An open letter to new Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman

Dear Mayor Bowman:

Congratulations! You overcame an underdog status to win a hard-fought race and are now comfortably settled into your new office on Main Street. You are the face of the “new” Winnipeg, and, like Nasheed Nenshi in Calgary or Eric Garcetti in Los Angeles, are being lauded as a “hipster mayor.” Which is exactly what Winnipeg needs right now.

But being a hipster mayor is about more than the width of your lapels and and which organic fair trade coffee you’re seen sipping at the hippest new café. The policies which you introduce and execute will make the city either cooler, or lamer. And while there’s much about Winnipeg that’s already cool—The Exchange District’s architecture, a great culinary scene, a large stock of historical homes, an impressive network of bike trails—there’s still much that is lame: inner-city poverty, gang violence, sub-arctic winters, an emaciated street culture, an underwhelming transit system. Your job will be to accentuate the former while mitigating the latter.

Which is why I’m writing you openly on a matter of imperative importance to the city’s future, a topic more contentious and controversial than any other in this recent election. And while you might well interpret your victory as a mandate to fast-track the implementation of the so-called Bus Rapid Transit scheme, do hear me out as I explain why this idea is 125% lame. And there’s a cool alternative.

The first leg of the BRT scheme has been in operation for thirty-one months now, and let’s face facts—it hasn’t been a game-changer. The promised ToD or transit-oriented development hasn’t appeared, as I predicted ten years ago when I was writing for the Free Press. Even during rush hours, I never observed mobs of passengers streaming in and out of Osborne Station. Nobody’s giving up their cars for this. Let’s be honest with ourselves—it’s a bus stop on steroids, not rapid transit. And no matter how much lipstick you put on the pig, a bus is still a bus, and riding the bus will forever carry the stigma of being ghetto.

The rest of the plan is only looking worse. While Osborne Station is at least relatively adjacent to high population densities, take a look at this map and tell me what you see.

I’ll tell you what I see. The Western Corridor is a passageway to nowhere. Nobody lives south of Wilkes, and hardly anyone lives north of it—and of those few who do occupy those low-density Charleswood neighbourhoods, only a tiny minority will use the route for commuting, never mind as an inducement to car-free living. The Southeastern Corridor isn’t looking much better. None of the neighborhoods it serves has a high density or a large proportion of transit users. The Eastern Corridor services the south periphery of Elmwood but runs too far from most homes to be a practical replacement for the 45 Talbot or 47 Regent buses. The Northwestern Corridor fails to be of practical use to the North End’s largely transit-dependent population base. Billions of dollars will be spent—wasted, I should say—on roadways and infrastructure to run frequent buses to places where people do not want to go, and the majority of passenger trips will remain on regular local and express buses on major arterial routes: Portage, Main, Henderson, Osborne, Salter, Corydon.

That millions of dollars went into studies that resulted in this map is to me a source of major second-hand embarrassment. It should be plain to anyone who knows the city and its transit patterns that this is a complete non-starter, but somehow it got started. It must be stopped.

The billions of dollars spent building these busways to nowhere could be much better appropriated toward upgrading the existing system: replacing the fleet, adding 24-hour Night Owl service, restoring frequency of service to pre-Thompson Administration levels, freezing—or even lowering—fares. But that wouldn’t be game-changing either, nor would it fit within your promised mandate of implementing “bold actionable plans that will deliver this city to where it should be.”

It’s time to take another hard, serious look at the Norman D. Wilson subway plan.

Now here’s a scheme that parallels major arterials and actually goes where people live and work. River & Osborne? Yup. Health Sciences Centre & St. Boniface Hospital? Covered. City Hall and The Exchange District? Right there. The Manitoba Legislature, Polo Park, Portage and Main, and The Forks? All of the above. The North End, the West End, Elmwood, Weston, Norwood and Old St. Vital are all represented. It could be expanded: south, to the U of M; west, to Assiniboine Park. And it’s underground. Truly rapid. Protected from the elements.

Before I go on, let me address all the pat objections. This has been studied more than once (1958 & 1966) and, from an engineering perspective, a subway is totally doable with Winnipeg’s subsoil conditions. So let’s move on to the ostensibly unaffordable price tag. When you consider the ROI [return on investment], it’s the BRT plan that’s looking unaffordable. A bunch of busways to and from peripheral suburbs servicing mostly uninhabited areas aren’t going to do much for the city except perhaps enrich some already wealthy construction contractors. On the other hand, this subway plan would create an entirely new Winnipeg, with high density nodes around every station.

Can’t you see multi-story mixed-use projects at, say, Isabel and William? Main and Mountain? Osborne and Morley? These are urban intersections whose base densities were established during the streetcar era, and this density can be further built upon once served by a transit system that is an actual conduit to car-free living. We need to work within the existing grid rather than pray for prairie to magically turn into vertical homes because a glorified bus route opens nearby. That’s never going to happen, and we shouldn’t want it to happen.

Let’s now address the obvious—in a jobs and labour marketplace that’s increasingly global, Winnipeg is faced with a massive, almost insurmountable, liability: it’s cold. Really cold. On average, 113 days a year the temperature never rises above freezing. Given a choice, talented, educated workers are generally more repelled by than drawn to extreme cold climates. That’s why my brother, a chiropractor, and my best friend from high school, a teacher, are enjoying life in Singapore. It’s why so many of my former classmates have settled in Vancouver. It’s why I’m writing this from Los Angeles. It takes an almost masochistic temperament—or, at the least, vested business interests—to endure such painfully extreme polar vortexes so many days of the year when one is free to leave. There has to be an equalizer. The BRT plan simply ain’t it.

