Separating buses from downtown traffic is Winnipeg’s new priority for rapid transit

Separating buses from other vehicles on the busiest downtown streets has replaced building a bus corridor to Transcona as Winnipeg’s top priority for rapid transit.

In a proposed new planning framework, published Friday to solicit feedback, Winnipeg Transit engineers recommend separating buses from the rest of traffic on short sections of Main Street, Portage Avenue and St. Mary’s Road the next time money is available to expand rapid transit.

This would involve building one transitway from Main Street at Higgins Avenue in the north to St. Mary’s Road at Taché Avenue in the south. Part of this corridor would be elevated above ground on CN Rail’s highline east of Main Street and connect with the Southwest Transitway near Stradbrook Avenue.

The second new downtown transitway would run at ground level along Portage Avenue, from Westbrook Street in the east to the University of Winnipeg in the west.

“This would give buses their own space, so they wouldn’t be in the way of cars — and cars wouldn’t be in the way of transit,” said Kevin Sturgeon, a senior planner with Winnipeg Transit.

This draft plan shows potential interactions between transitways branching out across the city. (CBC News Graphics)

The on-street sections of the new corridors would consist of separated lanes for buses and transit priority signals at intersections. The elevated track east of Main Street would run straight through Union Station, which would become a hub for all of Winnipeg Transit’s proposed rapid lines.

Union Station hub

“People suggested it over and over. We didn’t ask any questions on it before, but it came up independently from many different people,” said Sturgeon, referring to public engagement as part of the city’s new transportation master plan. 

“We know that we’ve had an agreement with the CN and Via [Rail] for a long time that allows us to use that space if we choose to. So we we heard a lot of support for it and we’re recommending to move forward with it.”

Winnipeg Transit’s agreement with CN Rail allows the city to make use of existing tracks one and two, which currently house the Winnipeg Railway Museum.

The station would also serve as an entrance to future RailSide retail and residential development at The Forks.

“It’s been around for 20 years. It’s always been a good idea. Just someone needs to do it now,” said Paul Jordan, CEO at The Forks. 

There is no timeline in the planning framework for the construction of the new downtown transitways or any other rapid transit infrastructure.

“That’s not really our role,” said Sturgeon, adding it will be up to city council to decide to proceed with future rapid transit expansions.

Union Station, which opened on Main Street in 1911, could become a rapid transit node. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

After the downtown transitways are built, planners recommend a second tier of rapid transit improvements that include extending the North transitway along Main Street to Inkster Boulevard, connecting the Southwest Transitway from the University of Manitoba’s Fort Garry campus to St. Vital Centre by building a transit bridge over the Red River, expanding Jubilee Station and converting Sutherland Avenue in Point Douglas into a transitway.

A third tier of improvements would see the Southeast Transitway expanded down to St. Vital Centre, the North Transitway expanded up to Fernbank Avenue and the construction of a Grant Avenue corridor that would run from Pembina Highway to William Clement Parkway and then continue along Moray Street and Sturgeon Road.

Transityway to Transcona falls in priority

Prior to this year, a separated transitway between downtown and Transcona was supposed to be the next priority for rapid transit in Winnipeg, following the completion of the second phase of the Southwest Transitway.

It’s now a bottom-priority option under the new rapid-transit planning framework. The East Transitway would require separated lanes on Nairn Avenue, a new bus bridge over the CP Mainline and an overpass at Lagimodiere Boulevard, according to the plan.

The other bottom priority is expanding the West Transitway from the University of Winnipeg to Unicity.

Winnipeg Transit’s new downtown rapid-transit infrastructure would include an overpass that allows buses to bypass the intersection of Stradbrook Avenue and Main Street. (Winnipeg Transit)

Sturgeon said he does not have estimates for any of these amenities. Winnipeg Transit will cost out the downtown improvements before the final version of its plan goes before city council in the spring, he said.

Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry Coun. Sherri Rollins, whose ward includes part of downtown, said she likes the rapid-transit plan because it focuses first on getting people in and out of downtown.

For now, Winnipeg Transit has more pressing plans, she said,

“In the pandemic, budgeting for transit has just gotten more complex,” Rollins said, referring to a drop in transit ridership and the resulting financial impact. “I’m still trying to hope for the best, but I’m planning for the worst.”

Earlier this year, the federal and provincial governments committed a combined $66 million for municipal transit in Manitoba. The province has asked Winnipeg, Brandon, Thompson, Flin Flon and Selkirk for data to help determine where the money will go.

“Development of the formula to allocate this funding is currently underway,” Municipal Relations Minister Rochelle Squires’ office said in a statement. “Among other factors, the Government of Manitoba will be considering projected losses compared to pre-COVID losses, as well as ridership levels.”

Mayor Brian Bowman’s office was not available to comment Monday about the City’s preferred use of this money. 

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