Talks on opening Portage and Main to pedestrians begin
JAMES DOROSHUK, CONTRIBUTOR
The debate on re-opening Portage Avenue and Main Street to pedestrians has been around for years, but Winnipeg might be ready to bring down the barriers.
The Downtown BIZ hosted a public forum earlier this month. The open event was meant for Winnipeggers to hear some proposals on possible redesigns and have their opinions heard.
Attendees also heard from Tim Tompkins, president of the Time Square Alliance. Tompkins oversaw the transformation of Time Square in New York City from a traffic-heavy intersection to the pedestrian-friendly tourist attraction it is today.
Brent Seiss attended the meeting to see if any real progress has been made. The former carpenter said he thinks keeping the barriers in place would be a terrible idea.
“Whenever something big happens for the city, people naturally congregate there,” said Seiss. “When the Jets came back, there was a party there. Every (NHL) playoff game, people were there. The intersection means so much to us as a city and community.”
Matt Brooks, a graphic designer, works in an office facing the famous intersection and said taking down the barriers is a fantastic idea.
“Winnipeggers are so afraid of change, but on the most basic logical level this makes perfect sense,” said Brooks. “I live in Wolseley and walk to work every day. Having to go underground is a huge pain for me.”
It’s a contentious issue for some business owners located in Winnipeg Square, the underground mall that pedestrians must currently navigate to cross the intersection.
Many have been vocal about the projected loss of foot traffic to their stores should the barriers be taken down. Brooks was quick to quash that notion.
“I’m not going to stop using Winnipeg Square and I’ll still go down there to use the services offered,” he said. “If we could increase foot traffic in the area, those businesses would see an uptick in sales.”
Coun. Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge- East Fort Garry) has been a long-time proponent of removing the barriers. She spoke at the forum and said the famous corner holds a great deal of potential.
“This is an iconic intersection in our city,” said Gerbasi. “Just imagine what Portage and Main can be. Imagine how bustling and vibrant we can make our downtown.”
Mayor Brian Bowman also sees the potential. One of his campaign promises during the civic election was to re-open the corner to pedestrians.
The city is continuing consultations with businesses near the intersection. There are no firm plans in place right now.