Public works chair wants 15 permanent seasonal traffic-restricting open streets

Winnipeg city council’s public works chairman wants to prioritize pedestrian access on sections of more than a dozen streets.

Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface) is lobbying colleagues to permanently add seasonal active transportation routes on 15 streets, which would run seven days a week between the May long and Thanksgiving weekends each year.

The routes would include 10 sections of "open streets" the city tested out this year, continuing to limit vehicle traffic on them to one block from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. The routes were created to provide extra space for pedestrians and cyclists to stay active, while offering room for them to also keep least two metres apart from others during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"In my opinion, and I think the opinion of many across the city, (the routes) were a tremendous success. They were very low cost and opened up very large recreational opportunities for Winnipeggers… I don’t think COVID-19 is necessarily going away, so Winnipeggers will potentially need those recreational opportunities again next year," said Allard.

The councillor raised a successful motion to support the change at a public works committee meeting Wednesday. If council approves it, the motion will have Winnipeg’s public service study the 10 routes and consider adding others on five additional streets. A report on implementing those changes would return for a second round of council votes, perhaps in November.

Allard hopes a final decision will be made in time for the routes to reopen by May 2021.

Some of the 10 temporary trial routes closed for the season Sept. 7. Others will be offered until Oct. 12, but only on Sundays and holidays.

The closures triggered plenty of public pressure to extend the active transportation access, especially through online petitions and social media. However, not all Winnipeggers support the seven-day-per-week routes.

"Why would you close a road seven days a week when there’s nobody using it for walking and cycling during the daylight hours because they’re at work or school? That’s nonsense," said Riverview resident Tom Pearson.

Pearson said he’s concerned the Churchill Drive route in his neighbourhood also diverts drivers to streets that actually have more pedestrians than it does, creating a new safety risk while also interrupting commutes along Churchill.

The city must consult the broader public before considering permanent changes, Pearson said. He fears politicians may otherwise base decisions solely on input from those who support the change, which he argues could be a "vocal minority."

Mark Cohoe, executive director of Bike Winnipeg, said he’s convinced there is ample demand to warrant the number of open streets the motion recommends.

"Looking at the numbers we saw biking down those roads this year, there’s a huge amount of demand to have that kind of access," said Cohoe. "I think it’s (also) something that moves the city forward towards its goals on climate change, towards its goals on sustainability."

He expects the city’s approval process will offer time and flexibility to assess feedback on each individual route and make adjustments to address some residents’ concerns.

For example, Cohoe said he agrees the Churchill Drive route warrants extra consideration, suggesting it may be better suited to offer a protected bike lane than an open street section.

Allard said public feedback will be incorporated in the November report.

If the changes are implemented, seasonal open streets would resume every year on sections of Wellington Crescent, Lyndale Drive, Scotia Street, Egerton Road, Kildonan Drive, Kilkenny Drive, Rover Avenue, Vialoux Drive, Wolseley Avenue and Churchill Drive. New routes would also be added for parts of Glenwood Crescent, Youville Street, Rosseau Avenue and Ellen Street, as well as two sections of Alexander Avenue.

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga