It’s a hot-button issue that has been a major goal of Winnipeg’s mayor since he was elected in 2014.
Winnipeggers have long been divided on whether or not Portage Avenue and Main Street should be reopened to pedestrians, but Mayor Brian Bowman has been clear about what he wants to see happen.
To that point, a second Portage and Main study has been ordered, this one focusing on how the intersection could look once reopened, both above- and below-ground.
The Vancouver-based architecture firm Perkins+Will, which helped design True North Square, is handling this study at a cost of $70,000. The first study, conducted by Dillon Contracting for $134,300, was more focused on the logistics and traffic engineering of an intersection without pedestrian barriers.
“We were consulting with all the owners around the intersection, and they said to the city, ‘You guys need to have a vision. A vision for the surface, a vision for the undergound,” explained Chief Administrative Officer Doug McNeil. “They looked at how they could make Portage and Main more pedestrian-friendly, what kind of urban design opportunities there are, and because our public space is contiguous to their private space, how do we work with that, especially given that all the owners have or are planning on major investments to their properties.”
McNeil said the plan is to share the findings of the Dillon report in October, though the second report from Perkins+Will may not be completed by then.
“We’re at least giving council the opportunity to see what the Dillon study said and what the costs are in relation to that hard engineering of removing the barriers,” McNeil said. “Keep in mind that the Dillon study and the administrative report is the first step. It’s a conceptual study, it took a first look. We haven’t had that intersection open for 40 years. A lot has changed at that corner.”
North Kildonan Councillor Jeff Browaty has been a vocal opponent of the idea, going so far as to complain to the provincial ombudsman when he was unable to get a draft copy of the Dillon report. In a press release, he bashed this latest development as well.
“The City has far bigger issues we should be dealing with. Virtually nobody is pressing to see this intersection open and it will negatively affect thousands of Winnipeggers daily,” Browaty said. “Let’s stop this crazy idea, stop wasting money on studies and move on to more important issues.”