Toronto and, especially, Montreal are both cold (albeit less so) cities that enjoy robust car-free cultures. Surely I needn’t point out why. In the absence of comparative proportions of transit usage, Winnipeg will by comparison always be lame. It will bleed talent and struggle to attract newcomers. The critical mass of density and street culture that Winnipeg needs to compete in the global marketplace as a world-class city capable of attracting top talent—it won’t ever arrive if we continue building busways. It’s going to require building a transit system that, much of the time, is more attractive than driving. That means going where people already go—along existing major arterials. And it means being protected from the elements—underground, with warm, indoor platforms and trains unaffected by the amount of snowfall outside except insofar as the more the streets are covered in snow, the greater the demand for subway services.

Mayor Bowman, are you thinking this vision too bold, too impractical? Duff Roblin too dealt with naysayers, and where would the city be today were it not for the Floodway—which 1997 demonstrated was in fact too timid an ambition and had to be expanded at a cost much greater than if it had been built sufficiently in the first place. Calgary is finding out that its Light Rail system, opened in 1981 after intense naysaying and opposition, was actually too timid a scheme as its station platforms are currently being modified to accommodate larger trains. From the Legislature to the Aquaduct to the Esplanade Riel to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, this city’s greatest gems are the result of grand ambitions.

Where will the money come from? Find it. Squeeze the province for Hydro dollars—the subway would be a showcase for electric-powered transport. Shake down the feds—the impoverished state of the inner city is a national embarrassment. Implement a civic sales tax if necessary. But ultimately a subway would pay for itself, in growth. Naysayers might well say that no one moves to a city for its transit system, and even if that’s untrue people—especially talented, educated people—will move to a city to enjoy the sort of culture that a great transit system will create. The real question is, how can we afford not to do this? In a parallel universe, Winnipeg has already completed this subway system, and we never fell behind Edmonton or Calgary.

Verticality. Walkability. Density. These are the hallmarks of a “world-class” city, and if your campaign rhetoric is to become anything more than empty words we’ll need a world-class transit system to go with our world-class hockey team and world-class National Museum. This BRT plan was conceived while Winnipeg was still stuck in the minor leagues. And, real talk—it was forged so thoughtlessly one can only wonder whether it was proposed by incompetents or, for whatever reason, intentionally introduced to fail.

The proper function of a rapid transit system is to move people to and from various neighbourhoods and points of interest within a city. Need I remind you that in 1972 Winnipeg amalgamated twelve towns, cities, and rural municipalities to create the 464 km² behemoth it is today? The Southwest Corridor excepted, the point of the BRT plan seems to be to feed residents from far-flung suburbs, where almost nobody lives, into the downtown centre, where almost nobody from the suburbs wants to go. And if they do, it’s almost certainly not by bus. The Wilson subway plan would do more than give commuters a way from the suburbs to downtown—although it would do that too. Primarily, it would provide an efficient means of transporting, regardless of weather, people around the city core, the pre-1920 grid. Where the greatest densities remain, and where there exists the greatest potential for added density through vertical infill.

Downtown Los Angeles is in a residential building boom. Hotels, condo hi-rises, and multi-storey mixed-users are popping up where surface parking lots once were. Forty years ago Downtown LA was synonymous with urban decay. Now it’s one of the hottest real estate markets in the country. It’s no coincidence that between 1963 and 1990 there was no rail transit serving DTLA. Now there are the Metro Gold, Blue, Expo, Red, and Purple Lines (the latter of which just broke ground on a westward expansion yesterday) and LA, having run out of lateral space on which to build, is by necessity going vertical. Winnipeg will never run out of lateral space. Inducing wide-scale vertical development is going to require a powerful incentive to keep the city tight. The only possibility is proximity to subway.

I realize being mayor doesn’t make you God. You’re just one man. But you can work on building a consensus for this. You can foster the political will. You strike me as a sincere man who wants what’s best for the city, and you’ve been told that this BRT plan is the best way to go. But now that you’re elected, you can change course. You’re a relatively young man. Young enough to see the ribbon-cutting on Winnipeg’s first subway line well before you reach old age. Demand the impossible. Don’t sell us short. This is your chance to have your name become as synonymous as Duff Roblin’s as this city’s saviour.

Now how cool would that be?

Yours concernedly,

Dallas Hansen

62 thoughts on “An open letter to new Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman

  1. Well said Dallas, I agree to 100%. The city is missing a proper subway system, and the earlier it’s being realized, the sooner the city can unfold. Stop wasting money on something that doesn’t do the job, I haven’t used rapid transit thus far and I’m not planning on using it in the future.

      • Question for you, Mark: Where are they going to get the money for Rapid Transit projects moving forward? You’re quick to criticize someone for supporting the idea of a subway as if we can’t finance it… we sure seem able to get money to finance the failing BRT!

        No matter what route we take, whether its BRT or a subway system, we need money. It’s far better to invest in something that will yield greater returns in the long term than to invest in something that, as Dallas has explained, doesn’t help us in any capacity.

