Every week, The Uniter brings readers regular arts reviews with a Winnipeg focus. Whether examining film, theatre, fine art or literature, the paper tries to offer arts criticism examining something that Winnipeggers can actually go out and experience in any given week.
But what about what Winnipeggers experience when they’re not enjoying local art? What about the day-to-day aspects of Winnipeg that its denizens engage with? For the Urban Issue, The Uniter is reviewing facets of Winnipeg itself.
When it comes to navigating the streets of Winnipeg, things are fairly simple. The city has its odd quirks, like giving eight names to one street (Salter Street / Isabel Street / Balmoral Street / Colony Street / Memorial Boulevard / Osborne Street / Dunkirk Drive / Dakota Street) gives new meaning to the expression “a bit much.”
But ultimately, it’s a hard city to get lost in, with enough main thoroughfares that even the most disoriented traveller will eventually hit one and reorient themselves.
Congestion, especially on those thoroughfares, is another matter. Portage Avenue, for example, rarely gets better than “inconvenient” during daylight hours. Rush hour, construction and weather variables make driving between 7 and 9 a.m. or 4 and 6 p.m. a near guarantee for idling, headaches and time wasting.
The congestion makes things worse not just for drivers, but for cyclists as well. Traffic congestion puts extra stress on Winnipeg’s already inadequate bike infrastructure, forcing local cyclists to ride even closer to automotive traffic than they do at the best of times.
Fortunately, there are mitigating factors. Specifically, CBC Radio’s traffic reporter Trevor Dineen is an invaluable resource for any daily commuter. His traffic updates, either on the airwaves or through his sassy Twitter posts, are as much a part of the local traffic climate as the wind is part of the weather.
There are good things to say about Winnipeg’s public transit system. It is, at the very least, a functioning transit system. Despite all its flaws, the reality is there is some affordable form of transport for non-drivers. However, those flaws are many, and they run deep.
Impossibly, Winnipeg’s transit service seems to have gotten worse, not better, with time. Toronto’s vastly superior system relies heavily on electric streetcars, which have been in use since 1892. Winnipeg abandoned its electric streetcars (introduced in 1891) in 1955 in favour of our current system, which exclusively uses diesel buses.
That system is unreliable (every bus rider has wasted time waiting for a late bus) and unnecessarily complicated. Daily users who have their routes memorized do fine, but planning spontaneous travel on the fly is a different story, especially for Winnipeggers who lack access to mobile data, without which planning and scheduling trips is nearly impossible.
Services also end no later than 2 a.m., which is a major hassle for night owls and weekend nights. It’s an especially odd choice, considering that service starts up again at 5:30 a.m. How much money does that three-and-a-half hours really save?
Winnipeg has debated adding a superior light rail or subway system since at least 1959. With the global trend moving away from individual car ownership, here’s hoping Winnipeg reignites this debate and enters the 21st century.