A Winnipeg councillor got a scare Wednesday when he accidentally walked into oncoming traffic, coming off a downtown sidewalk that was recently narrowed by the public service.
Coun. Ross Eadie (Mynarski), who is blind, was walking north from a media interview at Portage Avenue and Main Street, towards city hall around 7:30 a.m.
When he passed around Main and Bannatyne Avenue — a strip that had part of its sidewalk narrowed this fall to accommodate a new loading zone — Eadie said he accidentally stepped off the sidewalk and into the road.
The councillor said he was met with honks from drivers passing by, and one motorist stopped to direct him back to the sidewalk.
"I just thought you know, ‘What a stupid setup.’ It makes it very difficult, especially in the winter. In the summer, there would be more identifiable markings at my cane-tip level that would have given me a cue as to where I was. But when you feel snow and stuff, it’s a different situation," Eadie said.
Afterward, the councillor blasted off an angry email to the directors of public works and planning, property and development (an email he mentioned would have contained more "F sharps" had he not been more relaxed thanks to a recent trip to Mexico).
"Please remember to consult with stakeholders before running off half-prepared for the outcomes of changing our right-of-ways!" Eadie wrote in all caps.
"I want to live a long accessible life as independently as possible. I don’t need anymore disabilities, thank you very much!"
The narrowing of the sidewalk in question drew scrutiny last year, as it shrunk from 4.9 metres wide to 2.2 metres with little public consultation.
The pavement was pared back to make way for a new loading zone in front of the School of Contemporary Dancers at 211 Bannatyne Ave., to help make room for student drop-offs after the loading zone to the west side of the building was replaced with a bike lane.
Ken Allen, a communications officer with public works, said the transportation planning division has to balance pedestrian, cyclist and motorists’ interests when designing downtown right-of-ways.
The juggling act "sometimes involves making compromises to achieve an acceptable solution for all users," he said by email.
Allen emphasized the new path still meets Winnipeg’s downtown accessibility standards, which legally require a 1.5-metre sidewalk. He said the street changes at the site included concrete pavement, curb and sidewalk repairs; construction of new curb ramps and asphalt overlay; and installation of detectable warning tiles at the intersection near 211 Bannatyne.
Eadie said he was grateful there weren’t more cars on the road at the time of the incident, but doesn’t know if the public service could improve anything about the accessibility of the strip.
On a later trip back to the area with the Free Press, Eadie couldn’t pinpoint the exact spot where he wandered into the road, but explained he must have come off the sidewalk — which is fairly low to street level — and into the loading zone, due to lack of traffic noises so early in the morning.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.