    • Dallas, I nearly didn’t vote for Bowman because of the bus issue. I am in favor of a subway. Hopefully Bowman will see the light. I was a flight attendant for almost 30 years and as such I visited many cities. I appreciated those cities with subways for the ease of getting around. Wish we had subways in Winnipeg. I do not want to drive downtown because I hate looking for parking. I could really get behind a subway project from Unity to The Forks…..

    • I agree with a lot of your points Dallas, however I think that the answer is a SKYTRAIN and not a subway system. The routes are good and seem to make a lot more sense than those identified in the current BRT plan.
      The cost over run potential for a subway is far more likely than that of a SKYTRAIN/ Monorail system.
      Also, thinking of a Subway Sustem in Winnipeg scares me considering the great flood potential. We should go up, not down.
      I do agree that a BRT is a huge waiste of time and effort, and you are correct. I do not see people lining up at any of the stations. Go to Vancouver or Calgary and look at the flow of people riding and waiting at their stations.
      Great article! Would love to hear a response from Mr. Bowman.

      • Skytrain doesn’t protect from the cold weather and for the cost of it you may as well build a subway.

  2. Great ideas and very visionary. I agree with you 100% and think that if Bowman doesnt consider this well thought out concept, he is nuts. Maybe it will be something you could base your own mayorial platform on if need be? 🙂

  3. I do use the transit system and never once has a bus I’ve been on used the rapid transit. I, agree, it has become a complete waste of money, and absolutely due to our weather conditions in Winnipeg we need to start worrying more about wait time due to traffic in arctic weather, wasting money on busses that drive to no where with no one occupying them and focus more on the areas of the city where transit is heavily populated. In the long run it would open up jobs for construction workers, security guards, subway conductors and even subway cleaners. It’s necessary and should’ve been done a long time ago. Make the change Winnipeg needs to see, for example we don’t need a water park, I understand the need for tourist attractions however a water park just seems like the biggest waste of money ever. You know Winnipeggers will back anyone who tries to make our city better for the people, that’s why we treat the True North organization with so much respect, make this worth it.

  4. Not to critique your letter too much, and I truly respect your ambition for Winnipeg, but I’m not sure your proposal is the best idea. I’m not sure if you have been to any of the transit open houses, where you get hands on answers from experts on all the questions you raised on why BRT isn’t the best option (or if it’s in the right location). When I recently attended a open house and compared several criteria, I saw vision with the dog legged loop of the SW line. Build where the city is going, not where it was. Having said that, there were huge financial incentives to go this route as well. Basically though, if people think a BRT line is expensive, I can only imagine how many times more expensive a metro line would be. I agree, really cool, but unfortunately probably not realistic. I’m writing this from Istanbul, where yesterday I saw one of the sexiest BRT lines, up there with the network in Bogota. It frustrates me when I see people critique plans without knowing fully about them. Are you aware that the city has approved a new subdivision south of Wilkes? That they are currently building upon the biggest retail sectors in the whole city where this west line is going through. Kapyong lands will also (sometime) be developed further adding density along the route. Again, appreciate the vision, but I think at this point even a city wide BRT network is the most bold idea this city has had in over a century.

    • With all the respect, who do you think will populate the new subdivision south of Wilkes? Rich people who most probably will drive a car rather than commute by bus.
      While I believe we need to look into the future of this city and take into consideration where it’s going, urban sprawl is not the only option and Mr Bowman, who run a campaign on transparency, should remember to act in the interest of the community, and not of developers. We should plan a smart city that serves all, rich and poor, south and north end of the city alike. And talking about future, the needs of the fast-growing indigenous population must not go ignored.

  5. Wow! that was well written and very thought provoking,as well as insightful! I am left to wonder why a guy who lives in LA gives a crap? Thank you for caring and still contributing to the well being of our city. I would add one name to those people you mentioned as what I like to think of as visionaries and people our newly elected mayor needs to Hold up as role models. Steven JubaA man before my time but a man who was able to see into the fuTrue. Mayor Murray another person who had a vision for our city. Mayor Bowan we need a caRetake bite more so we need a visionary! Are you that guy? Time willTell. Best of luck,

  6. Dallas, – I am so proud of the article you have written and cannot agree more. I, as you know, lived in Winnipeg for 50 years and have always been a supporter of the city but always felt exactly what you have just put into words – WELL DONE!!!!!. Now living in Queensland Australia on the Sunshine Coast, an area with less than 1/2 the population of Winnipeg, they are now already looking at putting light rail rapid transit in here – subway not as necessary as the climate is warm, and the Gold Coast has just completed its first light rail line last month – it is also smaller in population than Winnipeg. Brisbane has both rail and BRT systems as well as several traffic tunnels beneath the city and that makes it very attractive. Singapore, (where you mentioned that your brother Casey lives), as you say is also a forward looking city and we hope to see him there next month when we are there. It’s good to see you stand up for Winnipeg as so many people tend to put it down and if what you said in your article would be done it will become a great city as it is not subject to many of the natural disasters that other cities are subject to such as earthquakes, Tsunamis and the like. It is a safe place to live!! Just thought I should comment on your article – I’m sure your mum will be proud of you too. Cheers, John

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for saying this!
    I’ve said it many times: Rapid Transit as it was currently implemented is HORRIBLE.

