Gord Steeves shuts down idea of re-opening Portage and Main

Winnipeg's famed Portage and Main intersection will remain closed to pedestrians if Gord Steeves is elected mayor on Oct. 22.

Winnipeg's Portage and Main intersection will remain closed to pedestrians if Gord Steeves is elected mayor.

​Steeves made that promise at the windy corner on Monday.

The future of the famed corner has been debated often in the past few years, as a long-term agreement to keep it closed is reaching its expiry in the next decade.

Gord Steeves says Portage and Main would stay closed to pedestrians if he is elected mayor. (Marianne Klowak/CBC)
But Steeves said it is time to endorse the way things are and move on to larger issues in the downtown.

"To service a very small amount of the people who would be walking in this intersection, we would be holding up tens of thousands of people in their commute time. It would hurt the commute in downtown," Steeves told reporters.

By contrast, another mayoral hopeful, Brian Bowman, promised back in August that he would have the pedestrian barricades at Portage and Main torn down by 2019.

"Like city hall, Portage and Main has been closed off to Winnipeggers for too long," Bowman tweeted in August.

But ​Steeves said pedestrian and traffic safety, as well as the risk of destabilizing the businesses currently operating in the underground mall beneath Portage and Main, would outweigh the nostalgia proposed by Bowman.

Steeves added that keeping the intersection closed makes sense for businesses and pedestrians in a city with cold winters.

"I think the underground Winnipeg Square system is a very, very positive thing for this corner. I like it and I think it works, and I think a lot of cities … would be envious to see what we have," he said.

But Bowman isn't alone in his view on the matter. Coun. Jenny Gerbasi and mayoral candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis have also called for the intersection, which has been closed since the mid-1970s, to be reopened to foot traffic.

Once a bustling, lively corner, pedestrians were chased underground when the city, in 1976, signed an agreement with private developers to open an underground concourse linking shopping malls under the intersection.

The agreement included a 50-year deal to permanently close the pedestrian crossings at the intersection. The street works were completed around 1978.

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