Winnipeg has come a long way over the past 20 years and is just now beginning to be recognized nationally and internationally as a "can-do" city and is perhaps on the verge of becoming a great city. Of course, the development of the MTS Centre and the return of the Jets have had a tremendous impact on our city and its reputation.

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This article was published 20/4/2012 (3561 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

Winnipeg has come a long way over the past 20 years and is just now beginning to be recognized nationally and internationally as a "can-do" city and is perhaps on the verge of becoming a great city. Of course, the development of the MTS Centre and the return of the Jets have had a tremendous impact on our city and its reputation.

While we have made great progress as a city, we still have a long way to go if we're ever to be seen as a great city. For starters, we need to be more pedestrian-friendly.

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Have you ever wondered why the city provides insufficient time for even the fastest walker to get across a street before the "Don't Walk" sign comes on?

Why do we have so many intersections with push buttons for pedestrians, yet for the unsuspecting pedestrian who is not aware enough to push the button, the "Walk" sign never comes on?

It seems the city of Winnipeg treats pedestrians as if they were second-class citizens.

I was reminded of this by Bethel Collie, who, in her letter to the editor, bemoans the fact that as a senior female who walks and buses everywhere, she finds walking across Portage Avenue at Arlington Street a real challenge. She suggests that it would help "if only they added two seconds to the length of the amber walk lights."

Collie's plea was reminiscent of the late Art Jones, who, in the 1980s as president of the Downtown Winnipeg Association, would annually challenge then-mayor Bill Norrie to a foot race across Portage Avenue. To this day, the lights are synchronized such that a gazelle would have difficulty making it halfway across the street before the "Don't Walk" sign came on. The same can be said for crossing most other thoroughfares in our city, a reality that makes for very unsafe conditions.

Case in point: It's not uncommon to see pedestrians stranded on the median in front of the Via Rail station. Having been given the green light to cross Main Street from the north side of Broadway, the light goes red before they reach the median. They are then confronted with impatient drivers, already going at a fairly good clip turning left off Broadway onto Main. Never mind that legally, these pedestrians have the right to cross. The signal being given for all to see is "Don't Walk."

The solution really is quite simple. The city should ensure pedestrians are given sufficient time to at least get halfway across the street before having the light turn red.

It also should install "countdown" traffic signals. Common in such cities as Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary, these signals tell both pedestrians and drivers exactly how many seconds are left before the light goes red.

Five years ago, the City of Brandon installed one of these lights at a high-volume intersection, and it has been so successful that it now has plans in the works to install more.

Why is it that not a single one of these "countdown" traffic signals can be found in Winnipeg? Why is it that Winnipeg seems so anti-pedestrian? The truth, at least since the 1960s, is when it comes to facilitating the movement of people on its streets, Winnipeg, unfortunately, has treated its pedestrians as an afterthought when compared to its citizens who drive vehicles. Traffic management generally has been focused on enabling vehicles to get from one end of the city to the other in record time.

The most infamous example of this took place in 1979 when the city installed concrete barriers and introduced legislation prohibiting pedestrians from crossing at Portage and Main, its most historic corner.

It also signed legal agreements with surrounding property owners guaranteeing it would continue to bar pedestrians from crossing the intersection for 40 years -- until 2019. One would be hard pressed to come up with the name of another city that chose to force its pedestrians to go underground.

With an aging population and with so many struggling with obesity, governments at all levels should be encouraging people to walk and be active. The city should be commended for expanding its network of recreational trails and accommodating cyclists on its streets. Council's recently approved transportation master plan, with one of its goals to encourage "healthy lifestyle options," also is a step in the right direction.

Plans, however, are one thing, actions quite another. The city should take action now to make the downtown area more pedestrian-friendly. It can start by installing a few "countdown" traffic signals. Looking to the future, in 2019, once the legal agreements have expired, Winnipeg will be in a position to implement a plan at Portage and Main developed in collaboration with the surrounding property owners in 2006.

This plan would enable pedestrians to again cross our most historic intersection in the evenings, after rush hour on weekdays and during weekends. There are many good reasons for this to happen in time for the sesquicentennial celebration for Manitoba as a province.

Let's see that it happens!

 

Harry Finnigan served as Winnipeg's director of planning, property and development (2002-2007). For most of his professional life, he has been able to commute to work by foot.