    1) Many people in Osborne, Corydon and Wolsely had their ride times INCREASE due to forcing them to transfer at the new stations, which are further away. (Personally, my bus ride for the first 6 months of rapid transit went from 10 min door-to-door to 35 min IFF i made a 1 minute transfer at Jubilee. I took my car until they reinstituted the 99 bus service (which had been cancelled at the start of RT). Sadly, the 60 and 99 are both reduced to 35min cycle times between Osborne and Pembina @Stafford now, so traveling that corridor still sucks. (They run within 5 min of each other, which guarantees standing for 20+ mins if you miss the bus waiting to cross the street). This corridor is home to numerous students and other transit-goers, so cutting service seems ridiculous to me.
    2) Doesn’t matter what time of day I stand at Harkness Station, it’s EMPTY. 1, maybe two people MAX. Never mind that one half of the station (northbound) has NO protection from the strong winds that blow through that corridor. It’s so horrible in Winter that I’ll walk to Osborne and ride the longer 60 just to avoid the wind.
    3) It’s already pretty recognized that the Parker dogleg will not be ‘rapid’ – its just the city’s hope to grab new taxpayers who supposedly will develop there. Yet lets be honest – is there any development at Jubilee station yet (no!). And really, if you can afford a $1200 a month, 1 bedroom apartment with no rent control (which means yoru rent is going up $100+ a year), with no schools, no docs/dentists, no banks, no stores, etc, are you REALLY going to take transit? Or are you going to buy a friggin’ car and say F**& YOU RAPID TRANSIT!

  8. How about transit buses going as far as st Andrews. or headenly or what ever other “small town” has become unofficialy part of the city due to winnipeg growth jumping the perimeter highway….

  9. Very well said Dallas. I moved from Winnipeg to Calgary 25 years ago and love the infrastructure they are adding to here. Winnipeg needs to pony up and get off the bus line thing. Seriously!!!

  10. and riding the bus isn’t getto I’m a f
    someone who likes to be fit and if I can I will walk or bike to where I need to be…. unless it’s to far then I take the bus cause at least there is still walking or running to catch the next bus still involved

  11. I totally agree. Please be innovative and do not go through with this outdated bus plan.

  12. While I love the notion of a subway system, and agree that it would help a lot more than BRT would for “cool factor” which is an incredibly important feature for any city hoping to retain talented young people, I find that people who claim that BRT is a “bus to nowhere” don’t seem to understand the basic concept. This isn’t LRT. The buses can and do leave the corridors. And then they drive TO somewhere. This isn’t a line that just ends in a farmer’s field on Wilkes. It’s a corridor THROUGH an uninhabited area which then turns off and takes people to where they DO need to go. The corridor is the short cut. But after that, it’s still a normal bus route with route-specific intricacies that take people where they live and work. It’s essentially an express line as we have now, but without the congested streets for the middle part.

    It’s crazy to base the success of the entire BRT plan on one half finished leg to one of the wealthier quadrants of the city. Of course a half leg is nothing. Your assessment is like if somebody built half a bridge across the Assiniboine and then tried to assess whether it was worth finishing or not and based that opinion on how much it was being used.

    And if Bowman was interested in this plan, where does he even start? Cancel BRT for the 400th time in 50 years to conduct another multi-billion dollar study? I mean sure, your idea is very enticing! But it’s still just an idea. We have no clue if the economics hold up. I wish they did. I hope they do! And maybe there’s some way of starting us down that path without stalling us out for another 30 years with no mass transit of any kind. But I don’t see it.

  13. I doubt Mr. Bowman can do anything about the winters but we have long needed a $5-10 million winter emergency fund and not the usual $1-$3. Regardless, the subway sounds nice but I have concerns over our soil and placement of underground facilities. Mayor Steven Juba was pushing for a monorail system in the 1970’s to reach from Portage Ave. perimeter to Transcona and North end to South (Main down Pembina) with connecting intermittent hubs. Also it would be nice to spend taxpayer money on what we expect, lower property tax, better street clearing and even treatment to all citizens when spending the tax funds, just not those who live South of the river is is and has always been the historical bent. Council and the Mayor need to stop “wheeling and dealing” with contracting and real estate magnates and spreading capital funds in a small pool of suspicious dealings.

  14. I agree. What were/are your thoughts on the LRT system proposed by Robert-Falcon Ouellette? I quite liked the idea. It seemed to take into consideration the far off areas of the city like Transcona for example. More so than this BRT garbage.

  15. Whenever we travel, throughout Europe – Paris, London, across Canada, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, we always ask the same question – how is it possible that in our snow and ice-challenged community we are lagging so far behind in mass transportation. Our City will thrive if we finally accept who we are – a passionate, friendly northern WINTER City – I wholeheartedly support further exploration of this visionary approach. I, for one, would support additional taxes to take us there.

  16. I agree we need a good transit system separate of the streets, but for a different reason. I live outside the city, and it takes me 7 min to cover the 10 km to the perimeter then I park on a major artery because half the roads are closed for construction or under a food of snow and ice or simply because we don’t have adequate drivers education in this province. We need to get half these people off the roads, they don’t know how to drive but they can’t take the bus where they need to go, so they get behind the wheel and ruin the city for those of us who still need the roads. Plus if you could pay for it all in property taxes that would be just fantastic!

    • Another person might complain that there are too many people from Lorette, or Headingly, or St. Andrews driving on Winnipeg roads that don’t pay any tax to maintain those roads. I’m not surprised you’d like us to buy you a subway system. Maybe we can send you and your wife out for a nice steak dinner, too. Heck, bring the kids!

