Winnipeg wants feedback on replacement for ‘Soviet-era’ concrete barricades at Portage and Main

The City of Winnipeg is looking at the future of its most famous intersection once again — but this time, the question of reopening Portage and Main to pedestrian traffic isn’t the question.

Instead, civic leaders are looking at a much-needed replacement for the drab, aging barricades that currently keep the iconic downtown crossroads focused on vehicle traffic only.

The intersection needs to be completely excavated in the near future, due to an increased risk of water damage to the underground concourse, so the city launched a survey Tuesday asking Winnipeggers — with an emphasis on those who live, work or visit downtown — for their recommendations on a reimagined use of the space.

“The current barricades we have here are ugly. I don’t think anybody likes the way it looks today. Some people call it a bunker, or Soviet-era. It is time for something different,” Coun. Jeff Browaty told Global Winnipeg Tuesday morning.

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“They’re going to have to be removed anyway, so rather than putting back the ugly, we’re going to be able to put back something that’s more aesthetically pleasing.”

In a 2018 plebiscite, 65 per cent of Winnipeg voters elected to keep the busy intersection closed to pedestrians — although election results showed that much of the ‘no’ vote came from residents who didn’t live in the area. Then-mayor Brian Bowman, who had campaigned on reopening the intersection, expressed his disappointment with the result at the time.

Browaty said Tuesday that he doesn’t support reopening the intersection.

“I just don’t think it makes sense,” he said. “I want a great downtown…. We can have a lot of cool areas that are bike-friendly, pedestrian-friendly, lots of live animation on the streets at night, you name it.

“That’s part of a good downtown, and I think we can have that while still realizing that a lot of traffic still has to move through Portage and Main.”

Click to play video: 'Reimagining Portage and Main: new survey up on city website'

Reimagining Portage and Main: new survey up on city website

University of Winnipeg urban studies professor Jino Distasio says Winnipeg should take the opportunity to improve the corner from its current state — “a tremendous amount of concrete and bunkers and barriers” — into something that can return Portage and Main to its iconic, historical status.

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And that doesn’t mean taking pedestrian crossing off the table.

“As we all know, it’s been a decades-long debate about what should we do with this corner … and how do we do it with the highest standard, that makes sure anybody coming to our downtown can feel safe and confident in crossing this street, above ground or below ground? Right now, I don’t think we have a really good mix of either.

“I think we probably could accommodate both vehicles and pedestrians using smart technology,” he said, “and being mindful that, yes, it’s a busy intersection, but we really don’t have another barricaded intersection in our city that is somehow uncrossable by foot.

“I really think we can come up with a solution that can bring some life back to downtown, and do it in a manner that makes sure our most iconic crosswalk is a crosswalk again.”

The city is hosting a pair of pop-up info sessions next month for downtown workers and residents to weigh in on the future of Portage and Main — May 10 in the lobby of 201 Portage Ave. and May 11 in the underground concourse near Scotiabank. Both sessions run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The online survey will remain open until May 26.

Click to play video: 'Is Winnipeg ready to open the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street? Commuters weigh in'

Is Winnipeg ready to open the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street? Commuters weigh in

&© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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