Exchange District BIZ Supports Yes Campaign to Re-open Portage and Main for Pedestrians

Winnipeg, September 25, 2018— The board of the Exchange District BIZ is making public its unanimous and enthusiastic decision to openly support the Coalition for Portage and Main. The Coalition, a group of volunteers made up of private citizens, including several Exchange District BIZ member businesses, is the primary group campaigning in favour of a “Yes” vote in the upcoming Civic Election.

“Opening the intersection to pedestrians is quite simply the right decision from a future investment and economic development perspective,” said Craig White, Board Chair and Investment Advisor at National Bank Financial, citing statements made last week by property owners Harvard Developments as well as James Richardson & Sons.

“It’s not a simple matter of thinking that re-opening the intersection to pedestrians is some kind of panacea,” added Executive Director David Pensato. “There are definitely other priorities, but the reality is that Winnipeg needs to set itself up to compete with other cities on a global scale, and moving towards a more walkable, enjoyable downtown is quickly becoming an important part of that equation.”

The Exchange District BIZ released the following statement to its members, explaining the board’s decision:

Why We Support Re-opening Portage & Main to Pedestrian Traffic

On Tuesday, September 18, the board of the Exchange District BIZ voted unanimously and enthusiastically in favour of openly supporting the Coalition for Portage and Main. The Coalition, a group of volunteers made up of private citizens, including several Exchange District BIZ member businesses, is the primary group campaigning in favour of a “Yes” vote in the upcoming Civic Election. As Executive Director, I wholeheartedly agree with the board’s decision, and here’s why.

Pedestrian Barricades are an Impediment to Economic Activity in the Exchange District

Foot traffic

The Exchange District is quickly becoming the most vibrant, active and popular neighbourhood in the Downtown. Our ground-floor businesses benefit directly from the critical mass of foot traffic being generated by our growing residential population, our increasing popularity as a destination neighbourhood, and the ease with which people can walk from one great shop to another. Walking through the area, it’s not hard to notice a significant dead-zone for pedestrian traffic (and business activity) within what some are starting to call the “Portage and Main Crater.”

In the next year, there will be an additional 600 residents living on Main Street, just south of Portage. Will they see the Exchange District as part of their walkable neighbourhood? Now think about the obstacle those barriers already create for half of the 15,000 potential customers who currently work at the intersection. How much business are our members missing out on simply because crossing the street is a real hassle?

Investment and Economic Development

Harvard Developments, owners of 201 Portage and the entire west side of Main Street from Portage to McDermot have indicated that there are significant investment opportunities for that block. Those opportunities are currently hampered by the blockage in pedestrian traffic flow the barriers create. James Richardson & Sons has indicated the same on their side. In fact, property owners at all four corners of the intersection have come out in strong support of re-opening the intersection to pedestrians.

Why? Because from an investment perspective, the intersection needs to open in order to create opportunities that will build on the growing demand for ground-level shops, services and amenities in the area. That Portage and Main Crater can’t be filled until people can cross the street.

Traffic, Costs, and Priorities

Without exception, the top three reasons people cite as reasons for voting against pedestrian crossings at Portage and Main come down to concerns about traffic, the cost of opening the intersection, and about the level of priority. Unfortunately, our elected officials at city hall have done us an enormous disservice in allowing misinformation on these three major concerns to flourish.

Our support for the Coalition for Portage and Main in particular is because of their efforts to communicate the facts. The facts are:

  • The estimated impact on vehicle traffic will affect only 50% of vehicles travelling through the intersection during peak rush-hour— and even then, the impact will be a nearly imperceptible 30-50 seconds on an average a to b trip.
  • The costs of opening the intersection to pedestrians are in fact minor in the context of the city’s infrastructure budget (approximately $6 million, including a contingency), and will likely need to be spent regardless, given the state of disrepair.
  • Expiry of the 40-year lease agreement with the property owners means that addressing the issue is a priority because of timing. The City is fully capable of addressing this while simultaneously addressing other important issues facing the Exchange District, such as parking, cleanliness and infrastructure repairs.

We encourage our members to visit and get all the facts before making a decision.

One final point the board and I would like to express is our real disappointment in our elected officials’ decision to put this question to a plebiscite. It amounts to an indefensible and egregious abdication of responsibility to ask citizens to make a binary decision on a matter without fully equipping us to make an informed decision. In asking Winnipeggers to vote on this issue, they have asked us all to choose between the status-quo and something unseen, and they have asked us to do so without providing adequate information, a clear vision and plan for the intersection or even a basic understanding of why it’s under consideration at this time.

Public consultation is one thing, asking the entire city to vote yes or no is another— especially on an issue that will have its greatest impact on the businesses, residents and visitors to the Exchange District and our neighbours on the south side of “the crater.”

For more information about why re-opening the intersection to pedestrians is a good idea, visit


David Pensato
Executive Director, Exchange District BIZ

For more information on the Vote Open campaign visit their website at