A tale of two roadway plans
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Considering the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and motor vehicle use, it is instructive to compare two approaches to urban planning in Winnipeg: one along Route 90 between Ness and Taylor avenues and the other in Osborne Village.
The former is a plan to widen a busy roadway, a move that will ultimately attract more vehicles and, in all likelihood, fail to achieve its primary goal of reducing traffic congestion. The latter is an attempt to discourage motor vehicle use by prioritizing pedestrian traffic, public transit and active transportation.
The City of Winnipeg is planning to spend some $500 million to widen Route 90 and separate combined sewers along the roadway. The plan includes upgrades to the St. James bridges and would add new, dedicated walking and cycling pathways.
The main objective of the mega project is to improve traffic flow for motor vehicles. To achieve that, the city plans to add a lane northbound and southbound and standardize the speed limit at 60 km/h (it currently varies between 50 km/h and 70 km/h).
Proponents of the plan argue widening the roadway is necessary to reduce traffic congestion and to prevent it from getting worse as Winnipeg’s population grows.
Without the added lanes, commute times along Route 90 for northbound vehicles during morning rush-hour would nearly double over the next 18 years to about 14 minutes, the city projects. Southbound commutes would increase from around eight minutes to 11 minutes during afternoon peak periods. The added lanes would keep both commute times at about seven to nine minutes.
What the city’s analysis does not address, however, is that adding more lanes will induce demand for vehicle traffic and create more gridlock over time. What urban centres all over the world have discovered is that building larger, wider roads only serves to attract more vehicles, and does not actually solve the problem of traffic congestion.
What urban centres all over the world have discovered is that building larger, wider roads only serves to attract more vehicles, and does not actually solve the problem of traffic congestion.
The analysis also fails to consider how alternative options — including a vastly improved public transit system, enhanced active transportation and the use of other strategies to reduce the use of single-occupancy vehicles (such as more ride sharing) — could reduce traffic congestion and eliminate the need for wider roads.
Meanwhile, a few kilometres to the east, Osborne Village is looking to create a more livable neighbourhood by actively discouraging motor vehicle use. Instead of seeking ways to accommodate more vehicles, the Osborne Village BIZ’s “Blueprint for a Vibrant and Healthy Neighbourhood” is proposing less space for cars and trucks and more room and flexibility for pedestrians and cyclists.
It is a unique and forward-looking approach.
The plan proposes to narrow each of Osborne’s four traffic lanes within the village from 3.25 metres to three metres to allow for wider sidewalks. It also proposes to lower the speed limit and bring in a “pedestrian scramble” at the corner of Osborne and River Avenue, where all vehicles would temporarily stop to allow pedestrians to cross in all directions at the same time. It would be the first such pedestrian crossing in Winnipeg.
By favouring pedestrians and cyclists over motorists, the Osborne Village proposal seeks to achieve the opposite of what the Route 90 plan would likely bring: more single passenger, carbon-emitting vehicles to the area and ultimately, more traffic gridlock.
Perhaps it’s time to reimagine how the Route 90 corridor could look with less emphasis on motor vehicles and a greater focus on alternative forms of transportation.