Manitoba

Don't open Portage and Main to pedestrians, Winnipeg CAA members say

Manitoba CAA members oppose opening the iconic Portage and Main intersection to pedestrians, according to a new survey.

Barricades went up at iconic intersection in 1979, directing pedestrian traffic below ground

The corner of Portage and Main has been closed to pedestrians for 37 years. A CAA Manitoba survey suggests a majority of its members do not support changing that. (Google Street View)

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  • Updates have been made to this story. See bottom of page for details.

A majority of Winnipeg CAA members are opposed to opening the iconic Portage and Main intersection to pedestrians, according to a new survey.

A non-scientific survey of 1,500 Winnipeg-based members conducted over the August long weekend found 62.2 per cent of respondents oppose removing the pedestrian barricades.

More than half (56.5 per cent) of respondents said traffic congestion would be a significant problem if pedestrians were allowed to cross at the busy downtown junction. Pedestrian safety was also a concern for 60 per cent of those surveyed.

"With much discussion lately on this topic, we wanted to know what our members think," said Mike Mager, president of CAA Manitoba.

Many respondents have little interaction with intersection

Survey results requested by CBC News said close to 70 per cent of respondents do not work downtown and more than 65 per cent of respondents drive through Portage and Main "one to three time a month" or less.

Earlier this summer, a poll conducted by Probe Research found that just over 53 per cent of Winnipeggers oppose opening the intersection to pedestrian traffic. The research firm put the question to residents three previous times since 1997 and their findings suggest Winnipeggers are increasingly supportive of foot traffic at the intersection.

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      The barricades went up at the intersection in 1979, directing pedestrian traffic below ground and through a tunnel system that includes Winnipeg Square.

      Mayor Brian Bowman pledged during his election campaign to remove the barricades if he were voted into office. Most recently, he has said he wants them down before Winnipeg hosts the Canada Summer Games in 2017.

      Archive footage of Winnipeg's Portage and Main through the years, from 1960-1977. 1:45

      "Many people suggested a simpler, safer way to reduce confusion for tourists and locals at this intersection would be to install better signage at street level and underground in Winnipeg Square to guide people to their destination," said Mager.

      There are more affordable ways to improve accessibility at the intersection, he said. Wheelchair ramps, elevators and signage should be greatly enhanced, he said.

      "This should be a priority before any talk of opening the intersection," Mager said.

      "It's nice for Mayor Brian Bowman to talk about making Portage and Main great again, but safety and public opinion must be part of the conversation, too. It will be interesting to see the results of the City of Winnipeg's research, but when it comes down to it, opening the intersection is not a priority for Winnipeggers."

      Bowman was not available for a comment on Thursday but a spokesperson from his office offered the following statement:

      "While making the Portage and Main intersection more accessible to pedestrians continues to be a priority, Mayor Bowman has acknowledged that not everyone agrees.

      "In his State of the City address in February, the mayor spoke about how Portage and Main has always been much more than just an intersection; how over the years it's where Winnipeg has intersected with life, and that he feels the intersection can be more, and it can do more for our city.

      "Removing the pedestrian barriers is a key step to making this area of downtown both accessible and engaging, and work to achieve this goal, in a safe and measured way, continues."

      Corrections

      • A previous version of this story cited sections of a news release sent to CBC News by CAA Manitoba. Upon closer inspection of requested survey results, CBC News found errors in the interpretation of the survey results which effectively overstated the opposition to pedestrian traffic at the Portage and Main intersection. The contents have been updated to accurately reflect the survey results.
        Aug 29, 2016 10:37 AM CT

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