Favourite Local Political Moment

Vote to open Portage and Main

Preparing for the plebiscite on whether or not to open the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street to pedestrians dominated local news and social media this fall.

What may have seemed at first to be a pretty niche issue quickly led to larger conversations about ableism, transportation, the environment, safety, the economic condition of the downtown and the divide between urban and suburban Winnipeg.

While the conversation about the intersection began years ago, the VoteOpen campaign first entered social media circles and engaged with Winnipeggers in July of this year. Their efforts culminated in OpenFest, a street festival at the intersection in question which included local musicians, artists and poets on Oct. 22.

Whether or not to open Portage and Main to pedestrians was also a popular talking point among mayoral candidates, and one of the few issues on which everyone seemed to have a strong position.

As public conversations about the state of the intersection gained traction in the media, issues with the underground concourse began to get more public attention, as news outlets profiled people with mobility restrictions and vulnerable populations about concourse accessibility and safety.

Proponents of opening also cited an increase in foot traffic to businesses in the area and the creation of a more walkable city as positives, while opponents claimed pedestrians would be unsafe, and traffic would slow too significantly.

When the votes were tallied and broken down by ward, it was revealed that the wards closest to and most likely to be impacted by the change voted in favour of opening the intersection, while wards further away
voted against.

The plebiscite also led to the creation of a particularly easy-to-apply meme in the form of a CBC infographic.

Published in Volume 73, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 29, 2018)

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