Known interchangeably as "Canada's coldest intersection," and the "Crossroads of Canada," Winnipeg's Portage and Main may just be the most famous intersection in Canada. A former ox cart trail, today's Portage and Main has been the heart and soul of downtown Winnipeg for well over a century - its 1979 closure to pedestrian traffic having robbed it of much of this status for the last 40 years.
Part of an old-fashioned, and largely flawed urban planning mentality that viewed city streets as the sole domain of cars, and downtown centres as little more than clusters of office towers and banks, the 1979 closure of Portage and Main stems from the same line of thinking that brought on the rise of the elevated expressway during the 1950s. For forty years, Winnipeggers on foot have been forced underground, made to cross the city's largest intersection through a series of poorly designed, at times dangerous, subterranean tunnels.
Thus, it was of of little surprise that news spread fast, in Canada, and around the globe, upon the stunning revelation that when put to a recent referendum, locals voted 134,200 to 72,300, or almost 2:1 against reopening Portage and Main to pedestrians. Over and above the advice of urban planners, local business owners, and downtowners generally, Winnipeggers voted to keep the status quo.
Backwards by every known metric of what makes for a modern, healthy, vibrant, sustainable city, the decision will no doubt send shock waves through city councils and urban planning departments across the country. Citing concerns over construction costs, proposed at a meager $12 million, and suburban fears of a "war on the car," the latest defeat will likely set the Manitoba capital back for decades to come.