Winnipeg's transit union says reopening Portage and Main to pedestrians will lead to more assaults on bus drivers.

The Amalgamated Transit Union, which has already expressed opposition to reopening the intersection on the grounds buses might strike pedestrians in turning lanes, now says changes to the central intersection also pose a safety risk to transit operators.

A city-commissioned traffic study concluded Winnipeg Transit travel times will increase if the intersection is amended to allow pedestrians to cross above ground.

"When service is delayed, people get upset, and when people get upset, they tend to assault the driver," said John Callahan, the ATU's international vice president and the former president of the union's Winnipeg branch.

Callahan made his comments at city hall before city council considered a plan to spend $3.5 million to make improvements to Portage and Main and plan for a reopening that could take place as soon as 2019.

The plan, approved Wednesday afternoon in a 10-5 vote, calls for the city to redirect $2 million in road repair funds to the project and use $1.5 million worth of other existing budget lines to pay for a three-pronged Portage and Main plan:

  • Up to $1.5 million would be spent this year on architectural and engineering services, obtained through a competitive bidding process, to develop a more accurate cost estimate for reopening Portage and Main, a detailed design study, a phased construction schedule and a traffic staging plan.
  • Up to $500,000 would pay for new sidewalks, curbs, paving bands and trees connected to the Richardson plaza at the northeast corner of the intersection. 
  • Up to $1.5 million would improve city property in the underground concourse, consisting of work below the 201 Portage Avenue office tower at the northwest corner of the intersection, removing the bunker at the Richardson plaza and concourse evaluations, assessments and studies.

Couns. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan), Shawn Dobson (St. Charles), Ross Eadie (Mynarski), Janice Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert) and Jason Schreyer (Elmwood-East Kildonan) voted against the funding, citing a series of concerns.

Browaty raised concerns about traffic snarls, Eadie said no one lives near Portage and Main and Lukes complained of a lack of consultation.

The sixth member of council's unofficial opposition, Transcona's Russ Wyatt, was absent from the October council meeting.

On Wednesday morning, about 20 members of the transit union and other labour unions protested the reopening outside city hall. Callahan said transit workers are frustrated by the slow progress on safety improvements, flat funding from the province for transit and the potential for transit cuts in 2018.

Inside city hall, Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce chair Johanna Hurme appeared before council to support reopening the intersection. So did Rosanne Hill Blaisdell, vice-president of Harvard Developments, which owns the 201 Portage office tower at the northwest corner of Portage and Main.

Hill Blaisdell said it's important for the city to invest in Portage and Main when neighbouring property owners such as her company are investing millions in their properties. 

Harvard is spending millions on its underground concourse, plans are in place for Richardson plaza improvements on the northeast corner of Portage and Main and at the southwest corner, Artis intends to build a new tower on the south pad of Winnipeg Square.

Transit union says assaults on drivers will spike if Winnipeg reopens Portage and Main to pedestrians2:11