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.