*‘No’ vote goes against global trend towards walkable downtowns*
* NY Times takes notice of P&M referendum *
IT’S not surprising the New York Times took notice of Winnipeg’s Portage and Main plebiscite because it’s a debate fomenting across North America, said a campaigner to reopen the famous intersection.
“At a time when many Canadian cities are moving to make themselves more amenable to pedestrians, it seems a perhaps quixotic decision,” the New York Times said of the vote against opening the intersection.
The article lamented that Winnipeggers voted two to one against its opening.
International interest shouldn’t come as a surprise, said local Yes campaigner Hazel Borys, “because (the No vote) was such an anomaly. North American cities are making massive strides to become more walkable and accessible to cyclists.”
Some cities such as London and Paris are even banning cars from some parts of the city. Winnipeg’s plebiscite was not about anything nearly so drastic. It was not a war against cars but rather an effort to reinvigorate the heart of the city, she said.
“Cities are making big moves to make their cities and downtowns more pedestrian and cyclist friendly, and car friendly as well,” said Borys.
The New York Times article, titled On Foot and Underground at Canada’s Crossroads, said Winnipeg’s debate may have reflected “tensions between drivers, pedestrians and cyclists that are bubbling up throughout Canada.”
The original decision to close the intersection 40 years ago was part of a development deal to get an office tower built on one corner, the article said, thereby funneling people through an underground shopping mall.
Aswell, it came at a time when the fashion in urban centres was to
keep cars and pedestrians as separate as possible.
However, the idea that vehicle traffic and pedestrians should be kept separate is being rethought, said Borys, an engineer who helped build many roads and bridges.
“We thought if we removed things like street trees and parked cars and anything that a car might run into that we would create safer places,” she said.
“Instead, what we did is create racetracks out of our urban streets and made very deadly environments.”
Borys said some people may have viewed the debate as one of cars versus pedestrians but opening Portage and Main would have benefited both sides.
“The more of us who walk or cycle to our daily needs, the easier it is on cars because we’re taking cars off the road and reducing traffic,” she said. Walking and cycling also promote a healthier lifestyle at a time when obesity has become a major issue in the Western world, she said.
It’s really about making streets more user-friendly to all modes of transportation, Borys said. Proponents of reopening the intersection didn’t provide residents “with enough information to make a meaningful choice.” Asking property owners in the vicinity of the closed intersection to redevelop their lots “is like asking them to build on a limited intersection of a limited access roadway. We’ve created a limited access roadway at the heart of our city.”
Borys said all property owners in the four blocks surrounding the intersection were in favour of opening Portage and Main to pedestrians.