kilometre from one shopping centre to another during peak times, a problem that won't be eliminated with the planned improvements.
The city should also consider whether an internal Transit service would be feasible. It could shuttle shoppers withing the sprawling district without requiring them to get in their cars to drive across the street to another store. Retailers might object to the idea of consumers leaving their cars on company lots, but it's an idea worth considering.
What's clear is the current situation is unsafe because of the way motorists jockey for position on the roads and at intersections, or on their way in and out of parking lots.
Congestion in a retail district is a good thing, but it should be safe and not something like a root canal, a necessary, but painful experience.
The city plans to develop some plans before submitting them for public scrutiny, a process that could postpone the improvements until the end of next year, but it's worth the time to get it right. Another opportunity may not come around for another 50 years.