Closing Wellington Crescent to vehicles has driven some residents of the city's toniest street to distraction and forced the city to reconsider the designation.

Closing Wellington Crescent to vehicles has driven some residents of the city's toniest street to distraction and forced the city to reconsider the designation.

In a package of letters submitted to the public works committee, residents argued their mental health, safety, and human rights are being violated because motorists are restricted to one block of travel between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. seven days a week.

A 68-page package — compiled by resident Brenlee Carrington-Trepel and comprising more than three dozen letters from disgruntled residents — outlines their concerns.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Wellington Crescent is currently restricted to one block of vehicle travel.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Wellington Crescent is currently restricted to one block of vehicle travel.

One letter, penned by Asper Foundation president Gail Asper decried the closure of the "historic" street to vehicles, arguing the "100-year-old trees, lilacs and cherry blossoms in full bloom, spectacular gardens of the homeowners and the stunning homes themselves" are an essential "mental health break."

Asper, like many residents, suggested the open street model also amounts to discrimination against the city’s older population who may not be able to access the street by bicycle.

"I strongly believe in bike paths, but I do not believe in closing important and historic streets like Wellington Crescent in order to make space for bike paths seven days a week. This is discriminating against thousands of Winnipeggers and I submit there is simply no need for this, when cars, bikes and pedestrians have co-existed for decades," she wrote.

"I strongly believe in bike paths, but I do not believe in closing important and historic streets like Wellington Crescent in order to make space for bike paths seven days a week. This is discriminating against thousands of Winnipeggers and I submit there is simply no need for this, when cars, bikes and pedestrians have co-existed for decades." — Gail Asper

Another letter from one-time mayoral candidate and former councillor Paula Havixbeck argues the policy has caused an increase in property crime.

Havixbeck wrote about the observations in the River Heights Community Watch Facebook group — where she is one of the administrators — suggesting open streets resulted in an increase of "crime that quite literally walks across the bridge at both ends" of Wellington Crescent.

"The fact that Wellington Crescent is closed, however, poses an issue because fewer people are on site to see these individuals coming in with their empty shopping carts and to be there to be more of a deterrent. Individuals are coming over the bridge day and night. They target yards they can access quickly," Havixbeck wrote.

"I have asked that there be some support in terms of cadets monitoring those entry points."

The open streets summer program bans vehicles from travelling more than one block on select streets in an effort to encourage cycling. Wellington Crescent is also popular with pedestrians and dog-walkers.

“The fact that Wellington Crescent is closed, however, poses an issue because fewer people are on site to see these individuals coming in with their empty shopping carts and to be there to be more of a deterrent. Individuals are coming over the bridge day and night." — Paula Havixbeck

After an in-camera discussion, the public works committee agreed to request Wellington Crescent be removed from the open streets list and that the public works director be given the power to amend open street rules. The executive policy committee will consider the motion.

Area councillor John Orlikow, who originally submitted a motion to public works requesting the director have the ability to alter open street rules, said his intention was never to see the open street shut down. He wanted flexibility to adjust the program based on health restrictions, street usage, traffic capacity on nearby Academy Road and community feedback.

"A lot of people are very supportive of (open streets)," said Orlikow. "I feel comfortable that the goodness of the neighbourhood understands why it's needed and the vast majority of people support that."

Orlikow, who said he is a member of the neighbourhood watch, noted he has not seen data that substantiates claims crime has increased as a result of open streets.

Wellington Crescent residents argue their mental health, safety, and human rights are being violated because motorists are restricted to one block of travel between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. seven days a week.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Wellington Crescent residents argue their mental health, safety, and human rights are being violated because motorists are restricted to one block of travel between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. seven days a week.

"I have seen data that people are not feeling as safe as they used to, and that is very concerning. Are open streets the reason for that? I really can’t say it is," he said.

Another writer, Ian Restall, wrote the closure amounted to "inequity" with a "human rights element." He argued residents are "disadvantaged and some might say discriminated against by these closures" should they be unable to bike or walk down the road.

"I don’t think driving is a human right," Orlikow countered. "If they do have a concern about human rights, I would suggest they take it to a human rights tribunal."

Several residents — including letter writer Naomi Levine — noted they pay "significant taxes" for the "luxury" of living on Wellington Crescent, arguing they expect to be able to drive more than one block on the road in return.

“A lot of people are very supportive of (open streets). I feel comfortable that the goodness of the neighbourhood understands why it's needed and the vast majority of people support that.” — Area councillor John Orlikow

"I don’t agree with that claim. Everybody pays taxes and everybody has the same rights as everybody else," Orlikow said.

While community feedback from those who live on the street is critical, he noted, "I don’t care how much taxes you pay…no one owns the streets, they are public assets."

Before the pandemic, Orlikow said, conversations were held about pedestrians, cyclists and motorists sharing the road.

"At the end of the day, it will be my intent to keep open streets on Wellington Crescent. People really do enjoy it. And just try to find some way to get flexibility so we can adjust it based on variables out there," he said.

To read the letters, visit wfp.to/7nL.

julia-simone.rutgers@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jsrutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers
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Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.

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