Manitoba

Broken elevator at Portage and Main suggests accessibility's not a priority, advocate says

A Winnipeg man is frustrated after a broken wheelchair lift has gone unrepaired for weeks at downtown Winnipeg's busiest intersection.

Allen Mankewich says the wheelchair lift at 201 Portage Ave. is often out of service

Allen Mankewich, a consultant with the Independent Living Resource Centre who uses a wheelchair, says the broken lift forces people in wheelchairs to travel blocks out of their way on snowy sidewalks just to cross the street. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

A Winnipeg man is frustrated after a broken wheelchair lift has gone unrepaired for weeks at downtown Winnipeg's busiest intersection.

Allen Mankewich, who uses a wheelchair to get around, crosses Portage Avenue and Main Street on a regular basis and says the lift to get in and out of the underground concourse at 201 Portage Ave. was out of service for all of February and still isn't fixed.

"You're just trying to go about your day and do the things you need to do and then you get to this lift," Mankewich told host Marcy Markusa Monday on CBC Manitoba's Information Radio.

"And then you realize it's down, so you have to find another way to get into the concourse or out of the concourse.

A sign has warned people about the broken wheelchair lift for weeks, Mankewich says. (Submitted by Allen Mankewich)

"The sidewalks are not the easiest to navigate in the winter, so I wanted to get into the concourse as soon as I could."

Mankewich works at the Independent Living Resource Centre at Portage Place Mall and often has to cross Portage Avenue to attend meetings.

"It's just another layer of planning to your day that most people don't have to take into account," he said.

The lift to get underground has been out of service several times in the past year and half, he said.

"There is a sign posted at the lift, so I assumed the city was aware of it," Mankewich said.

Mankewich posted about the broken lift on social media and first received a response from the city that said it wasn't their responsibility to fix it.

"The accessibility lifts in the Winnipeg Square underground are not maintained by the City of Winnipeg; please contact Winnipeg Square for repair or maintenance concerns," the tweet said.

The city later corrected that response and now says the city is responsible for that lift and staff hope to have it fixed this week.

"The elevator near 201 Portage has been out of operation since Feb. 4 as a result of vandalism," a spokesperson said in an email to CBC.

"The repair required replacement of a part that does not normally wear out, and is therefore not stocked by manufacturers."

City officials said staff worked with the manufacturer to fabricate the part and the elevator will be in operation, tentatively, by the middle of this week.

'Fallout' from closing the intersection

But Mankewich said he doesn't think the city is doing all it can to address accessibility issues at the intersection.

"Confusion like that doesn't really inspire a lot of confidence in getting the situation resolved," he said.

"I think it just highlights the issues with the concourse itself and the access points.

"When you take a public asset like a crosswalk and turn it into a mix of private and public responsibility, as we did 40 years ago, this is some of the fallout from that."

City residents voted against reopening the intersection to pedestrian traffic in a non-binding plebiscite last fall despite many advocates, including Mankewich, saying opening the crossing at street level was needed to address accessibility issues.

Portage and Main has been closed to pedestrians since 1979, forcing those who cross the intersection to use the underground concourse instead.

With files from Marcy Markusa, Sam Samson

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