Winnipeg's resounding “no” on the election plebiscite question about reopening Portage and Main to pedestrians has left the civic administration in a quandary on how to improve accessibility and appearances for both the at-grade crossing and underground concourse.

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This article was published 25/10/2018 (1184 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg's resounding "no" on the election plebiscite question about reopening Portage and Main to pedestrians has left the civic administration in a quandary on how to improve accessibility and appearances for both the at-grade crossing and underground concourse.

John Kiernan, the City of Winnipeg's director of planning, property and development, said changes are coming for the intersection, but what those changes are is still unknown.

"We still have to do something with Portage and Main," Kiernan told reporters Thursday. "I think that was commonly acknowledged during the last several months."

Officially, council’s last formal position on the intersection was to study how it can be upgraded, with the objective of removing the barriers. When council ordered the plebiscite at its meeting in July, that direction wasn’t reversed, but the administration did put the matter on hold pending the outcome of Wednesday's vote.

Kiernan said the administration expects to proceed with upgrading the intersection while keeping some form of barriers in place, but added council has to give that direction, likely at its meeting in November.

He said with the decision made on maintaining the barriers, officials will be looking at improving accessibility between the underground and the street.

One option under consideration, Kiernan said, is closing the bunker-like concrete stairwells and working with the adjacent property owners for a better link between the levels through their buildings.

Kiernan said the barriers will remain but not necessarily the same concrete ones that are there now, suggesting they could be replaced with bollards or railing or something "more permeable," that removes the sense of the barriers without removing them physically.

While building owners are concerned about the deterioration of the membrane that covers the underground level, Kiernan said the city has no idea what condition it’s in. The membrane over the entire underground, he said, is buried one metre under the road surface.

"We have very limited information right now," Kiernan said. "What we know is there’s a membrane that’s been in place for 40 years. We’re concerned as we uncover it… we know it’s at the end of its life cycle."

Kiernan said city administration is not in favour of a partial reopening -- perhaps during evenings or weekends -- explaining the direction from the plebiscite was clear to everyone.

He said the discussion prompted by the plebiscite was good for the city, as a whole.

"I think it’s really good we talk as a community about our downtown and city building and what’s important for urban development. This is one of those conversations people had over the dinner table, on their vacations, they had conversations with their friends about Portage and Main," Kiernan said.

"This is a conversation about what kind of city do you want to have, what do you want it to look like --being able to study and go forward."

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca