November 24, 2017

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Slam brakes on opening intersection, Transit union says

Transit union says that re-opening intersection could cause pedestrians harm

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>A bus rolls past pedestrian barriers in Winnipeg on Monday. Transit officials are leery of reopening Portage and Main to pedestrians.</p></p></p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A bus rolls past pedestrian barriers in Winnipeg on Monday. Transit officials are leery of reopening Portage and Main to pedestrians.

The president of the union that represents Winnipeg Transit drivers says allowing pedestrians into the Portage and Main intersection will cause traffic delays and poses a safety hazard to pedestrians.

The millions of dollars proposed for the initiative could be better spent improving transit operations and other infrastructure needs, Aleem Chaudhary, newly elected president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, said Monday.

“We just don’t need it,” Chaudhary told the Free Press. “Opening the intersection is going to become a big hazard. It’s going to slow down traffic.”

The union even got into a Twitter exchange on the weekend with Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and others over the mayor’s initiative to reopen the Portage Avenue and Main Street crossings to pedestrians.

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The president of the union that represents Winnipeg Transit drivers says allowing pedestrians into the Portage and Main intersection will cause traffic delays and poses a safety hazard to pedestrians.

The millions of dollars proposed for the initiative could be better spent improving transit operations and other infrastructure needs, Aleem Chaudhary, newly elected president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, said Monday.

"We just don’t need it," Chaudhary told the Free Press. "Opening the intersection is going to become a big hazard. It’s going to slow down traffic."

The union even got into a Twitter exchange on the weekend with Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and others over the mayor’s initiative to reopen the Portage Avenue and Main Street crossings to pedestrians.

While the intersection was closed in 1979 in an agreement with adjacent property owners to redirect pedestrians to the new underground mall, Chaudhary said he believes concern over safety was one of the driving forces.

"One of the main reasons (the intersection was blocked off) is because it was a pedestrian hazard," Chaudhary said. "All the money they’re going to waste on (reopening) that intersection could be put to better use."

The city released a report last week calling for council to authorize spending a total $3.5 million this year on the intersection:

● $1.5 million to develop plans to re-open the intersection in 2019;

● $1.5 million to upgrade the underground concourse;

● $500,000 for improvements to the plaza space in front of the Richardson Building at 1 Lombard Place.

The proposal goes to Bowman’s executive policy committee Wednesday, and then to council for debate Oct. 25.

Public Works committee chairman Coun. Marty Morantz (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Whyte Ridge), whose committee oversees Winnipeg Transit, said a large chunk of the spending is for fixing the intersection both above ground and below.

"It has needed work for years," Morantz said. "You can see the rebar coming out of the concrete barriers.

"It really needs some TLC."

As for the possibility of pedestrians being reintroduced onto the intersection, Morantz said the report is looking at a phased-in approach, which is something council would have to vote on in the future.

Morantz said one of the reasons the intersection was closed to pedestrians was because the then-owner of Winnipeg Square wanted more traffic directed past the underground stores and food court, but this is something the current owner is willing to see changed.

A letter to the executive policy committee from Artis REIT says it supports the opening of the intersection as long as the city commits to some actions, including minimizing the effect on traffic, modernizing the city’s below-grade assets, improving signage at and below grade, and to "create an artistic focal point at Portage and Main that draws visitors and Winnipeggers alike to the iconic intersection."

Meanwhile, Chaudhary said he didn’t put out transit’s tweets challenging Bowman, adding the union would prefer face-to-face exchange with senior administration. Chaudhary also said he’s concerned the city released the report on such short notice, adding there’s little time for his union and others to prepare a response to it.

"It’s such short notice and we’re not really ready for it," Chaudhary said. "The mayor is just pushing this thing through as fast as possible. It’s unfortunate and unfair."

Chaudhary said pedestrians who venture into the reopened intersection would be putting their lives at risk, explaining southbound motorists are often confused as they approach Portage Avenue as to which lane they should be in.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Aldo Santin.

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History

Updated on Monday, October 16, 2017 at 10:53 PM CDT: Headline fixed.

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