Competing motions on Portage and Main coming to Winnipeg city council

Winnipeg city councillors are veering off in opposite directions over the question of whether to reopen Portage and Main to pedestrians.

Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry Coun. Sherri Rollins, whose ward includes the intersection, has a motion calling for it to be made accessible to pedestrians. 

Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt, meanwhile, announced Friday he plans to bring to the next council meeting a motion that would oblige the city to hold a plebiscite before making any decisions on reopening.

A similar plebiscite was held during the 2018 election, with 65 per cent of voters opting to keep it closed. An analysis of the results showed those who lived nearer the city’s centre tended to vote in favour of keeping it open.

2018 Portage and Main plebiscite results

Pedestrian access at Portage and Main would be too dangerous, Wyatt said, even though pedestrians can cross two busier intersections.

“The city engineers who I’ve talked to about this issue have indicated to me that, with the traffic volumes there, and the truck traffic going through that intersection, there will not only be … pedestrian injuries, but there will be fatalities,” Wyatt said.

Portage and Main is the third busiest intersection in the city, according to City of Winnipeg data. Lagimodiere Boulevard and Regent Avenue is the busiest, followed by Portage Avenue and Moray Street — pedestrians can cross the street at both intersections.

Despite that, Wyatt said he believes it would be too dangerous to allow the same at Portage and Main.

“I’m not going to talk about other intersections, I’m going to talk about this one because this reopening would would lead to fatalities,” he said.

“Why would we be contemplating this …? Until we invest in new strategic infrastructure to allow that truck traffic to move around the city, without having to go through the middle of the heart of downtown, I think it’s extremely premature.”

The City of Winnipeg is seeking public opinions about new designs that would see the existing concrete barricades removed and replaced with better-looking ones. A survey, released on Tuesday, includes options for redesigning the intersection, including a sky garden, a massive orb, and lookout towers.

Wyatt supports the work to repair infrastructure at the intersection, including replacing the membrane protecting the underground concourse, but he wants the concrete barriers, or something similar, put back.

“There’s a way to make the barricades look more beautiful with today’s technology compared to the late ’70s, absolutely,” he said. “But I think this is being used as a Trojan horse to try to get Portage and Main open.”

Plebiscites ‘anti-democratic’: Rollins

Rollins says she considers plebiscites “anti-democratic.”

“You are in the wrong business if you think everything is a binary or yes-no vote,'” Rollins wrote in an email statement.

“As the public is seeing now, there are needed investments to the membrane and surface of the roads and sidewalks surrounding Portage and Main. These complexities are not something that was made clear in advance of the 2018 election plebiscite.”

Councillors made downtown a top priority in the draft strategic priorities action plan, which is currently making its way through committees. It’s up to councillors to decide how to make investments, Rollins wrote.

“This will make a difference, not wacky surveys like the public service issued on Tuesday, or more ineffectual plebiscites.”

Mayor Scott Gillingham also expressed no appetite for a rerun of the 2018 plebiscite.

“I don’t think the city needs another plebiscite on Portage and Main,” he said in a statement.

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