June 2, 2020

22° C, Partly cloudy

Full Forecast

Winnipeg Free Press


Help us deliver reliable news during this pandemic.

We are working tirelessly to bring you trusted information about COVID-19. Support our efforts by subscribing today.

No Thanks Subscribe

Already a subscriber?

Plebiscite question is poorly timed


Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/10/2018 (595 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeggers are being asked, as they elect a mayor and council next week, to vote on street-level pedestrian crossing at Portage and Main. They are being asked to answer that question without knowing what the adjacent landowners propose to do with their ground-level and underground spaces. Nor has the public been shown where the crosstown vehicle traffic is supposed to go when the central hub intersection is obstructed.

In these circumstances, the Oct. 24 referendum cannot settle the larger question before Winnipeg: what will we do with Portage and Main?

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>The Oct. 24 plebiscite only partly addresses the Portage and Main question.</p>


The Oct. 24 plebiscite only partly addresses the Portage and Main question.

The question on the ballot will be a narrow one: "Do you support the opening of Portage and Main to pedestrian crossings? YES/NO"

The underground pedestrian route needs repair work at least to stop the water from draining into the subterranean concourse from the streets above. The underground passage is unsatisfactory because it is at best difficult for wheelchair users and often closed to them. It is hard to navigate, despite all the signage intended to guide users through it. It often feels unsafe late at night when it is almost deserted. Reconstruction is indicated, but owners of the adjacent buildings need to be involved in making the whole underground space user-friendly and commercially viable.

The theory behind the pedestrian crossing idea, presented in the Dillon Consulting study and related documents, is that tree-planting, sidewalk cafés and other such soft and inviting features, along with pedestrian crossings, will turn Portage and Main into a park-like setting where children will play and seniors will congregate to enjoy the afternoon sunshine. Such is the picture presented in the city’s Vision document accompanying the Dillon study. But the enormous volume of noisy, dangerous vehicle traffic every day of the year and the harsh weather conditions much of the year make that dream implausible.

The council might well decide to start on the long years of work that will be needed to provide better routes for crosstown traffic. Any casual observer can see that Portage and Main is the traffic funnel that takes loads of construction materials, loads of grain, highway transport rigs and plenty of other vehicles that neither start nor finish their trip in the city centre. They have to use Portage and Main because the pattern of bridges and arterial roads leaves them no practical alternative. Easing the traffic load on Portage and Main will be complex and expensive, but it is an early step toward making the downtown hub more humane, more pleasant.

The Oct. 24 referendum is ill-conceived and ill-timed. If the voters say yes to pedestrian crossings, that will not fix the deficiencies of the underground passage — which will still be an important route for many users — nor will it ease the traffic congestion above ground. If they say no, council will feel no obligation to do anything about improving the traffic hub. Mayor Brian Bowman may be released from an old promise to remove the pedestrian barriers, but that is all that will be accomplished.

The mayor and council elected by Winnipeg on Oct. 24 should review the Dillon study and start a conversation with the owners of buildings near Portage and Main. The apartment tower now under construction at Main and Graham will sharply increase the resident population and the market for local services. The city’s plan should start from the facts on the ground and a worthwhile objective, not an old election promise.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press would like to thank our readers for their patience while comments were not available on our site. We're continuing to work with our commenting software provider on issues with the platform. In the meantime, if you're not able to see comments after logging in to our site, please try refreshing the page.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.