*The latest: Portage and Main*
IT’S not some kind of mythical Gordian Knot, tangled and tightened beyond all hope of being untied. Nor is it a creation of author Franz Kafka: one night, the pedestrian access beneath Portage and Main did not metamorphose into a giant, otherworldly mandible-clacking beetle.
But sometimes it seems more than a little bit like both of those things.
And the saga continues. In the past few weeks, City Hall has been examining the idea of closing and demolishing the bunker — the stairwell that takes pedestrians (well, brave ones, anyway) down into the concourse beneath the storied Winnipeg intersection. Make no mistake — the bunker, stairs and connection to the underground concourse is stinky, scary and unpleasant. Often a urinal — and sometimes disgustingly more than that — it is in no way a route of choice for those trying to cross at the intersection.
Sometimes, though, it’s the only route. The idea being considered is one put forward by the city’s property committee, and approved unanimously, which would include the city paying Richardson Centre Ltd. $1.65 million to remove the staircase as part of a redevelopment, and also put in place an agreement to allow people to use parts of the Richardson Building to access the concourse route underneath the intersection, using more expanded hours than the current hours the building is open.
The arrangement doesn’t appear to be establishing or maintaining a public right-of-way: it seems more like a move to develop a commercial arrangement for access through private property. And commercial arrangements have their complications and costs. The proposal approved by the property committee is worded like this: “That authority be delegated to the Chief Administrative Officer to negotiate and approve all future agreements with Richardson Centre Limited with respect to public use and access to the City concourse through Richardson Centre Limited’s property located at 365 and 375 Main Street and such other terms and conditions deemed necessary by the City Solicitor/Director of Legal Services to protect the interests of the City,” the motion says.
And generally speaking, things like access, cleaning, additional opening hours
and security can end up being commercial costs that have to be borne by users.
The question of public access is not lost on committee chairperson Coun. Sherri Rollins: “Most Winnipeggers want to not have to rely on a private-sector access agreement to be able to access their city in a meaningful way.”
Another way of looking at it? Like putting lipstick on a pig — or else as yet another hitch and coil in the ever-growing Portage and Main Gordonian Pedestrian Knot. Moving the public through the Richardson Centre property doesn’t actually simplify things: it just throws in a whole new element.
Other larger and more complex intersections in larger and busier cities than our own have managed to function without such complications. Without sky gardens. Without years of planning and replanning, consultants’ reports and public input and scary staircases and concrete barricades.
A functional downtown needs the ability for a right of way from point A to point B, not just for vehicles, but for living, breathing, walking people.
Alexander the Great, by solving the Gordian Knot by cutting it in half with his sword, was prophesied to become the ruler of all Asia.
Perhaps endless travails over an intersection would benefit from such a simple and direct approach.
Whoever finally unravels meaningful, simple, public pedestrian access through Portage and Main won’t rule all of Asia.
But maybe there’s an argument that they could rule all of Winnipeg.