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This article was published 16/4/2018 (848 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Traffic-snarled New York City took cars off the road at Times Square without causing carmageddon, so there's no reason pedestrians shouldn't be able to cross Portage and Main in Winnipeg, says New York's former transportation commissioner.
"Moving people off of streets is really 1950s thinking," Janette Sadik-Khan said Monday.
"And to put them underground? We're not rats. We're wanting to get people on the streets. Cars don't shop, people shop."
Critics of opening the intersection at Portage and Main and allowing pedestrians to walk across the street instead of using underground tunnels have said it will create traffic gridlock on one of the busiest intersections in the city.
Sadik-Khan said the same fears were heard in New York when they decided to transform about four kilometres of Broadway, including closing it completely to traffic at Times Square, to make it more pedestrian friendly.
In its place are pedestrian plazas and spaces and more bike lanes.
The changes have also resulted in improving motorist travel times on other streets, but also reducing motorist and pedestrian injuries while increasing pedestrian volumes, Sadik-Khan said.
"The strategy isn't to get cars as fast as possible from A to B, it's to get everyone around... cities have learned when you add more lanes you don't increase traffic flow. After 50 years we know this strategy doesn't work. Nobody says we will solve obesity by increasing your belt size," she said.
Sadik-Khan was commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation from 2007 to 2013 under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. These days she works at Bloomberg Associates, a philanthropic consultancy agency established by the former mayor. Sadik-Khan's role is to travel the world helping mayors and city planners make citizen-friendly improvements to street redesigns.
Winnipeggers should embrace pedestrians crossing their city's iconic intersection instead of fearing it, she said, while praising Mayor Brian Bowman and city council for making moves to opening Portage and Main to pedestrians again.
City council approved a plan last October for more studies, cost estimates and another vote on removing the barricades that were erected in the late 1970s as part of an agreement with six adjacent property owners to move people underground.
"I think it's wonderful you're looking at opening Portage and Main to pedestrians. It's where everybody goes to celebrate — especially a Stanley Cup," she said.
Sadik-Khan and other transportation experts are in Winnipeg to participate in the inaugural Mode Shift festival of human-scale cities, which aims to explore transportation, culture and health.
The event, which runs for a week with a series of public events, brings together planners, artists, elementary school students, city builders, professional designers, politicians and business people to look at making the city's streets more pedestrian friendly.
Anders Swanson, Mode Shift's program director and executive director of Winnipeg Trails, said transportation issues should be about more than just cars and trucks.
"The way we move, especially how we want to move, is changing fast," Swanson said.
"This event is about how to make that transition a good one, a quick one, one where we end up with more patios, more bike lanes, more jobs, more money, and well, all-round happier people. This is about fixing our roads for good.
"Our streetscape should be our landscape, but it isn't when we put machines there... freeways don't make a city. No one has ever come come back from France with a postcard of a freeway."
New York is not the only place where changes have been made for pedestrians.
Herbert Tiemens, a Dutch road design expert and bicycle policy advisor to the Kingdom of Netherlands, said whenever he comes to North America he hears something he doesn't hear in his country.
"I'm always amazed about the noise of the traffic and how hard it is to cross streets," Tiemens said.
"In the Netherlands we abandoned jaywalking and allowed people to cross everywhere on the street. People were doing it already. We've made other changes for pedestrians and it has worked very well.
"People don't want to go back to what it was before. They see the profit of the (retail) go up and the number of accidents go down."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
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