News / Winnipeg

People before cars: Winnipeg welcomes city's first 'woonerf'

“We are building a downtown that people want to come to and these improvements will help make it a more inviting place to be," said Mayor Brian Bowman.

Look ma, no curb. The recently renewed John Hirsch Place is Winnipeg's first woonerf, or 'living street.'

Lyle Stafford/ For Metro

Look ma, no curb. The recently renewed John Hirsch Place is Winnipeg's first woonerf, or 'living street.'

Walkers rejoice, Winnipeg has a woonerf.

Wondering what a woonerf is, besides a weird word?

It’s a street, “designed for pedestrians first,” which focuses on “calming the street down through design.”

That’s how Winnipeg transportation facilities planning engineer Scott Suderman defined it while standing on the first such roadway in the city, John Hirsch Place, Thursday morning.

The woonerf—which, properly speaking, is Dutch for ‘living street’—is Winnipeg’s first true shared-space laneway.

Where once a rail line dissected the former warehouse district, John Hirsch Place is now a curbless, multi-modal laneway, where Suderman says bikes, cars and folks on foot will coexist without delineation.

Bollards near the ‘edge’ of the lane “keep people from driving on the landscaping and the streetscaping,” Suderman explained, but otherwise it’s much like a wide, paving-stone-laden pedestrian mall.

People walk on a woonerf along John Hirsch Place in Winnipeg Manitoba, July 6, 2017. Woonerf is a Dutch word for living street.
Lyle Stafford/For Metro

Lyle Stafford/ For Metro

People walk on a woonerf along John Hirsch Place in Winnipeg Manitoba, July 6, 2017. Woonerf is a Dutch word for living street. Lyle Stafford/For Metro

Planters integrated with seating add pedestrian scale to the HFTC Planning and Design project, which now provides a walkable link between Waterfront Drive—as well as Stephen Juba Park and, by extension, trails from The Forks and other areas of the city—and downtown.

“The benefits are that it’s adding to the community space, it’s liveable, people want to walk down there—you’ll see a lot of people sitting out there enjoying the space,” Suderman said. “That’s what it’s about.”

Suderman guided a walking tour through the Northeast Exchange District that began on the walkable stretch Thursday, after city and provincial officials brought attention to ongoing improvements they say have revitalized the area.

Since 2012, a $14 million collaborative effort between the City of Winnipeg and CentreVenture—along with provincial funding—has led to upgrades throughout the district on Elgin Avenue, Market Avenue, Pacific Avenue, Bertha Street, Rorie Street, and Lily Street, along with John Hirsch Place.

Improvements include wider sidewalks, new trees and landscaping, and pedestrian-scale lighting.

Also, for the first time in Manitoba, a design pilot places subterranean cells beneath the woonerf to provide “greater soil volume for tree roots” and capture rainwater to irrigate trees.

In successful applications, the drainage design reduces the storm-water load on sewers and helps to discretely sustain trees in dense urban areas.

Mayor Brian Bowman said it’s all part of “building the kind of downtown that many people had talked about for many, many years.”

A city spokesperson said "the City has no current plans for more woonerfs, but it is something that may be considered for future improvement projects."

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