The Forks prepares to narrow 'highway' entrance to make room for a linear park

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The Forks prepares to narrow 'highway' entrance to make room for a linear park

The Forks prepares to narrow 'highway' entrance to make room for a linear park

The main road running into The Forks will be reduced to two lanes to make room for a tree-lined, pedestrian-friendly parkway.

In the coming weeks, The Forks Renewal Corporation will launch a design competition to transform Israel Asper Way from a four-lane road to a linear parkway running parallel to a two-lane street.

The change is intended to make The Forks more pedestrian friendly, create better connections between different areas of the development and slow the speed of motor-vehicle traffic, CEO Paul Jordan said.

"What it does is it reduces the four-lane highway that goes into our parking lot at the [Forks] Market. Why we did that in the first place, I'm not quite sure," Jordan said last week in an interview.

"It'll now be a much slower, pedestrian-friendly two-lane road that people now have to cross with this really interesting Waterfront Drive arboretum walkway."

Pending city approval of the design, construction on the linear parkway is expected to begin late in 2018. It's slated to coincide with the first new developments to rise over the 5.9-acre surface-parking lot known as the Railside land.

'We're building a village here'

The Forks plans to slowly develop this parcel as well as the city-owned surface lot known as Parcel Four over the next few decades. The Forks is working with a dozen local and national developers to build on the surface lots, starting in the south near the Forks Market and slowly moving north toward Shaw Park.

"We're building a village here," Jordan said of the development plan, which calls for residential and commercial buildings no more than six storeys high.

The Forks is not selling any of the land and is working with developers to ensure every piece of the project remains pedestrian-friendly. This has limited the number of private-sector partners interested in working with The Forks, Jordan said.

"Honestly, a lot of developers dropped off because that's not how they do business. Though the 12 that are still in totally understand it and want to work with us," he said.

"We're in no rush to get this done. The Forks has developed over 25 years, so this is a medium-growth strategy. What we don't want to do is lock it all in right now."

Jordan said he's not concerned about any backlash from motorists who may be upset by the removal of two lanes from Israel Asper Way. The Forks owns the street, which is the southern extension of Waterfront Drive, and received permission to close it from the city in the 1990s.

"There's lots of big, wide streets in Winnipeg. I'm not quite sure why we need them at The Forks. The Forks has always been, since Day One, a pedestrian place and it's time we started acting like it," he said.

"There will always be provisions for cars, there will always be provisions for parking. But we're going to go the extra mile, pardon the pun, for pedestrians."​