Winnipeg is decades behind other Canadian cities when it comes to planning — and planning to pay for — better public transit, roads, and active transportation infrastructure, according a University of Winnipeg urban geography professor.
Jino Distasio says as the city’s population continues to inch towards a million — and with voters poised to choose a new mayor and council — now is the time for leaders who will think big and make a generational impact.
“We have to really take that leap of faith and do something bold, and be a leader instead of lagging behind and looking at other cities that are passing us by — and at a heck of a lot more efficient rate — with the systems that they’ve planned,” Distasio told 680 CJOB’s The Start, Tuesday.
“I just can’t see how we move as a region of a million plus coming, in the system that we have right now.”
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Distasio says when cities like Calgary and Edmonton began planning for and making improvements to their public infrastructure with projects like LRT decades ago, Winnipeg faced stagnant growth, which kept the city from being able to do similar work.
He said that’s left Winnipeg with aging infrastructure that will need to improved as the population grows.
But that will mean long-term planning and a commitment to invest in costly projects like lane widening and LRT, Distasio says, that may take years or even decades to complete.
“It’s time to make that unfortunate, you know, $5 to $10 billion investment,” he said, adding the longer the city waits the more costs will increase.
“That’s where we stall. When people see the price tag, it is sticker shock.”
Working to speed up commutes as Winnipeg expands will take more than just road rehabilitation and improvements to public transit, says Bike Winnipeg executive director, Mark Cohoe.
Cohoe says while the Winnipeg’s active transportation system has improved in the last 10 years with the addition of dedicated bike lanes and pathways, there is still work to be done.
For example, he says bike paths need to be better connected throughout the city, work most effectively done while larger road and infrastructure projects are being completed.
“(It’s) still a really huge problem for people and lots of connectivity issues where you can get close but you can’t quite get to where you’re going,” he told Global News Winnipeg Morning, Tuesday.
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“So I think that’s something we really need to see the next mayor and council focus on.”
Cohoe says the city should also look at reducing speed limits on residential streets and building more places to safely lock up bikes to reduce thefts to encourage more Winnipeggers to walk or cycle.
“If we don’t get more people out of their vehicles, we really can’t manage the amount of traffic that we’re going to have in a growing city,” he said.
“And from a climate perspective, it’s obviously horrendous. Half our emissions in Winnipeg are transportation-related. So unless we can get more people walking, biking and bussing, we really can’t have any hope at all at reducing those climate emissions.”
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Distasio says the city will need to work with the provincial and federal governments to plan and complete infrastructure projects he sees as necessary to keep Winnipeg moving as the city grows to a million people.
And as Winnipeggers head to the polls Oct. 26, he says we need to think of public transit and active transportation infrastructure like we once thought of the floodway — hugely expensive, but work that will pay even larger dividends in the future.
“There is something transformational about a city that really embarks on its its next journey of transportation and makes that statement that says we are going to make a perhaps a once in a lifetime investment, kind of like the floodway.
“Is Winnipeg ready to become more than just a small prairie city? And if so, are we ready to make that investment?”
— with files from Skylar Peters
&© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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