Storyboards provoke mixed reaction to opening Portage & Main to pedestrians


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Portage and Main was just an intersection of ox cart trails through swamp land 150 years ago, and we don’t try to bring the wetland back, do we?

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/02/2016 (2498 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Portage and Main was just an intersection of ox cart trails through swamp land 150 years ago, and we don’t try to bring the wetland back, do we?

That was the “back to the future” reaction of some people to the possibility of reopening the city’s famous intersection to pedestrian traffic.

Until Wednesday, Winnipeg Downtown BIZ will have a display of storyboards in the Winnipeg Square concourse beneath the intersection to get people thinking about reopening foot traffic above ground. Mayor Brian Bowman campaigned on a promise to return the intersection to foot traffic.

Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press Office workers in the rotunda underneath Portage and Main take an opportunity to look at some of the architectural renderings on display.

Paul Tomlinson said people have forgotten why pedestrian traffic was diverted underground in the first place: because of terrible traffic snafus at Portage and Main.

“I think it’s a horrendous idea. The traffic’s bad enough in this area,” said Tomlinson, a salesman who drives through Portage and Main up to four times daily. It would be a longer traffic stop because it’s a long jaunt to cross the famous intersection on foot.

If the city did open up the intersection again, Tomlinson believes the city would need to do what he’s seen in Tokyo, where there is a pedestrian-only feature added to traffic light cycle. That would require a light stoppage where all vehicle traffic stops, and people can cross Portage and Main every which way, including diagonally.

Darwin Ballegeer thinks opening up the intersections would be positive. “I think it’s time,” said Ballegeer, who works downtown, and travels to work both by bus and personal vehicle.

“I’ve been on both sides of the issue. Now I’m more for thinking maybe we should, and I wonder how much growth we’ve forgone” by not allowing foot traffic since 1978. Ballegeer pointed out there has been a lot of exciting downtown developments since the pedestrian crossings were stopped.

“When the weather is nice I don’t want to have to go underground. I’d rather walk at street level.”

That’s the direction the Downtown BIZ is leaning. “We see it generally as more traffic, more opportunities, for merchants downtown,” said Stephanie Voyce, a BIZ manager.

“We look at it in terms of vibrancy. A lot of people drive through Portage and Main without stopping. If they have more reasons to stop, it would generate more economic activity as a whole.”

Architect James Hutchings is against the move, but admits his is a minority opinion among architects.

However, if the city wants to reopen foot traffic at the intersection, it should build raised sidewalks for pedestrian traffic, like you see in Singapore. Then it should allow for “lots of crazy-ass billboards like in Times Square. Right now, it looks the same as any intersection in Toronto.”

Another idea from passersby is to put vehicle traffic underground for a couple blocks, if the city wants to spend some money, which it doesn’t. That’s being done in some cities like Boston.

Another passerby said Winnipeggers should be thankful they can walk “from the Richardson Building to The Bay” via an indoor corridor without putting on a parka. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said about Portage and Main.

The Downtown and Exchange District BIZs will hold closed-door sessions with area property owners on Thursday. It is also bringing in Tim Tompkins, President of the Times Square Alliance, which works to improve and promote Times Square.


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