Winnipeg mayoral candidate resurrects pledge to open Portage and Main

A Winnipeg mayoral candidate is pledging to bring down the barriers at Portage and Main, despite the results of a plebiscite held on the issue four years ago.

Rana Bokhari said it’s about improving accessibility across the city.

If she’s elected mayor, Bokhari vowed the concrete barriers at the iconic intersection will be removed permanently.

“Once they’re gone, they’re not coming back up,” Bokhari said in an interview Monday. “It is a human rights issue. It is an accessibility issue.”

The barriers have to be removed anyway to complete repairs to key infrastructure under the intersection, Bokhari said. She added she’s in favour of opening the intersection to pedestrians but only after a bigger discussion takes places to make decisions on crossings, bike lanes and where they should be located.

It has long been considered a historic and iconic intersection, one with concrete barriers at its corners, blocking people using sidewalks from crossing the busy roadway.

Vehicles can travel at surface level but pedestrians are forced to walk underground or detour to nearby crossings to get to the other side of the street.

John Sillers uses a walker and often takes the bus from his Winnipeg home to run errands downtown.

While he’d like the intersection opened to pedestrians, Sillers expressed concern about crossing the street due to heavy traffic flows.

“The street is too long,” he said. “You can’t walk across it and you’re not going to make it on time.”

Bokhari’s promise is similar to one made by outgoing Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman before 65 per cent of people voted in the last election to keep the intersection closed to pedestrians in a non-binding plebiscite.

CTV News Winnipeg reached out via email to seven of the 11 other mayoral candidates who polled at or above the three per cent support Bokhari received in the latest Probe Research poll to see where they stand on the issue.

Rick Shone said he was a proponent of opening the intersection in 2018 and still supports the idea.

Kevin Klein said the intersection will have to be ripped up to fix a waterproof membrane under Portage and Main and that it may be less expensive not to replace the barriers. He’s open to examining a pedestrian crossing at the intersection.

Candidate Scott Gillingham said in a statement he doesn’t support reopening Portage and Main at this time, adding the result of the plebiscite was very clear during the last election and that it would be disrespectful to ignore that and go in a different direction.

Jenny Motkaluk, who ran against Bowman in 2018, said the issue was resolved by the city-wide referendum when she said Winnipeggers voted overwhelmingly to keep the intersection as is.

Shaun Loney is in favour of opening the intersection to pedestrians.

Glen Murray said the people spoke on the issue once already and we shouldn’t be second-guessing that.

Sillers thinks it’s worth another look.

“If you’re walking down the street here, you can’t get across,” he said. “You’re going way around.”

Robert-Falcon Ouellette did not respond by deadline.

Don Woodstock, Idris Adelakun and Chris Clacio are also running for mayor.

The municipal election is Oct. 26. 

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