  17. Wow…this is the best idea I’ve heard in a very long time! As a Spring/Summer/Fall cyclist, and a Winter transit rider, I know that given an option, I’d be taking the subway for my Winter commute hands down. I really hope that Mr. Bowman reads this…I voted for him and truly believe he is the forward thinking Mayor Winnipeg needs!

  18. While of course a subway would be fantastic, attention to the basics of cleanliness and maintenance of the busses and bus resources (stops, information kiosks, shelters), including *increasing* the number of places one can obtain bus information and purchase fare products (the new kiosk at the Millenium Library is open only 8:30 – 4:30, M – F????), and even the number of fare products — other cities have family fares for weekends, in addition to the basic day pass — would go a long way to make the current system more pleasant. WHY are the busses never cleaned properly, and why are they all rusted out? What influence does the poor maintenance have on the winter breakdowns that were very miserable to deal with last year. And why was serviced pulled to pay for RT, as opposed to doing it as a full add-on. Are we going to see more of that?

  19. Thank you for such a well written post. I am 100% with you. Light rail would make Winnipeg a real city. That, and changing zoning laws so that buildings downtown are required to have businesses attractive to walk-in traffic (ie restaurants, retail, GROCERY STORES, etc) on the main floor. Law firms, other offices and residential can take up the higher stories. Yes please!

  20. I agree. It’s just too bad subway construction takes so long. The purple line won’t reach Beverly Hills until 2025 and UCLA until 2035. In the meantime, San Jose is building a BRT line down Alum Rock to fill in until the Bart extension is complete in 2025. It will take a year, the bus will travel down the middle of the road and electronically trigger a priority light before arriving at intersections. The bus will never have to stop and it doesn’t take a special roadway. Why can’t Winnipeg use technology like this in the short term while a subway build-out happens in the long-term.

  21. I have two questions. Maybe they are dumb questions and not a problem, but I didn’t read anything relating to them. How do we afford a subway? Perhaps it’s better than a bus but it’s definitely more expensive. And where do we build this subway? We’re going to have to tear up tons of buildings and streets. We don’t have a long series of large empty lots where we could build this.

    So, we’d be tearing everything down, creating worse traffic for years, spending money we don’t have.

    • Subways travel UNDER all the infrastructure. There are currently two tunneling methods: cut-and-cover, which involve ripping up a street (street only – no buildings) and building a trench, then covering it, and tunnel-boring machines (TBMs) which excavate and build a tunnel in a tube as they move underground. Stations require cut-and-cover and the rest of the line would use TBMs.

      • Most of the Wilson plan could be achieved using cut-and-cover along the major surface routes along which the lines follow: Portage, Main, Mountain, Osborne, Pembina, William, Notre Dame. TBMs would be used for tunneling beneath rivers & structures.

  22. I have used the rapid transit line; funny enough it’s a slower ride home. The only positive is that the shelter on Osbourne is protected from fierce and cutting winter winds and somewhat heated. A subway would be luxury – – warm all the way home with no cold gusts when the bus doors frequently open. I too moved to Vancouver, and a lot of my other engineering classmates left Winnipeg as well. The slower rapid transit is an embarrassing and annoying city choice that I don’t think anyone stands behind.

  23. While a Metro system would be ideal for Winnipeg, I found the notion of “just find the money” simply too weak, sorry. Here is why:
    1. The Feds have announced and are rolling out their major infrastructure program (the Building Canada Fund) for the next 10 years. The Regional allocations plus the criteria for matching funds indicate that Winnipeg would be lucky to get 20% of the total cost covered without seeing a dime on any other project for a decade or more.
    2. The Province of Manitoba is broke. The 1% pst increase, even if it goes entirely to a Metro project would cover very little of the actual cost of construction.
    3. The City has significant core infrastructure challenges after the 10-year tax freeze. Water mains and roads must be repaired.
    4. Transportation experts brought in unusually high numbers to our city during the rapid transit discussion at City Hall all said that the key for any mass transit project is to take people from point A to point B using the shortest route. I agree with you: The Parker route is silly. We need to follow Pembina Highway for phase 2. The problem is that CP rail doesn’t want to cooperate.
    5. Development is happening around the Fort Rouge Station. Mike Holmes is building condos. I do not know how well they are selling.
    6. Population size: what would be the cost per ride for a Winnipeg Metro user? What would be the cost of subsidazing each ride? The answer: over 10 bucks per ride. We are a small urban centre. Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, New York all have Metro and have at least ten times our size. Light rail is the only real alternative (Calgary, Vancouver, Cleveland, Portland)

    I am in favour of dreaming big. But I don’t want another 10 years of debate, let’s improve mass transit now with something that is affordable, has much better frequency and takes you from point a to point B quickly: rapid transit. You don’t see swarms of people on Osborne Station because you have literally a bus every 3 to 5 minutes going downtown on weekdays.


    • Regarding your last point – if people are hopping on the bus ‘every 3-5 minutes’ at the RT stations, why did we spend the big bucks to build a giant station? According to your stats, we really just needed a regular-sized bus shack for all the people grabbing connections.

      Ie, the current Osborne and Harkness stations could have been 1-2 busses long, rather than the 3+ it is right now, at half the land and development cost. And we could have put bus shacks on BOTH sides of the darn street (at the Harkness one)!

  24. Thank you for writing such a great article. I have long thought about what Winnipeg needs to do and here is what I have noticed would help:

    1) Build a Subway / Light Rail system that is sheltered from the elements so users never need to be needlessly exposed to the harsh elements

    2) Connect ONLY the downtown region with high density neighbourhoods and attractions (Universities, Corydon, Osborne, Exchange, etc).

