The Greater Winnipeg subway report is a surprise — an unheralded survey that contains what looks like an effective solution to the problem of traffic congestion in the metropolitan area. The report, written by the noted traffic consultant, Mr. Norman D. Wilson, deserves serious study and support by every Greater Winnipeg municipality.
Mr. Wilson makes some telling points in his report to the Greater Winnipeg Transit Commission. The metro area is growing rapidly. By 1981 there will probably be close to 800,000 people in Greater Winnipeg. The number of private automobiles will be nearly three times the present figure. Obviously something will have to be done to meet the traffic problems that this increase will bring.
Are expressways the answer? Mr. Wilson thinks not: and the experience of major cities on this continent supports his view. The modern expressway cannot keep up with traffic demands because as soon as an expressway is built it attracts vehicles that otherwise would not be on the road. The expressway that is driven through the heart of a city needs a tremendous amount of land that should be used for more productive purposes. It is frequently unsightly; it blocks off streets and splits up neighbourhoods. It can carry only one-fifth of the number of people that a rapid transit line can handle. And its cost is about the same.
A subway, on the other hand, needs very little surface property. It can move thousands of people quickly and safely, and it is not affected by weather conditions. A subway pierces the heart of the downtown area without impinging on the business district it serves. In fact, subway construction in Toronto has resulted in a 37 per cent increase in the assessment of land in the vicinity of the subway, compared with an over-all city increase of 20 per cent. The additional tax revenue from this higher assessment is reckoned to be more than enough to meet the annual charges required to carry the debenture debt of the subway.
Mr. Wilson suggests that there are relatively few engineering obstacles in the way of a Greater Winnipeg subway. But there is more involved than merely construction. The first questions that must be answered are these: Will the population of the metro area be sufficient to justify a subway? Given this optimum figure, will people use the subway in preference to their own cars.
There seems to be little doubt that Greater Winnipeg will have enough people to support a subway. The Metropolitan Planning Commission estimates that the population of the southeast part of Greater Winnipeg will jump from the present figure of 53,000 to 150,000 by 1981. The northeast section, which now has about 50,000 people, will have 110,000. Other areas will grow as well. The subway routes laid out by Mr. Wilson are designed to serve these areas of new growth.
Would people use a subway? If traffic reaches the density predicted for Greater Winnipeg, it is reasonable to expect that thousands of people would find the subway an attractive alternative to the congestion of the streets. Experience in Toronto has shown that many people who formerly drove their own cars have gladly left them at home. It is estimated that the first leg of the Toronto subway (the Yonge Line) has kept 10,000 automobiles off city streets every day.
At first glance the capital cost of a subway appears to be prohibitive; it is close to $12 million for every mile of construction. Greater Winnipeg cannot, however, ignore subways on this account, for the alternative is not to do nothing. It must be to provide equally costly roads, such as those proected in the Wilbur Smith traffic report; and yet these new roads will not, in the long run, give the metro area any lasting benefit.
That does not mean that the money spent on the Wilbur Smith survey was wasted. The subway report could not have been prepared with such clarity and precision without reference to the material gathered for the traffic report. And it is doubtful if the effects of traffic congestion would have been fully understood and acknowledged if the traffic report had not been written.
There must be some sort of balance between road and subway construction — a balance which, given the specialized outlooks of the authors, is lacking in both of these recent reports. Taken together, however, the traffic and the subway reports provide an ideal base on which to project the future traffic needs of Greater Winnipeg. And it is some comfort to realize that the solution to our future traffic problems does not depend entirely on a gridwork of expressways above our city streets.