December 18, 2018

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Festival at Portage and Main encourages people to vote for removal of barricades

Macy Schroeder, 6, does a head stand in front of her friend Katie Daman at Open Fest Saturday. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Macy Schroeder, 6, does a head stand in front of her friend Katie Daman at Open Fest Saturday. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)

Having the intersection of Portage and Main closed to pedestrians is a 40-year experiment whose time has passed.

That was the sentiment from many people on Saturday at Open Fest, a free festival featuring local musicians, artists, food and drinks designed to celebrate the iconic intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street.

Open Fest was held on two corners of the intersection with Richardson Plaza hosting a stage with concerts, speakers, coffee and snacks, while the plaza at 201 Portage Ave. had local brewers serving up beverages.

The event's main goal was to pound the pavement for more support to take down the barriers at the intersection's corners and allow subterranean pedestrians to step into the light.

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Having the intersection of Portage and Main closed to pedestrians is a 40-year experiment whose time has passed.

That was the sentiment from many people on Saturday at Open Fest, a free festival featuring local musicians, artists, food and drinks designed to celebrate the iconic intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street.

Open Fest was held on two corners of the intersection with Richardson Plaza hosting a stage with concerts, speakers, coffee and snacks, while the plaza at 201 Portage Ave. had local brewers serving up beverages.

The event's main goal was to pound the pavement for more support to take down the barriers at the intersection's corners and allow subterranean pedestrians to step into the light.

"I just find it very strange that people think that it’s harder to be in the car for an extra 90 seconds than it is for someone who has mobility issues to cross the street. To me, that might be the epitome of not being an empathetic person," said musician J.P. Hoe. He and other local musicians such as Royal Canoe and Mahogany Frog donated their time to perform at Open Fest.

Corey Quintaine and his cat Sam live downtown. He would like to see the intersection of Portage and Main open. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Corey Quintaine and his cat Sam live downtown. He would like to see the intersection of Portage and Main open. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)

"I mean, let’s just try it for 40 years, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll put them (barriers) back up. That seems fair."

Vote Open, which means a yes vote to the question of opening Portage and Main on the Oct. 24 civic election ballot, is the mantra of the Coalition for Portage and Main, which hosted and organized Open Fest.

"I understand it's frustrating to sit in traffic. I get it. But it's not possible to build a city without prioritizing human beings over cars," said Anders Swanson, who organized the concert portion of Open Fest. "Opening Portage and Main is one of the most efficient and cost-effective things you can do because you'll encourage all kinds of development in the centre of the city."

Since 1979, people wanting to cross the intersection must go underground through the Winnipeg Square development. Stairwells and elevators to the underground concourse have been under fire for being unsanitary, unsafe and unreliable.

Not surprisingly, it was difficult to find anyone at Open Fest who wanted Portage and Main to remain closed to pedestrians.

"I think it's kind of embarrassing, actually, that we don't (have it open)," Audra Taylor, 48 said. "Go to any large cosmopolitan city, they don't block off intersections. They encourage people, they invite people, they welcome people to come downtown. Right now, it feels like the whole purpose of downtown is to shuttle you to some other place that you might want to go. It needs to be a destination."

DJ Co-op (Tim Hoover) provides the soundtrack at Portage and Main Saturday afternoon. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

DJ Co-op (Tim Hoover) provides the soundtrack at Portage and Main Saturday afternoon. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)

Matt Peters of Royal Canoe said the inconvenience of crossing underground became painfully obvious during the band's pre-release event, a scavenger hunt for 200 fans in August to promote its forthcoming album, expected to be out next year.

"The very last clue takes place here at Portage and Main, and the whole point of it was that we were going to make people go through laborious processes going from corner to corner. When I was working on the clues, it took me a half an hour to traverse the entire thing. It’s stupid," he said. "(It's) the central artery of the entire city that pedestrians can’t cross from one side of the street to the other side."

Corey Quintaine, who was out walking his 15-year-old cat, Sam, said he lives in a downtown apartment and wants the intersection to allow foot traffic.

"I'm all for it. Living here, this is my neighbourhood. I want my own neighbourhood to be walkable, exciting and accessible," he said. "Above ground, you're visible to other pedestrians and traffic. The concourse downstairs, there are blind corners and dark stairwells and that's not comfortable for everyone."

Anthony Urso, 18, said "it's a big hassle" for people to have to walk or wheel a block in each direction if they want to cross above ground.

Robert Dupre, 51, of Laurier was in Winnipeg on Saturday to pick up his new puppy, Rex, and said, as a guest at the hotel, opening the intersection would make it easier for visitors to get around downtown.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Ashley Prest

Ashley Prest
Reporter

Ashley works the general assignment beat.

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