Portage and main in the winter time is a cold, windy not to mention slippery place to try and walk.
Songs have been written about it.
It has been the venue for public rallies.
Originally an ox cart crossing in the late 1800’s Portage and Main has evolved into Winnipeg’s most iconic intersection.
My first memories of Portage and Main date back to the early 1970’s when I was a new recruit with the Winnipeg Police Force (as it was then called) .
Police recruits attended classes in the morning. The classroom was located on the 5th floor of the Public Safety Building. Then in the afternoon recruits were assigned to walk beats in the downtown area and of course do traffic duty.
Some of the most dreaded traffic points were Portage and Donald, Mayfair and Main and of course the biggy: Portage and Main.
Portage and Donald was not all that problematic except for the fact that is was the route used by the then Deputy Chief J. C. Webster to make his way home and the poor Constable doing traffic duty there needed not only to try and keep traffic flowing smoothly but also had to keep a sharp eye out for the Deputy’s car. The Deputy liked to be saluted and in that era hell had no fury like a Deputy not saluted.
Then of course there was Mayfair and Main. That intersection was a two-person job. One recruit would be out in the middle of the street actually directing traffic, and the second would manually operate the traffic signal box changing the traffic control signals from green to amber to red based on traffic flow. What made this intersection dicey was that the Superintendent in charge of Training and Personnel (Charles S Tully) and the Sergeant Instructor (Thomas Arfield) both rode the bus home along Main Street and woe be to the Constables who failed to facilitate an orderly flow of traffic especially the traffic that was south bound on Main street.
Then there was Portage and Main. The intersection from hell in terms of traffic and traffic duty. The constable assigned the task had to juggle three lanes of traffic approaching Main street from Portage Avenue east bound, and Main Street both north and south bound as well as a lesser flow of traffic from East Portage Avenue heading west. Controlling those wanting to turn left, right or proceed straight through was bad enough but then add pedestrians to the mix and it was a nightmare. Due to the cold conditions in the winter, pedestrians invariably kept crossing the street well after the don’t walk signal came on and because of the congestion in the area, drivers kept entering the intersection when the traffic light turned amber and well beyond. The result was gridlock and of course many close calls including the occasional accident involving cars and pedestrians. With all the honking of horns, and pedestrians shouting at drivers it was like being in New York.
The closing of Portage and Main to pedestrian traffic in 1978 was a major step forward in terms of pedestrian safety and traffic flow in downtown Winnipeg.
Now our Mayor who was knee high to a grasshopper when the change was made wants to stage a nostalgic ‘back to the future’ and reopen Portage and Main to pedestrians. Using the words of an actor from a movie some years back: ‘big mistake, huge’.
The City has grown substantially since 1978 (by approximately 150,000) and traffic flow which was a problem then is an even greater issue now. The re-opening or Portage and Main to pedestrian traffic would be a great plan if your end objective was to bog down the center of Winnipeg into a total rush hour gridlock and at the same time endanger the lives of pedestrians.
So if that is your objective, Mayor Bowman, the re-opening of Portage and Main to pedestrian traffic will be a booming success. Have at it.
Oh, and by the way, how about a few hitching posts – they used to have those along Main Street as well.