Views / Winnipeg / Policy Frog

It's time for Winnipeg to raise the riverwalk

Imagine something like the Vancouver seawall, with a raised concrete and stone pathway that provides designated space for pedestrians and cyclists.

Over the past five years, the riverwalk has been closed more than it has been open, including nearly all of June through August this year.

Metro file / Metro Order this photo

Over the past five years, the riverwalk has been closed more than it has been open, including nearly all of June through August this year.

Now that the province has sunk the idea of using the floodway to control water levels in Winnipeg during the summer, the city’s path forward is clear: It has to raise the riverwalk.

Over the past five years, the pathway — intended as a tourist attraction and a link in our active transportation network — has been closed more than it has been open, including nearly all of June through August this year. It’s more of a river than a walk at this point.

That’s a civic embarrassment, and it has to change, not just for the benefit of cyclists and pedestrians and tourists, but for the good of our civic soul.

We all know we live in a harsh environment, and we spend much of our energy and money dealing with cold, snow, mosquitoes and the Bombers’ natural inability to win a Grey Cup. That’s why it’s crucial we take advantage of the benefits Winnipeg’s location presents us with as well. And our rivers top that list.

Yet most Winnipeggers have remarkably little interaction with the waterfront. That’s because we’ve sold much of it to private interests, and done a terrible job of developing spaces where people can actually slip away from the urban environment and engage with the water for a while.

The riverwalk is supposed to be one of those spaces. But you’re not going to depend on it as part of your commuting route, use it for a stroll to The Forks or recommend it to visitors if you can’t be sure it’s even open.

Fortunately, the province offered a glimmer of hope that a solution can be found. While Manitoba won’t spend money to operate the floodway and compensate landowners upstream from the floodway gates, Infrastructure Minister Blaine Pedersen said he’s open to hearing proposals to raise the riverwalk instead.

City hall should jump on that statement as a chance to not only fix the flooding problem but also elevate the design of the walkway to make it the true signature attraction it always should have been.

Imagine something like the Vancouver seawall, with a raised concrete and stone pathway that provides designated space for pedestrians and cyclists while also protecting the riverbank from further erosion.

Replacing the gravel path with a Winnipeg seawall could be the starting point for a citywide riverside bikeway system and would provide tourists with another signature selfie spot to rival the Esplanade Riel or CMHR.

Or maybe take it a step further and incorporate piers, boardwalks or even small beaches along the path to encourage people to linger next to the water a little longer. These are the sorts of spaces envisioned in the “Go To The Waterfront” blueprint that was adopted by city council in January 2014 and has rarely been mentioned since.

The city needs to dust off that plan and work together with the provincial and federal governments to design a bigger, better waterfront that is befitting of a river city.

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