Decisions, Decisions

I’ve always been an indecisive person. Yesterday when I was leaving the house, I was trying to decide what shoes to wear, and I suggested a pair to Mike who made a non-committal comment. I was second-guessing myself when I realized what I was doing. Sometimes it makes sense to get a second opinion, like if you’re coordinating colours or a doctor says they need to amputate a limb. In this case however, I was deciding what shoes to wear to drive to my girlfriend’s house. Most people don’t decide, they just put on whatever shoes are handy and go. It can be frustrating on a daily basis when for example I get overwhelmed by menu options. It can be crippling when I freeze with uncertainty. I hate choosing when it impacts other people. If forced into making a decision, I need reassurances. If I walk into the restaurant first and have to choose the table, once we sit down, I’ll ask “Are you sure this is okay?” “Is there a draft?” “Do you wish we had chosen to sit by the window?” It’s irritating for me and for other people and can end up ruining my own enjoyment because I’m fretting the entire time.
Sometimes it seems like Winnipeg’s has a similar problem. We are the opposite of Star Trek, tentatively remaining where everyone has already been. We look to other cities, admiring their ideas and initiatives and agree that we should plan for the future. So we think about it. And think about it. And study it. And think about it some more. City council was debating light rail transit in the 1970s. Fifty years later, we continue to talk about how great it would be except that we (still) can’t afford it. Instead of accepting Bus Rapid Transit, City Hall orders study after study of rapid transit systems. Glen Murray commits to bus rapid transit, secures funding and then leaves office. This in turn allows Sam Katz to be elected and he scraps the plan. More studies are ordered. 8 years later, the first BRT corridor opens. Over 50 years worth of hemming and hawing and we have one BRT corridor to show for it. Of course in a political system, it’s not as easy as one person coming in and Making an executive decision. There are negotiations, compromises and trade-offs. These are big decisions with price tags and public opinion polls attached to them. The problem is that this is not unchartered territory. Rapid transit isn’t new. We have studies out the wazoo on this. Despite our best efforts, we’re slowly developing a BRT system.

The next controversial issue that we can look forward to agonizing over is reopening Portage and Main to pedestrians. When pedestrians were banned from the intersection in the 70s, a study concluded that Portage & Main was no longer viable to both pedestrians and cars. I wasn’t able to find detailed information, but I assume the study results were based on how the intersection was structured at the time, without taking into consideration alternative changes such scramble intersection. Ultimately, the city closed the intersection as part of a deal with a developer. An indoor pedestrian walkway was dreamt of as a way for Winnipeggers to be able to comfortably walk around downtown without worrying about losing a finger or a toe to frostbite. Apparently the original proposal was a pedestrian walkway above Portage and Main which is fun to imagine. The original proposal was rejected and the project became an underground walkway resembling a wheel. In exchange for the developer to build the underground structure, the city promised to keep the intersection closed for 50 years to ensure pedestrian traffic in the shops. This was a very expensive undertaking which is why the city committed to closing the intersection for so long. 37 years later, now that we take our underground walkway for granted; removing the barricades is our new dream. Things have changed. I’m not sure that in the 1970’s, the city thought our downtown would suffer so badly. They didn’t know we would be struggling to solve an urban sprawl problem. Maybe they thought transportation would have evolved into something completely new. Back to the Future 2 would be released ten years later and showcased hover boards in 2015. Anything was possible in the new millennium.

Of course, we’re all Winnipeggers at heart so while downtown changed, we haven’t. In 2015, City Hall commissioned a study to examine the issue. The results of the study should be presented to City Council sometime in 2017 so brace yourselves, this conversation is just getting started.

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3 comments

  1. Sam · December 3

    Winnipeg isn’t suffering from urban sprawl. Winnipeg for those that do not know , is the originator of what we call Unicity. This blueprint ( 1970 ) that saw multiple “towns” amalgamate into one has been copied all over North America. We have not sprawled, we have amalgamated to reduce redundancies and costs.

