JEFF LOWE has a desire named streetcar.
For the past decade, the unemployed urban planner has dreamed of putting Winnipeg back on track by reintroducing streetcars not seen downtown since 1955.
His plan calls for an antique streetcar shuttle linking the disparate areas of Winnipeg's sprawling downtown -- Osborne Village, The Forks, the Exchange District, the Portage Avenue retail district and the Broadway business zone.
Lowe submitted his detailed plan to the Free Press Downtown Project, where it won unanimous and enthusiastic support in principle from a panel of experts assessing reader proposals to rejuvenate the downtown.
The route basically a ring of steel rails looping downtown past most cultural and business landmarks — would make it easy for people to commute between areas for business or pleasure.
Half-circle design it is designed in two roughly half-circles, so travel is quicker along each half moon, but a complete circuit is possible with a single transfer.
The streetcars, he says, should be modeled after Winnipeg Electric cars used circa 1920.
One such car is in storage at a Winnipeg Transit garage. It could be the model for replica cars, which would be scheduled to provide service at five-minute intervals.
Lowe estimates the cost of the system would be about $35 million, based on light rapid transit systems in other Canadian cities.
In addition to providing a way to move people around downtown, trolleys would be a tourist attraction and a catalyst to attract housing and commercial developments to locations near stops. "If one had to think of one single concept that of itself could reverse the downtown's stagnation, this would be it," said Lowe, 44.
Landscape architect and FP panelist Cynthia Cohlmeyer said the trolley plan was "just sparkling." "I think it would be something that would really boost people's image of Winnipeg. It's something for everybody to get excited about." Tom Carter, director of the University of Winnipeg Urban Studies Institute, called it "very positive." "You can't move easily from one area (downtown) to another," he said. "This not only overcomes the distances, it overcomes real or perceived problems with security." Lowe was an urban studies student in 1983 when he discovered a whole network of unused rail rights-of-way exists downtown — running from The Forks along the Red River to the CP Rail line at Higgins Avenue, then west and south ending in the heart of the Exchange District.
THE RAIL passages constitute about half of the 11-kilometre route. The remainder would follow lesser-used downtown streets. The proposal requires one major capital project — the construction of a trolley/pedestrian bridge across the Assiniboine River linking the downtown system with a back-lane loop through Osborne Village.
Lowe recently conducted a tour of the route, revealing the varied and sometimes spectactular views of the city it offers as well as a practical means of transportation. "It overcomes the tyranny of distance between the areas downtown," he said, standing on the west bank of the Red River in Stephen Juba Park, the towers at Portage and Main looming behind him. "But it also affords incomparable views of the city's skyline and the back door of the Exchange District."