    3) Make it free for users, 24 hours a day and increase taxes to areas furthest away from down town.

    Problem: Winnipeg has extreme urban sprawl and people with money move as far from the core as possible – creating a decaying core that continually festers and fails to improve consistently.

    Solution: Create a scenario where people want to move downtown because you have access to a better lifestyle and conveniences – the major one being the ability to forgo ownership of a car and not be disadvantaged.

    I lived in Toronto for 2 years at Front and Spadina (across from the skydome). I never understood why my brothers didn’t own cars until I lived there are realized it was faster, more convenient and cheaper to walk/cab/bus anywhere you wanted to go than to buy a car, find parking, pay for parking and store your vehicle in your $20k parking stall.

    Winnipeg will never truly become a metropolitan city until it has something to offer for people in the downtown core and a major part of that is a life without a car.

    Why do all of the rapid transit systems keep trying to connect to the far reaching suburbs?!?! Do we really want to spend more money making it easier for people to evacuate the core?! Don’t they realize what this leads to?? Have you taken a drive through Detroit?

    Winnipeg needs to focus the development mostly into the downtown core. A smaller, more concentrated area of development lowers the overall cost and will create an incentive to keep this city’s heart beating. Impose a tax on those who move further from the center and let policy help to create a draw back to the city rather than away from the city! Use the increased revenue to continue progress.
    I would happily pay more gas taxes if I knew it was subsidizing the development of my city AND paying for somebody to sit on a bus for free!

    I’d eventually like to give up the need for a car (I would NEVER consider that now or with any bus system – I have always hated taking the bus and I would rather move to a different city than live here without a car) to have similar conveniences that I previously enjoyed in the thriving downtown community in Toronto that I lived in.

    Right now you can live in downtown Winnipeg and you will still need to own a car just so you can get groceries! Living downtown here is a novelty and until it becomes a bonus, Winnipeg will NEVER become a great city.

    Offices and arenas are no reason to move downtown either…because the ones who go there still live in their distant suburbs and drive to work daily. A downtown subway / light rail system would be a real draw that would entice people to actually live in the core.

    (Chicago is another great example of a city that built infrastructure and eventually grew into a thriving metropolis as a result of the insight and proper development. Build it and they will come.)

    Thanks for reading!

    • One thing you’re overlooking is not everyone wants to live in downtown Toronto. What’s utopia for one person is a nightmare for others. That’s why different communities are setup differently.

      The sprawl happens here primarily because that’s what the people who really do like Winnipeg actually like about it. They like having the space, they like having the control of using their own vehicle and being able to afford to do that all of the time.

  25. Buy now! BRT is not the engine that will drive the city. Its the engine that the city has right now! If the City of Winnipeg acquires the lands for its future expansions over time, would it not be significantly cheaper than doing so AFTER a huge subway project is approved? Excavating a line is much cheaper than tunneling one, and once the tunnel is complete, the properties on top can be resold at an inflated price. BRT is only half the picture, but once its been drawn out correctly, the second half should be an easy choice.

  26. 5 years ago, I would have agreed.
    Heck, last year I was sending this map around as a missed opportunity. A “where would we be now if…” scenario.
    I think it is great, if we had it now, it would be used to its full potential.
    When I was living in London, the transit system was an amazing asset.

    However, in light of new technological developments (Electric and Self-driving automobiles) I believe that building a massive underground transit system will be unnecessary and nostalgic. Within the next ten years we will be able to order an automated car service to our exact location, and be delivered at our destination with little more than a smart phone interface. Very little wait time, and much lower responsibility. This service will be electrically powered and affordable.
    We should be focusing our infrastructure development to integrate with this new technology. I ask our new mayor to make us a city of the 22nd century, not the 20th.

    • The smart cars concept you envision is many decades away. Our streets and traffic lights lack the necessary interfaces and people will not instantly switch from their current vehicles to smart cars. Technology is evolving and planning for technology that will have advanced considerably over the next few decades is not possible. There are no application of the technology in practical use at present and will not be for some time. Our extreme weather conditions play a major role in adaptability of the technology you speak of. Glare ice and 3 foot deep snowbanks are not part of electronic controlled driving as yet. A competent, experienced driver is tested every winter in Winnipeg and many fail the test, unprepared and poorly equipped. Dealing with our second season (construction) is also beyond current electronic guidance systems.

    • So… erm… that’s going to work great when there’s a metre of snow everywhere, no? I’m looking forward to it!

  27. The problem we have here is that in Winnipeg we always find reasons why not to do something rather than the will to do it. We have long term councillors who think the best they can do is to oppose creativity. We think that having low property taxes across the board will bring growth when nothing is farther than the truth. You want a big house in Lindenwoods or Waverly West or what ever new south end prestige development comes up, then pony up and pay a big tax premium so you can brag about where you live in a great big house you can’t afford to furnish. You’re paying 19% on your credit card debt , pay a 19% premium on your taxes. Then wel’ll see the end of urban sprawl and the kind of development we need. And btw, any city that calls it self world class has a rapid transit system. A 3km run from nowhere to nowhere on a crappy old bus ain’t a rapid transit system.

