Streets

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - THIS CITY -

SINCE the open­ing of the Es­planade Riel in 2003, Provencher Boule­vard, the east- west route that links St. Boni­face to down­town, has been eyed as the old fran­co­phone city’s an­swer to the Ex­change Dis­trict and Co­ry­don Av­enue.

Still, the grow­ing de­mand for Provencher as a place for bou­tique re­tail, café pa­tios and invit­ing streetscaping faces off against the de­mand for it as a busy truck route be­tween the in­dus­tries in St. Boni­face and points west­ward. Long seen as a nui­sance to nearby res­i­dents and mer­chants, a Win­nipeg city coun­cil com­mit­tee re­cently voted to study the pos­si­bil­ity of ban­ning truck traf­fic on Provencher al­to­gether.

A busy ur­ban street is in­evitably con­tested space be­tween its dif­fer­ent users. Some mo­tor ve­hi­cles need to tem­po­rar­ily stand or park, while some need to move. Some cy­clists are adept and quick; oth­ers me­an­der with noth­ing but time on their hands. On the side­walk, there are pedes­tri­ans who want to stand or sit around and those who have places to go. The great­ness of a busy ur­ban street comes in no small part from al­low­ing for this kind of or­ga­nized chaos. ( For an in­ten­sive ex­am­ple of this, think of a typ­i­cal photo of Portage Av­enue prior to 1955. For less in­ten­sive ex­am­ples, think of Co­ry­don Av­enue.)

How­ever, to do most of th­ese things ef­fec­tively be­comes im­pos­si­ble when th­ese streets must also func­tion as non- lo­cal truck routes and seem­ingly easy fun­nels for car com­muters.

In a city that has been too cheap to build ex­press­ways, Win­nipeg’s traf­fic engi­neers have spent the past 60 years fash­ion­ing streets such as Portage, Hen­der­son, Pem­bina, and St. Mary’s into what the Amer­i­can or­ga­ni­za­tion Strong Towns have dubbed “stroads” — fu­sions of a street and a road ( or high­way). While stroads have some of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of both ur­ban streets and high­ways, they fail at be­ing ei­ther.

As a street, stroads are un­com­fort­able and de­grad­ing places for pedes­tri­ans to be. Most of the street light­ing and com­mer­cial sig­nage is de­signed for cars trav­el­ling at 60 km/ h. There are fis­cal con­se­quences to poor pedes­trian en­vi­ron­ments. Big park­ing lots are a ne­ces­sity, and stroads be­come lined by the low- in­ten­sity, sin­gle­storey strip de­vel­op­ment that pro­duces low eco­nomic yields for city cof­fers and the lo­cal econ­omy.

Af­ter decades of this kind of ad- hoc traf­fic plan­ning, th­ese old main streets are not great for driv­ing on and absolutely de­press­ing to walk along. Some­times, there are rem­nants of early street­car- era sub­ur­ban­ism, such as two- storey build­ings ori­ented to the side­walk, but th­ese have be­come so marginal­ized, they only add to the vis­ual dis­cord.

Even on ur­ban streets that are highly val­ued and a source of civic pride for their phys­i­cal form and abil­ity to func­tion like a street, the threat of the stroad con­tin­ues to grad­u­ally creep in. On Co­ry­don Av­enue, coun­cil com­mit­tees have re­cently ap­proved a drive- thru de­vel­op­ment and a mas­sive high­way strip- style elec­tric sign.

Just as the grad­ual cre­ation of stroads has de­graded the form and func­tion of Win­nipeg’s ur­ban streets, they have made Win­nipeg’s hand­ful of ur­ban high­ways not work very well ei­ther. Turn­ing lanes, traf­fic lights, drive- thru en­trances and strip- mall drive­ways all im­pede the quick pas­sage of ve­hi­cles. Th­ese things, plus prox­im­ity to build­ings, the odd pedes­trian and sharp- turn­ing radii, keep speed lim­its rel­a­tively low as a mat­ter of safety.

While lin­ing a high­way with com­mer­cial uses and all the traf­fic lights and drive­ways that go along with them may be en­tic­ing to city of­fi­cials ea­ger to quickly rake in prop­erty taxes off a new Home De­pot or Su­per 8, long- term value is lost by cre­at­ing road­ways in­ef­fi­cient for truck and com­muter traf­fic.

If, for ex­am­ple, Lag­i­modiere, Ster­ling Lyon and Ke­nas­ton were al­lowed to act as the limited- ac­cess high­ways they were orig­i­nally in­tended to be, it is easy to imag­ine the lo­cal truck­ing in­dus­try would have lit­tle use for streets such as Provencher and Portage Av­enue.

In­stead, Win­nipeg’s newer high­ways cur­rently of­fer lit­tle com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage over the old, wide streets as truck routes. Con­versely, many of the city’s old streets have lit­tle ad­van­tage over sub­ur­ban strips as places for high- in­ten­sity de­vel­op­ment and a mean­ing­ful pedes­trian en­vi­ron­ment.

If the city is se­ri­ous about fol­low­ing its own Com­plete Com­mu­ni­ties plan­ning doc­u­ment, it should rec­og­nize the im­por­tance of cre­at­ing and main­tain­ing high- qual­ity ur­ban streets by calm­ing traf­fic and lim­it­ing non- lo­cal trucks on them. If it were just as se­ri­ous about fa­cil­i­tat­ing a thriv­ing trans­port- based econ­omy, it should en­hance the ef­fi­ciency of ur­ban high­ways by lim­it­ing ac­cess to them, not in­creas­ing it.

It is pos­si­ble for Win­nipeg to do both of th­ese things, just not on the same street.

JOE BRYKSA / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

oblems with Win­nipeg’s ‘ stroads.’

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