Winnipeg Transit 25-year master plan heading to city hall this week

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Winnipeg Transit 25-year master plan heading to city hall this week
Winnipeg Transit expects to propose an “entirely new transit network” at city hall this week, which would combine six distinct projects over 25 years of development. Global's Marney Blunt explains what it could look like – Mar 8, 2021

Winnipeg Transit expects to propose an “entirely new transit network” at city hall this week, which would combine six distinct projects over 25 years of development.

The Winnipeg Transit Master Plan is valued at around $538.9 million, of which the city would be responsible for $165.6 million.

The crux of the project would be six rapid transit corridors which would form three primary rapid transit lines converging on Main Street between Portage Avenue and Stradbrook Avenue.

Read more: Winnipeg Transit projecting $29M shortfall due to coronavirus, city report says

Winnipeg Transit says shorter neighbourhood routes would meet up frequently with the main corridors for a simpler, integrated system.

“Through the public engagement process, we heard that the existing route network was too complex, service was too infrequent, and it didn’t offer enough options for travel within and between neighbourhoods,” Greg Ewankiw, director of Winnipeg Transit, said in a news release.

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“The Winnipeg Transit Master Plan proposes changes to the transit route network to response to the needs of residents of Winnipeg, and will enhance connectivity, frequency, and reliability.”

The three proposed Rapid Transit lines are:

  • Blue line: Connects Unicity shopping centre via Portage Avenue to Polo Park and to Main Street. From there, it heads along the Southwest Transitway to the University of Manitoba across the Red River on a new bridge to St. Vital.
  • Orange line: Direct north – south connection through Winnipeg. Upgrades Main Street into a major transit corridor through downtown.
  • Rose line: Primarily an east – west connector. Direct route from Transcona to Grace Hospital. Makes use of infrastructure for both of the previous lines.

“We reached a point where our network needed a redesign,” Bjorn Radstrom, manager of service development, told 680 CJOB.

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“We’ve spent years doing small changes to the route network, little extensions, small things to improve efficiency, but really we needed to go back to basics and redesign the entire route network from scratch to design a more efficient system that’s more useful to people.”

Radstrom adds the network redesign alone would add about 25 per cent to the system’s overall capacity.

The Master Plan describes frequent transit service as a “tipping point” to making public transit a viable option for most people, which it describes as a bus every 15 minutes or less.

Read more: Kids ride Winnipeg Transit for free starting in 2021

Currently, it says only slightly more than 20 per cent of Winnipeg homes are a six- to seven-minute walk to frequent transit service.

Radstrom says the overhaul could triple that.

Transit says the first priority is the downtown infrastructure, which includes an “elevated transitway,” establishing Union Station as the city’s main hub.

“A lot of the most significant congestion is within the downtown,” Radstrom said.

“Part of this proposal … (is) also proposing rapid transit infrastructure completely separating buses from traffic within the downtown. That will improve things so buses don’t slow down right when they get to downtown, they can keep up that high rate of speed right through the downtown as they pass through.”

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The other crux of Transit’s master plan is accessibility, which proposes blending conventional transit service with On-Request service and Winnipeg Transit Plus.

Read more: Councillor pitches simplified or fare-free transit for Winnipeg

It would also make all stops, junctions, stations and hubs universally accessible, and install 55 heated shelters throughout the city by 2025.

The Master Plan is comprised of six projects, subject to council approval:

  • Bus Radio and Intelligent Transportation System project.
  • North Garage Replacement
  • Transition to Zero Emission Buses
  • Rapid Transit (Downtown Corridors) Preliminary Design
  • Primary Transit Network Infrastructure
  • Wheelchair Securements Retro-fit

Urban planning experts say Winnipeg’s transit network is already decades behind, but these proposals could help get the city up to speed over time.

“Winnipeggers can look forward to seeing some advancements in the way the City of Winnipeg plans its transportation systems,” said Jino Distasio, a geography professor at the University of Winnipeg who specializes in urban geography and city planning.

“We’re falling behind most major Canadian cities that have advanced their rapid transit systems over the last number of decades. I’d say, you know, we’re maybe upwards of 50 years behind a city like Ottawa now, that has moved light years beyond Winnipeg.”

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Transit advocate Zach Fleisher agrees.

“It’s a step forward, but it’s a step forward we should have had years ago,” Fleisher told Global News.

“The big concern for me is that this is already kind of a watered down plan of what we had before and I’m concerned that we’re going to further water it down,” Fleisher added. “We don’t have a great track record of this. We’ve been talking about this issue since 1958, and then with the current routing since 1974 and then we’re kind of coming up with a new plan.”

The master plan will be presented at the standing policy committee on infrastructure renewal and public works on March 11.

— With files from Marney Blunt.

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