  28. also every time the gas goes up ten cents, it costs a million dollars for the city. we make our own fricken electricity, which we could use instead, just like other major cities. why we doing it this way. cause some rich folks invested in in and want their money back along with extra. just like hydro, they have filmons old plan like he did with MTS, BUT NOW ON A BIG SCALE. screw the PST when hydro happens were all done, say good bye to ur kids future.

  29. Dallas,

    You make a lot of great points, but I really wish you had not dismissed the cost as just a “find it” issue. An already over-taxed population simply is not going to get on board for the kind of major expenditures a subway would entail unless they can see upfront exactly where the money will come from.

    We’ll need some major league thinking outside the box to get there. The residents need lower taxes, not higher. The city needs to focus the money and credit they have on sewers and roads. The province is much deeper in the hole than they let on. The feds have already given us everything we are going to get for the next decade (far more per capita than most other areas of the country). So what does that leave? We need to find another way to fund not only the construction, but to deal with the economic costs of the upheaval during construction, and to fund the operation of the subway once it’s built.

    I’m not saying no, I really do think once it’s there, it can be a great thing for the city. I’m saying we really have to figure out how first.

    • Srry I don’t have all the answers re: financing. But where there’s a will there’s a way. Let’s first focus on the former and the latter will manifest. And if you don’t want to live in downtown TO, you needn’t worry–the vast majority of housing units in Manitoba’s Capital Region are still single-family detached homes.

      • I didn’t mean to imply you specifically should give me the answer, sorry about that. What I mean is, those with the will must show us the way first before the why has any relevance.

        That said, a lot of people are linking to your article on facebook, and some of them are under the impression that you do have all the answers, and we should just blindly follow whatever you’re saying. I’m not trying to critique you directly. Rather, I’m just trying to direct attention to the most important part of the whole deal that needs to come first.

  30. All that RT does not serve the NE of the city, aka as EK/NK.. Our new mayor should drive down Henderson on rush hours

  31. Mayor Bowman has a 4 year term ahead of him during that term there will be a Federal and a Provincial election and sadly for him the big projects he will need the support of both of those governments. I wish him well.

  32. The points you make are very valid and needed.
    My concern is that the older proposal misses many vital elements. The system we plan has to link the Airport, the Forks (and Human Rights Museum) the Convention Centre, MTS Centre (Hockey Arena), CN Station, Red River College, the University of Winnipeg, the University of Manitoba, and Investors Group field (Football Stadium).
    As well, a rapid transit system has to reach the city perimeter and include major car parks to catch commuters and switch them from autos to rapid transit at the city outskirts to ease traffic and parking congestion downtown.
    Pretty much all of our arterial roads need complete reconstruction. Excavating for a subway and rebuilding our water and sewer lines as well as the roadway makes sense. While the cost per mile would be high, it would be less than separate road, sewer & water renewal with separate subway construction.
    For too long, I have seen road renewal torn apart the following year for sewer or water replacement and the patched roadway quickly deteriorates once its integrity is broken.
    Construction has to be staged with early stages focused on the plan outlined modified to include the Airport, the Forks (and Human Rights Museum) the Convention Centre, MTS Centre (Hockey Arena) and CN Station.
    The next phase would include Red River College, the University of Winnipeg, the University of Manitoba, and Investors Group field (Football Stadium).
    The third phase would include extensions to the perimeter. As each phase is completed, infill growth, increased density and tourism revenue would combine to help finance later phases of rapid transit construction.
    We need to take advantage of existing tracks for light rail transit in some areas ans rebuild some tracks in other areas. Once again, we have planned badly giving away natural transit corridors without due consideration.
    Financing is is a problem, but it is the same problem that has plagued the city for decades and led to our current infrastructure deficits. We cannot continue to pend our taxes on bicycle paths, dog parks and walking trails along with a long list of things we like rather than what we need without creating the mess that confronts us today. We are out of excuses. Bedrock infrastructure has to be given the priority it must have to rescue the city from itself.

  33. The issue here is that transit lines in Winnipeg are often put along the lines of least resistance. The easiest land to secure is generally not the land you want to put a transit line on. The most appropriate places are usually right down the centre of a current arterie, such as Pembina Hwy. Sure it makes things more difficult, however it would serve the city in the most appropriate manner. For example, Pembina is a major commercial and transportation artery, a transit line would support and grow all the businesses along the road, increasing land values and taxes due to stronger business. In addition emphasis should be to build neighborhoods with an appropriate density and footprint that is sustainably in the future, with transit connections thought out. It is not good for the city to build suburbs, it costs much more money to drag all the servicing further and further out, to support a smaller concentration of people. Now, that is not to say that the city should not expand, just in a manner that I would sort of relate back to the way old towns used to be built on. In most old towns throughout the world you could walk to most commercial or retail services you required on a main street or town centre within about 10-15 min. That is the way the city should be organized along corridors of mixed use development with town centre nodes connected by some form of rapid transit.

  34. Well said. Rapid transit is a great idea & sorrowly missing in Winnipeg.
    However, the point of a rapid transit system is to move large volumes of people quick & efficiently, whoever watched the amount of busses on Portage in rush hour being in everybody’s (including each others) way, understands that busses are not up to the task & bus rapid transit is an outright stupid idea.
    I’d propose a hanging maglev train system that can just as easily hang from a tunnel ceiling in a core downtown area as it can hang off a fairly snow independent rail over the median of existing arterial roads or nicely landscaped areas in parts of the city with lower density, many European cities now use combined systems that cost efficiently run above ground in newer, more spacious developments & then go underground as they approach the old downtown core.
    One of Bowman’s campaign topics was to end corruption in city hall. Changing dumb buss based plans for rapid transit in a city that’s home to two of North Americas largest buss manufacturers will be one issue that his success will be measured by.