    There is and still exists one major flaw with the Unicity concept. That is direct, no question asked, provincial funding. Without this injection of strings attached Provincial monies ( dribbled down from Federal coffers ), funding major projects becomes a problem. Provincial governments, like ours, have to reduce redundancies like school boards and Whra in order to better manage their funding.

    Another problem with this town is that people have a hard time thinking for the next 100 years. We are so busy trying to implement a BRT to a suburb that we forget to look at major problems we have.

    We have a donut – the core is empty. Pre 1970, that didn’t much matter, Winnipeg was much smaller. Now that burbs are annexed, with far flung communities like St. Norbert ( Headingley, wisely succeeded ), we created a a massive land transfer that needs to be filled.

    So what to do. Instead of bringing back the UofM to the core, they doubled down and built a stadium out there. To make matters worse, they allowed the university to purchase a golf course and they will now build residences. In essense you have created a new core in a suburb. Now you are spending a billion to tie it to the old core……make sense to you ? No wonder people don’t get excited and push for a BRT…..it makes no sense. A city that has no freeways and highways to speak of and yet we will spend 6 Billion to build a separate bus freeway….with no bike paths on it…..we don’t have sprawl……..we have stubborn people unwilling to make choices that will structurally benefit this ‘new” city for the next 100 years ( and don’t even get me started on trains bisecting this City )

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  2. winnipegishere · December 4

    Thank you for commenting Sam.

    I’m glad you brought up unicity because that was a topic I want to explore in the near future. It does explain a lot about Winnipeg. And possibly the odd practice of street names changing multiple times.

    In terms of urban sprawl, I still think that we are continually putting a lot of money into funding large suburbs like Sage Creek, Bridgwater, etc. To me it seems that the Mayor is working to discourage suburban growth (the proposed development fees) and encourage downtown development (reopen P&M). I could have elaborated on that.

    I do think that some type of rapid transit is necessary. Aside from routes that go directly from one neighbourhood to downtown, it’s difficult to navigate the city efficiently without a car. As more neighbourhoods are built, the more congested the main arterial roads become and the harder it is on the existing infrastructure. The other option could be to incorporate more freeway-style roads but considering even the perimeter has traffic lights, I think it’s unlikely.

    I’m interested in hearing your thoughts about the railway tracks. Would you be a proponent of relocating them to outside city limits or repurposing them for a light rail system?

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    • Sam · December 5

      BRT needs to wait. First things first. Get rail out of the City, they already own about 1000 acres at CentrePort. Reuse existing ROW’s, not the physical rails….but the ROW’s. ROW’s are what is of value. We’ve already destroyed a few valuable ROW’s……and I think everyone has learned their lesson. Light Rail….not feasible for this town, but , electric bus route incorporating bike routes would be efficient enough. Cars will never go away. In fact, they will increase. The blessing is that they will eventually be compact urban commuters……EV’s if they can knock the price to sub 15 K. Once we lessen the weight on our roadways, you will see that our roadways are more than enough to afford easy commutes. You want less traffic, deliveries within the City can only be made off peak hours. Tractor trailers would be banned ….they’d have to offload and transfer to smaller vehicles. A few more freeways would help rather then hinder.

      Here is the problem, no one is looking at the City of 100 years. They fill in the gaps ( and make more ) without solving anything. You now have people trumpeting hi-rise development by the BRT routes as if they suddenly invented something new. Nothing interesting…….BRT, I shake my head. Can you imagine what it will cost to go from downtown to Unicity for a BRT highway ? or down McPhillips to Leila ? or extending to St. Norbert………you know what…the push is to get to a suburb for a billion, if you can square that rational, then there is not much more to talk about. Be prepared to wait at least 50 to 75 years for a city wide BRT……..and we will still have rails crisscrossing the City…….ugh , how boring.

      Lets get this straight….funding developments on the City side is an investment that will have returns aa long as someone owns the home. Taxing people in the guise of trying to do “something” or tying it to discourage sprawl . is just a tax grab. ( who do you think allows these developments to go ahead …..why it’s the City Planners not the developers )

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