‘This city is a car city’

The state of traffic and parking downtown, as people return to in-person practices

During the first waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people were required to work and study from home. As fewer people travelled into the downtown core to go to the office or classes, the streets were fairly quiet, and parking was much easier to find.

Now, as most Winnipeggers begin to return to in-person settings for work and school, the downtown streets have become quite full, and parking is harder to find.

IQAir’s 2020 World Air Quality Report states that human-related emissions from industry and transport significantly decreased across the globe during lockdowns. The air quality improvements were analyzed to be in 65 per cent of global cities in 2020 compared to 2019, with 84 per cent of nations reporting air quality improvements overall.

“The connection between COVID-19 and air pollution has shone new light on the latter, especially as many locations have observed visibly cleaner air – revealing that air quality improvements are possible with urgent, collective action,” the report read.

Many people in Winnipeg drive personal vehicles to and from work, school and other activities as opposed to using public transit, walking or biking.

“This city is a car city,” Dr. Marc Vachon, a geography associate professor at the University of Winnipeg (U of W), says. According to Vachon, approximately 41 per cent of the space in downtown Winnipeg is designated for parking, but people still often complain about the lack of available spots.

Public transit is a fantastic resource in many ways, as it is cost-effective, environmentally friendly and convenient for many people. However, there have been classist connotations placed on public transit that often deter people from using it.

“There is a deep-rooted perception that is negative towards public transportation here,” Vachon says. “It’s as if your income is low, and that’s why you take the bus ... there is also a deep-rooted view that, with my car, I could go anywhere and park right in front of where I need to be – which is really bad, because that’s not true.”

Transit ridership in Winnipeg has decreased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. This increases the number of personal vehicles on the roads.

“The use of public transit is way down,” Dr. Danny Blair, another U of W geography professor, says. “In part, it’s because of people working from home. But, in part, I think it is because people are hesitant to get into those sometimes-cramped environments.”

Although public transit may seem like a scary place to be during a pandemic, Blair explains that there are protocols in place to ensure passengers can travel safely.

“We need to turn to public transit,” Blair says. “A major source of our carbon emissions in Canada and around the world comes from transportation.”

Published in Volume 76, Number 05 of The Uniter (October 7, 2021)

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