    • ^Here is perhaps the most critical issue on the table, and one that’s not yet been brought up. A rail-based solution would cut the no doubt gargantuan paycheck that New Flyer is expecting, and lobbying for however they can. But actually, Winnipeg cannot afford to subsidize a bus company at the expense of its overall well-being, and this needs to be addressed. If not in city hall, then at least here amongst the people until the media gets involved. Busses are an awkward in between solution at best, and any city in the world worth its salt (pun intended, Winnipeg winter) considers bus transport as nothing more than a way to smooth the edges of its primary public transportation system. Let’s not forget that the beginning of the decline of Winnipeg’s reputation as one of THE prominent international hubs in North America coincides rather conspicuously with the removal of the former Winnipeg Electrical Company streetcar system in 1955. The times have changed once again. Enough sprawl & decay. It is time for some glory to come on back home.

  35. Bravo. I’m writing this from Berlin, Germany, where I’ve lived since 2008 for effectively the same reasons you cited. A subway is the only sane solution in the long-term, because if for no other reason, it is the ONLY solution that can operate independently of the weather. And you’re right – on some level, the actual logistics of the cost of it are irrelevant when compared to the growth that would automatically come with increased functionality and attractivity to outsiders. Car-free lifestyles, simplified rental car services, and shared-car services as a supplement to efficient mass transit are the way of the future. I was so very pleased to see the (admittedly often bizarrely-placed) bicycle lanes when I was in Winnipeg for the first time in six years last month (a first step towards destigmatizing cycle culture), but they are baby steps where the city needs – with no excuses – a giant leap. Bravo.

  36. Great idea. A subway would be amazing for Winnipeg with out horrible climate. Living next to subway lines would become popular and density would increase as a result. But, based on the price of subway construction in other cities, this project would cost an astronomical amount of money for a province of ~1.3 million people.

    Cost of construction: $100-300 million/km.

    Rough distance estimates for those three routes:

    Green 12km – Cost $1.2-3.6 billion
    Red 12 km – Cost $1.2-3.6 billion
    Blue 11 km – Cost $1.1-3.3 billion

    Total Project Cost: $3.5-10.5 billion

  37. I think we should all cut our new mayor some slack; the past government committed us to bus rapid transit, we’ve already put big money into bus rapid transit, and we have started building bus rapid transit. We are going with bus rapid transit and at this point, and that’s final.

    In all honesty, both solutions are correct anyway. Either one would likely have worked. But in a lot of ways, the way our city and province is developing; urban sprawl and bus rapid transit makes more sense, and is a less risky venture than a metro rail system.

    My background training and experience is as an MD; so my grasp on economics, engineering, and city planning is tenuous at best. But I do know A LOT about Manitoba’s health and demographics data.

    Most people tend to forget this; but Manitoba is actually 2 completely different societies living in the same geographic area. We have a third world country living within a first world country. The First Nations people make up about 10% of the population but are, BY FAR, the fastest growing segment of the population. After 150 years of intentional genocide by the Canadian Government (see “truth and reconciliation”), they have, and we have in turn, some very serious obstacles to overcome.

    About 60% of the First Nation’s peoples in this province live on 1 of 63 federal reservations; and a great many of them in absolutely horrific conditions. Most communities are totally isolated and many of them don’t even have clean/safe drinking water. Substance abuse, crime, poverty, child abuse/neglect, teen suicide, low educational attainment, and unemployment rates are staggering. I can’t stress this point enough; it is a “third-world-like” community living within our first world community and like most third-world communities the population pyramid is a triangle (instead of a rectangle) and the population growth rate is currently exponential.

    I predict; if conditions on reservations continue to deteriorate, and the First Nations population continues to increase, we are going to see more and more emigration from the reservations into Winnipeg. And currently, most of the immigration into Winnipeg lands in the core, where housing is cheapest. Poverty and crime in the core and the North End are already a huge issue, the life expectancy in Point Douglas is almost *20 YEARS LESS* than in South Fort Gary, and the way things are heading this is looking to get a lot worse before it starts to get any better.
    A core metro rail system might turn things around, it is true. But also it might not. Building a core metro would be a huge gamble, a roll of the dice. It could revitalize downtown, or it could easily just get overrun with thugs and street people. With the current trend of wealthy people overwhelmingly choosing to move to the suburbs, ie: the provinces plan to connect East St Paul (which has been experiencing a huge population surge for over 10 years now) to Gateway road, I think the bus rapid transit serving the peripheries of the city is a safer bet.

    A dream of a Winnipeg that mirrors Toronto or Vancouver is noble, and lovely, but the reality is with our provincial and local poverty problems, which are among the worst in the western world, and are certainly the worst in Canada, a Winnipeg that mirrors Detroit is infinitely more likely.

    • Detroit’s suburbs are some of the wealthiest in the nation. And I think we all know the state of the city. We must do everything possible to prevent Winnipeg from becoming more like Detroit. I’m thinking a core-area metro would push land values to the point where smaller communities like Brandon and Thompson could grow from outmigration from the rural reserves. But Winnipeg has the potential to attract global migrants of all skill levels to a degree that could see a doubling of its population within half a century.

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