Saturday, July 31, 2010

Winnipegs needs a new PATH

Illustration from Number 10 Architectural Group on the latest section of the Winnipeg Walkway.

The completed Winnipeg Walkway via second floor of the Delta Hotel.

Map of the Toronto PATH underground walkway.

Winnipeg has recently filled in some of the last sections of its walkway system that traverses the downtown area via second floor overpasses. It has taken nearly 40 years of work to do and runs about 2 kilometers. Our system, modeled on the Minneapolis Skyway System developed in detail in 1959, began ten years after Minneapolis began their efforts to create a counter to the suburban movement of enclosed malls.

In 2010, Minneapolis (and St. Paul next door) have one of the largest skywalk systems in the world. The largest skywalk system could be Calgary's +15 system which runs 16 kilometers versus Minneapolis's 11 kilometer system.

The most recent expansion of the Winnipeg Walkway connected the existing walkway system through to the Winnipeg Convention Centre with an overhead passage from CityPlace Mall to 330 St. Mary, above Hargrave Street, and in front of the Delta Hotel connecting to the established links at the Convention Centre and 155 Carlton. It can be seen in this picture from earlier entry on the Walkway.

I have commented before about the ugliness of some of the second floor overpasses. The ones over Portage Avenue are particularly harsh. While I understand the intent of the skywalks, I often wonder how things might have been done differently.

While researching this article, I found this claim made about Winnipeg's skywalk system.

Wayne Bollman, supervisor of property management for the City of Winnipeg, said the first skywalk, which connects the Medical Arts Building, on the western edge of downtown, to its parkade, was built in 1973.

Clearly, the walkway from Eaton's to the Woolworth building was first as seen in this picture from 1969.

In any event, Winnipeg modeled its skywalk system on what Minneapolis was doing but one wonders if we mimicked Toronto with its PATH underground system.

The Toronto system has evolved into a "28-kilometre subterranean city, which connects more than 50 buildings and office towers, 20 parking garages, five subway stations, six major hotels and City Hall."

I included a picture above to show how extensive it is.

The Toronto PATH system wasn't planned but evolved from the tunnel Eaton's constructed in 1900 from its department store to The Annex, a 10 story office and discount store owned by the company. The next stage happened in 1927 and connected Union Station and the Royal York Hotel.

The linkages in Toronto resumed in the 1970s when some of the large banks were asked to consider underground shopping by planners to mitigate crowded streets above. Some people resisted the idea in favour of Jane Jacob's philosophy of maintaining a vital street level retailing presence.

It was the underground tunnel system that prevailed although the street level does not seem to have been devastated it as a result. Perhaps this has something to do with the densities in Toronto's downtown or the fact that it has multiple forms of well used public transit systems both underground and on the surface through subways and streetcars and trains. However it happened, the results are that the largest underground shopping mall consisting of 1200 stores.

Most of PATH in Toronto is privately owned with some key parts owned by the city. And the future looks bright for the system as even further expansion is planned.

So what bearing does this have for the city of Winnipeg? Well, it seems that our city has both the underground component and the second story component, both of which have had their share of problems.

The difficulties for the Winnipeg system is that downtown is so spread out and we have never had a subway system that would help feed foot traffic below grade as what happened in Toronto. Winnipeg's main underground components are the Civic Centre tunnel system built between 1962 and 1967 and the Winnipeg Concourse and Winnipeg Square built at Portage and Main in 1979.

The Civic Centre tunnels connect City Hall, Public Safety Building, Concert Hall and Manitoba Museum complex. There is no retailing in any of the tunnels between the buildings.

The Portage and Main Concourse, Winnipeg Square and Richardson Concourse are all tunnels built with retailing in the makeover of the famous intersection in 1979 that saw the building of the Trizec complex (now 360 Main Street).

There has been much debate, most of it negative on the coercive move to force Winnipeggers below Portage and Main. And the result has been a retailing experience in Winnipeg Square that is almost exclusively geared to supplying the offices above with quick service restaurants and supplies such as paper, pens and ink cartrides. There are no retailers selling clothes in the 40 plus stores in the mall. Also included in the retailing at Portage and Main is the Richardson Concourse which is undergoing a $10 million renovation along with the surrounding Richardson buildings. There are only 11 stores in this offshoot to the Concourse and they too are mostly retailing and restaurants useful to towers above. A small food-court also sits under the Canwest Tower.

Neither the Winnipeg Concourse or the Civic Centre look to be linked in the foreseeable future due to the distances involved and the amount of heritage buildings that might require quite a lot of work to make their basements suitable for a connection. Still, the idea out to be encouraged. My suggestion is that the Union Bank Tower where Red River College is building their culinary school should be connected to the tunnel system once completed. Likewise, the Pantages Theatre and Manitoba Theatre Centre might makes for another idea linkage in the space between the two buildings.

Winnipeg needs a more uniform plan on connecting buildings. The idea is a sound one although it is quite apparent that skywalks are wholly inappropriate for some sections of the city. Efforts should be made to slowly connect Exchange buildings with underground connections. The skywalk system looks to be the chosen system south of Portage.

There will still be problems with the two approaches but if Winnipeg endeavours to make up a more comprehensive plan, it could attract people to live and shop in the area in a way that doesn't happen today.

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