This week, the city’s executive policy committee passed a $3.5 million motion in support of implementing a phased approach in making below and above grade improvements at the iconic intersection of Portage and Main.
At this time, the city of Winnipeg has not committed to the opening of Portage and Main, but is rather presenting an opportunity to introduce pedestrian activity incrementally, through the removal of barricades and the beautification of the surrounding sidewalks/plaza. This opportunity is also being greatly supported by the adjacent property owners.
By making these incremental changes, Winnipeggers will be able to keep the conversation going and help with finding solutions that will eventually develop a consensus on a permanent solution. This incremental approach will also give the city time to engage with stakeholders, take a deeper dive on transit and traffic studies, and even broaden design strategies, in order to get it done right.
I recently had a conversation with Tim Tomkins, a colleague of mine and president of New York’s Times Square Alliance. We discussed how the opening of the Portage and Main intersection continues to be top of mind for many Winnipeggers and how the question of whether to open it or keep it closed still remains unanswered.
I also explained to him that Winnipeggers are passionate about this conversation, which really revolves around two main views. Some Winnipeggers feel strongly about getting from point A to point B as quickly and with as little traffic interference as possible, while other Winnipeggers feel strongly in their desire to create a new, exciting place that celebrates our history and culture, and where people can spend time with family and friends.
A recent survey with downtowners seems to support the opening of the intersection and the need to create a more vibrant place for pedestrians. Over a period of two days, 120-plus downtowners were asked “What best describes what you’d like to see at Portage and Main?” The top responses from the survey showed us that people want places where they can enjoy restaurants, a place where they can gather to celebrate and a place where all types of transportation-users are found.
In addition, many business owners, developers and property owners feel that the intersection’s barricades cut off pedestrian movement as well as commerce, business and social interaction, which is the lifeblood of our downtown that creates the vibrancy that people really want. This blocks urban revitalization, leaves missed opportunities for re-development and small business development and cuts off the city’s four most vibrant neighbourhoods/districts, which include the East and West Exchange, Portage Avenue and the Forks.
I do think we can find a general consensus on why the intersection of Portage and Main should be open to all forms of transportation. It is important that everyone is given the opportunity to utilize this downtown intersection in their day-to-day lives, whether they decide to take a car, a bus, a bike or walk. These incremental next steps will allow for all voices to be heard and is critical to achieving consensus and a vision for a better downtown. A downtown where we can celebrate our culture, history and past, and a place that is authentic to our city.
Stefano Grande is executive director of Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.