Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Polo Park Traffic Congestion

St. Matthews at Polo Park. Blocked by a dance school

St. Matthews is not a direct intersection

I have written a lot about Polo Park over the years. It has become in my lifetime the central shopping district so much so that it has squeezed out its entertainment neighbours of hockey and football.

There has been some sullenness about consumerism and moving people from box store to box store and I get that. However, the city was started as a trading area and remains a commercial city to this day. How soon we forget that Portage and Main began when one merchant tramped his way to that road corner thumbing his nose at convention and damned the fact that the infrastructure was elsewhere.

 City planning can be organic or a technical and political process. Wrong decisions by the public or the private sector can prove costly. And it doesn't always have to be about commercial losses or tax revenue. It can be about disease and fire as we have seen from the great cities of London and Chicago.

The Bartley Kives article on what is happening in Polo Park  on improving traffic points out that Sam Katz has put a lot of stock into moving cars around the city. He is correct. The amount of time spent on synchronizing traffic lights is $12 million. The amount on Polo Park traffic enhancement will be $30 million.

And the sad thing is that on streets where we want faster flow as motorists, more traffic lights are going up. The example for this is Kenaston where there are a many more intersections and traffic lights.

For purely self interested reasons, most people want to be able to step out of their house when they want, go where they want and do it as fast as they want. Faster is better.

Many cities have tried to accommodate that and have built infrastructure to achieve that. However, like healthcare, it can break the budget if we don't control ourselves. In other words, if we don't take some responsibility for our own decisions, we can expect it may cost us more time and money in the end.

By way of example: If you move to Waverley West, don't be surprised if there isn't a school or daycare right away and that you are caught in traffic. Despite tens of millions being spent, the roads still can't handle the cars and budgets for building several schools.

Politicians and city planners satisfy this demand will never be able to keep up. And like Sim City, riots and fires will erupt.

That is not to say that infrastructure changed around Polo Park are not necessary.  While the Free Press mentions that the route from downtown to Transcona and downtown to University of Manitoba are listed as higher priorities, the area around Polo Park has remained pretty much as we see it now for decades aside from Silver Avenue being extended and a center turning lane on St. James Street.

I think we can say safely that tens of millions more have been spent on Regent and Pembina Highway.

But that is neither here nor there. The city has infrastructure needs all over the place as a result of low density, low investment and poor planning. And as much blame lays with the city, the province is just as much guilty as they pick and choose their own projects and act as developer as they are in Waverly West.

I do want the city to invest in rapid transit. We have waited far too long to do anything and have let valuable rail lands be bought up for various of developments rather that grabbing them even if it was future use as bus or light rail corridor. At the very least they should have been used as pedestrian and bike corridors. The Oak Bank line through Polo Park and River Heights comes to mind.

But as I said, recriminations can wait.

The question was: Does Polo Park warrant $30 million in infrastructure improvements? The answer is yes.

One big change mentioned was to extend St. Matthews Avenue. This is good except for the fact that like Silver Avenue's extension, it doesn't meet up in a true intersection. A retail strip blocks a true connection. Now, I am not a traffic engineer but it doesn't take a genius to think that a solution might be to curve the street through the stadium site and the retail building. However, that seems unlikely as the city usually takes the past of least resistance.

In short, it will be a Route 90 to St. James extension and a bit of a mash up with poor turning lanes and a pile up at the new Target. That is my guess.

There is talk about Ellice at St. James and changes there. The lack of turning lanes means left and right lanes are blocked through a few light cycles.

One thing I considered might be an interesting possibility is making Empress one way from St. Matthews north to Sargent and Milt Stegall Drive one way from Sargent south to St. Matthews. If you look at what it might entail, I am sure most people might find it intriguing.

In principle, I am not huge on one way streets. I think we have far too many of them downtown and many should be turned back to two way. However, they do have their place and this might be one case as Empress is very narrow and cars turning left at Ellice or into Walmart cause chaos.

So some the stores along Empress such as Walmart are not nice to be around a lot of the time because the two way traffic along the street is brutal.

The city must start taking a principled stand on developers creating turning lanes on their property, landscaping and burying hydro poles on their streets before getting their approvals.

To the people who say this can't be done without driving away business, the argument is bogus. Look at Grand Forks and Fargo to see how the malls there have managed traffic.

The city already has a policy about drive-thrus to prevent places like Tim Horton's having traffic lined up 20 cars deep on Kenaston. The line-ups must take place on the restaurant's property.

It is early stages on what will happen with traffic at Polo Park. At the very least, I want it to be less dangerous.

As far as other traffic issues and rapid transit, I suggest the province of Manitoba get off their butts and take ownership of the rapid transit issue. The University of Manitoba is a provincial institution. They province chose to put it at the tail end of the city. They ought to build the rapid connection to it or at least a large share of it.

And for God's sake, stop letting abandoned rail lands get taken up for development. If Burlington Northern or CP ever give up their rail lines or land, buy the property! If not now, it will be sometime soon that it serves the interest of city and province.

The best development in the city of Winnipeg has been The Forks and that was federally driven with the province and the city along as partners. I think that success can be duplicated. Might be good to see what sort of transportation plan might originate from such a partnership.

However, back to Polo Park: There is without question good reasons to work on the road in the area. We just have to ensure the developers are paying a lot of the freight in terms of traffic so that turning lanes and service roads are part of the solution.


One Man Committee said...

I recall that about seven or eight years ago there was a much-heralded plan created by the City to deal with traffic in the Polo Park area. The Silver Avenue extension was the only significant improvement - beyond that it involved the addition of one or two left-turn lights and the prohibition of left turns at Ellice and Empress. Pretty underwhelming, and I hope that the new plan is a bit more effective than the old one was.

An obvious start to improving traffic flow in the area is to install left-turn arrows at just about every light in the area. Cars turning left into the stores quite often have to wait for an amber light before they can turn left, which causes immense backups at busy times. I can't figure out why you wouldn't want protected left turns at intersections to let a few cars through and break up the backlog a bit.

John Dobbin said...

I agree that aside from Silver not much happened.

Silver and St. James is not exactly the easiest corner. If you proceeding straight into the movie theatre, you run smack dab into a large speed bump. This means traffic going straight slows to a crawl.

Likewise, it can be chaos just before the signal as people are turning in and out of Future Shop and Canadian Tire.

Whoever heard of such an intersection? People throw caution to the wind turning in the area because it isso poorly set up.

Unknown said...

Good analysis, but I think if we're going to make Polo Park a viable commercial center for the foreseeable future, we need to look a bit bigger than just the streets immediately around Polo Park. Really you could draw a square from Portage on the south, Empress on the east, Kenaston in the west, and Ellice or Sargent in the north and look at it cohesively. I think we need to avoid cute, gimmicky (and probably cheap) little tricks like Silver & St. James. It might mean building an overpass or two

ekimsharpe said...

man, i had just stopped being angry about the development on the oak bank line. good post bytheway.

macart said...

At one time my father was both the architect and one of the minority owners of the then Polo Park Shopping Centre. When they developed the old race track which lay at the outskirts of Winnipeg next to vacant land before going west to St. James.
As part of the development they provided the road layout for Empress and built the Empress overpass to and from Portage Avenue without participation of the City of Winnipeg.
the City then proceeded to develop the area around the shopping centre and the then new stadium without any long range planning to what we have today. Bad roads, signals that get you nowhere, noe real turn lanes, and bad congestion.
Extending St. Mathews through to Metro Route 90 will be of no benefit as like Silver - when you arrive to turn south there is no turn signal. The city only reacts - it does not plan.