November 17, 2018

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Poll finds Winnipeggers opposed to opening Portage and Main to pedestrians

A new poll found 67 per cent of Winnipeggers are opposed to removing the barricades at Portage and Main. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)</p>

A new poll found 67 per cent of Winnipeggers are opposed to removing the barricades at Portage and Main. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)

Those hoping for Winnipeggers to come out in droves to vote in next month's referendum in favour of reopening Portage and Main to pedestrians shouldn't hold their breath.

According to a new Probe Research survey, commissioned by CBC News, Winnipeggers are resoundingly against the idea.

Sixty-seven per cent of people interviewed for the survey — which used statistical weighting designed to make the results representative of Winnipeg’s demographics — oppose reopening the iconic intersection. The poll has a four per cent margin of error, according to Probe Research.

Only 33 per cent of those polled supported removing the barricades that have kept the Portage Avenue and Main Street intersection shuttered to foot traffic since 1979.

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Those hoping for Winnipeggers to come out in droves to vote in next month's referendum in favour of reopening Portage and Main to pedestrians shouldn't hold their breath.

According to a new Probe Research survey, commissioned by CBC News, Winnipeggers are resoundingly against the idea.

Sixty-seven per cent of people interviewed for the survey — which used statistical weighting designed to make the results representative of Winnipeg’s demographics — oppose reopening the iconic intersection. The poll has a four per cent margin of error, according to Probe Research.

Only 33 per cent of those polled supported removing the barricades that have kept the Portage Avenue and Main Street intersection shuttered to foot traffic since 1979.

"We’ve tracked this over the years. There has always been a majority who reject the reopening. I would have been surprised had this survey shown otherwise, because I haven’t seen that in 20 years," Probe Research president Scott MacKay said Wednesday.

"But now, this enthusiasm for reopening has declined to an all-time low. It seems people have really dug in on this and their views have hardened."

While many commentators have tried to draw various fault lines in the debate — people who live downtown versus people who live in the suburbs, for example — the poll shows otherwise.

"There really is no demographic group where you will find a majority of people favouring the reopening. That includes groups you might expect to favour the reopening," MacKay said.

"People who work and play downtown, go to a lot of concerts, sports events, live there and work there — even that group is not in favour of the reopening. So you have to ask: if not them, then who?"

Most people surveyed also indicated there was little that will change their mind prior to the Oct. 24 referendum. Seventy-six per cent of respondents said their views on the matter were firmly entrenched.

That isn’t good news for the Coalition for Portage and Main, the group behind the campaign to get the intersection reopened to pedestrians.

Pedestrians have not been allowed to cross Portage Avenue and Main Street since barricades were erected at the intersection in 1979. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Pedestrians have not been allowed to cross Portage Avenue and Main Street since barricades were erected at the intersection in 1979. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Adam Dooley, a coalition spokesman, said while the survey results are disheartening, those involved with the campaign knew they were fighting an uphill battle — it’s just maybe a bit more steep than they thought.

"We respect people’s opinions, but we’re hopeful people will come out and make an informed vote. We know that they’re smart and they want what’s best for the city. We’re going to do our best to get the information out there," Dooley said.

"We take hope in the fact that when we speak to people and lay out the facts, we tend to get people to change their minds on this issue. So, hopefully, we’ll swing some votes. There’s still a lot of time between now and (civic) election day."

Brent Bellamy, a local architect and coalition spokesman, questions the fairness of putting the matter to a referendum, as much larger and more costly infrastructure projects don’t get such treatment.

"There are very few public works projects that we could single out and put to a public vote that would receive a majority of public support," Bellamy said, in an email to the Free Press.

"This is the reality of designing our city through plebiscite. All projects, including The Forks, MTS Centre (now Bell MTS Place) and (Esplanade) Riel all faced significant opposition, but we now see value in."

After reviewing the results of the survey, MacKay said one question posed to respondents cuts to the heart of the matter. Pollsters asked respondents for their take on the following statement: the smooth flow of traffic downtown is more important than pedestrian access.

Eighty-five per cent of people opposed to reopening the intersection agreed with the statement, while 76 per cent who want the intersection reopened disagreed.

"That’s a competing vision about what a downtown should be about. For better or worse, the prevailing view is that it should be about cars," MacKay said. "That’s the whole battleground right there.

"It’s all about whether the car is king or not."

— with files from Carol Sanders

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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History

Updated on Wednesday, September 12, 2018 at 10:31 AM CDT: Removes paragraph with unattributed quote

2:17 PM: full writethru, adds photo

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