Friday, September 14, 2007


In a type size not seen since V-E Day, the Free Press proclaimed GRIDLOCK is plaguing streets in the traditional central business district, as well as in the central business district of the future--the teeming mess that is Kenaston/McGilvray. But fear ye not, for by the time commuters get to sit down to the paper, the problem should be all over with, thanks to some of the current road construction projects wrapping up. In journalism, I guess timing isn't everything.

But while this wave of heavy traffic may subside, it doesn't mean that traffic troubles that aggrevate couriers, commuters and pizza drivers will be going away. Nowhere in the article was their anything about aways to reduce traffic.

Nowhere was there a mention of building an underground rapid transit--something the Free Press advocated in 1963, '64, and '65--that could move thousands of commuters to their jobs and schools unimpeded by the traffic above.

There was no mention of the effect on traffic that the continued de-centralization of Winnipeg's population that is encouraged by government-backed suburban sprawl and--wait for it--more roads, or how re-populating neighborhoods that exist a little closer to work might cut down on the time commuters are losing to "gridlock".

And there was no mention of changing the habits of commuters. No mention of revisiting the idea of bridge tolls, or HOV and bicyle lanes on Winnipeg streets. This morning (on my eight-minute walk commute), I watched a man in a pick-up truck honk at a cyclist who had the audacity to take up a small portion of a lane, rather than the entire width and greater length of the lane, like the rest of the motor vehicles around which incedentally, were almost all occupied by one passenger--the driver. Instead of honking, this obnoxious yokel in the pick-up should have thanked the cyclist for making such an efficient use of the road space, and thus allowing him to get to work a little quicker.

Coun. Scott Fielding, who in the article talked about his election promise to get road construction crews working evenings is a good idea, but won't reduce traffic. Traffic, it seems, follows the principle of Say's Law, where supply creates the demand. For example, the editors of the Winnipeg Tribune in September 1955 believed that removing the last of the streetcars and opening the Midtown Bridge that month would eliminate traffic congestion in the central business district, and commuters would no longer idle on a clogged Donald, Portage, Main, Osborne or other major streets. Anyone who has sat in rush hour traffic on these streets in the last 52 years care to tell me how that worked out?

And for sixty years, every decision involving downtown and street planning in the City of Winnipeg, from Garnet Coutler to Glen Murray (as bad as any of them), has ultimately adhered to the wishes of traffic engineers that believe that congestion can be eliminated by making cars move faster. In turning streets into quasi-freeways that are terrible and degrading places to walk alongside, traffic engineers have brought just as much damage to Winnipeg's urban health and quality as any expressway system would have done. All without solving the traffic problem drivers suffer today. So if this kind of car-first planning has had no effect on traffic flow in the long term, and has had a very negative effect on quality of life, why does the city continue to let traffic engineers take them for a long, snails-pace ride?


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