February 20, 2020

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Opinion

Infrastructure needs focus

Mayor Brian Bowman

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Mayor Brian Bowman

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/1/2016 (1482 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It is hard not to admire Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman's pledge to focus the city's attention this year on racial tolerance. It's a gargantuan task, and one with great merit.

Bowman's pledge comes on the heels of his much-celebrated anti-racism summit last fall and his stoic attempts to confront a report in a Toronto-based magazine that dubbed Winnipeg the most racist city in Canada.

Racism is a big problem, here and elsewhere, and local government leaders are essential players in any kind of effective community response. However, there are signs Bowman may be losing himself somewhat in this issue.

The summit was admirable, but Bowman's decision to hold an event to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Maclean's article that kicked off the debate was a bit problematic — particularly since the article in question was a triumph of marketing over responsible journalism.

Still, the mayor has people talking about racism, in large part thanks to his forceful leadership on the issue. If there is any lingering concern, it is that this kind of leadership is desperately needed on other files as well.

The reality of being mayor is you're constantly dealing with an inventory of needs and problems that outpace resources and solutions. Still, if there is one overarching problem for local government leaders, it is infrastructure.

In the past few weeks at city hall, we've watched council struggle mightily to make progress on some of the city's biggest infrastructure projects.

First, Coun. Russ Wyatt attempted to get council to abandon plans to build the $155-million Waverley Street underpass until rail-line relocation is more fully explored. Wyatt argued the city should undertake other projects, namely the Chief Peguis Trail extension and the widening of Kenaston Boulevard, while waiting to see if the railways agree to relocate the line that crosses Waverley.

Wyatt is correct to question whether this project is being approved too far in advance of other developments that might otherwise make the underpass unnecessary. For the same reasons, it makes sense to look at relocating the main CPR yards downtown rather than spend hundreds of millions of dollars to funnel traffic over and under it.

However, Wyatt is also partly wrong in his assertion that two other major traffic projects should be moved up ahead of the Waverley underpass. Wrong because now is the time we need to reassess altogether the money we are investing in traffic arteries.

Consider, for a moment, these two colliding narratives.

Coming off the warmest year on record (evidence we have crippled the climate with human-made greenhouse gases), the world's leading nations gathered in Paris to consider emergency measures to address this impending ecological disaster.

At the same time, we are engaged in a bitter national debate about whether to allow the construction of multibillion-dollar pipelines so Alberta bitumen can be made more easily available to U.S. customers and eastern ports and refineries.

There is a disconnect in those two narratives. On the one hand, we are deliberating on ways to save the planet from our own reckless excess; on the other, we're debating whether we should make it easier to sell and refine the very commodity at the heart of our relentless attack on the environment.

Locally, there are similar disconnects. Municipal leaders continue to plan infrastructure investments in an outdated manner, focusing the majority of expenditures on expensive traffic projects that do not make the city work better.

We're chasing an impossible dream that says if you just keep on building more and bigger roads and bridges or underpasses, at some point, the city will start to work like a well-oiled machine. It's not going to happen. More and bigger roads mean more traffic, not less.

An alternative infrastructure vision will not be an easy thing to undertake. Urgent and substantial investment in public transit is certainly one part of the new vision. So, too, are changes to the way we approve and plan suburban sprawl.

The important point here is we need to stop focusing so much money and attention on traffic arteries and look at ways of building a city in which people don't have to travel as far or use cars nearly as much.

If the mayor could take just a bit of time away from his quixotic quest to cultivate empathy, he might see an opportunity to change the way this city views and discusses infrastructure. Council certainly needs some dynamic leadership on this issue.

The city is proceeding, albeit at a snail's pace, with a second stage of its bus rapid transit plan, connecting the first phase from Main Street to Jubilee Avenue south to the University of Manitoba. And there are plans in place for other BRT routes, but they are buried so deeply under plans for new, wider and longer roads with more bridges and underpasses that we'll likely never see them come to fruition.

The mayor should be commended for taking a bold leadership position on racism.

Now, if only he would take the same forceful approach and use it to help the city change the future course on infrastructure strategy.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @danlett

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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History

Updated on Saturday, January 30, 2016 at 6:38 AM CST: Fixes headline

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