Friday, June 26, 2009

How To: Consult the public.

Better late than never, but here is the as-promised post on the other open house event on Wednesday, David Asper's consultation for the new stadium plans.

Walking out of the Active Transportation open house at RRC and walking into this one in University Centre was like night and day.

Asper used a large public area, at University Centre in the multi purpose room on the second floor. He had a panel composing of four people including himself. There were two large, clearly visible screens in which slides were projected, depicting well-defined plans, easy to see and understand. Presentations were ver clear and, everybody could hear every word via the sound system that was set up. There was even complimentary cookies and drinks. When you walked in, you felt welcome and you felt like your attendance mattered.

Although it was mostly NIMBY-types who attended, this is what set Asper's open house in a different league than the Active Transportation open house. Asper WANTED THE DISSENTERS TO COME. He WANTED to hear the MOST CRITICAL people of the community. His intention was not to slap something together and advertise for this in a cowardly manner, hoping that only supporters would show up.

There was a microphone set up so that if you had concerns, you could step up and voice them. Everybody would hear you. And in most cases, David Asper himself answered the questions or addressed that person's concerns directly. For more technical questions or something to do directly with the plans, the panel helped out. They did not approach people's questions with a defensive attitude, no, they really did want to hear what residents had to say.

Although most of the concerns were about parking, noise, and rock concerts, some of them were legitimate concerns and I can say with 100% confidence that Asper will adjust his plans or add new policies based on these.

I will now outline a few awesome points about this new stadium because, as far as I could tell, there was no journalist there to formally report this and I haven't read anything in the papers about it either. Unless I missed something. I think some of these points haven't really been brought to people's attention yet.

The new stadium will boast improved security...if you're drunk and are weilding a big shit-disturbing stick, you will not be tolerated. Neither will fights. The days of rowdy shananigans in the upper deck of the East Side will be no more. The whole stadium design is part of a larger "active living environment," where all kinds of healthy choices will be promoted. Concessions, for example, will also include healthy food on the menus.

All of this according to Asper, "Sends the message....don't come here and be an idiot."

The active living plan will be continued through how they approach transportation. Apparently they will count how many steps it takes from each parking lot on campus to the stadium gates, and encourage people to walk to and from their cars. Although if you don't want to walk, apparently they are still on the Disney World style of tram-like "people mover." In addition to this, a new transit terminal will be built at the stadium site. Transit Park and Ride locations will have a game day shuttle that goes from a Park and Ride lot, to the stadium.

The entire concourse will be closed. As in, not open to the outside environment as the current stadium has. This will help contain noise inside the bowl instead of having it escape out. From any point inside the concourse, you will be able to see the field. All the lights, and speakers and TV screens and whatnot inside the bowl will be directed downwards towards the field, keeping as much noise/light inside as possible. (Read: this stadium is going to be LOUD).

This was consultation. Plans were presented in a clear and easy to understand fashion.

Although just an hour earlier, I was attempting to wrap my brain around very detailed and complex plans on little boards placed on easels, and talking to consultants who were largely unprepared for questioning.

The Asper method: to present information to people and explain what will be going on, and to directly engage those who are not happy about the plans. Well prepared, knowledgeable and articulate consultants answering questions.

The Active Transportation method: put pictures up for you to guess at while consultants tell you how great the plans are, and pretending it was an "open house" when in reality they did what they could to keep dissenters at bay. Unprepared and detail-lacking consultants more interested in defending their plans than putting them through public scrutiny.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the new stadium is a fantastic, great addition to Winnipeg and I honestly cannot find a single bad thing to say about it. I can't even say a single bad thing about how Asper went about consulting residents. Everything about this plan is great, everything about this plan is right, and everything in this plan is done in the best interests of Winnipeggers.

I wish I could say the same about Active Transportation.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Active Transportation? Open House? Consultation? I laugh in your face!

Consultation? What does that mean?

It means there could be some preeeetty significant changes to you car-drivers in the somewhat near future and there ain't nothin' you can do about it.

The Active Transportation open house took place today at the Red River College downtown campus. The event had numerous boards depicting the plans for bike corridors, mostly attended by people who ride bikes and attended very sparsely by people who don't.

I thought this open house was a joke. It wasn't about consultation, it was about showing the plans they had. Upon questioning an on-hand consultant, they went into defense mode to defend their plans as were, or if you pressed for more information such as funding or budgets, they responded with "I don't knows." They had no idea, the details of otherwise completely OBVIOUS things such as snow removal, or how intersections work. It became very obvious very fast: these plans are made for cyclists without thinking about the motorist. Everything is about giving bicycles priority.

How do you do open house consultation? You do what David Asper did tonight at the University. More on that in a second post. But I digress....

Which doesn't say a lot about these so-called "consultants". Some of these active transportation things CLEARLY have things in them that HAVE NOT BEEN analyzed very well. Some things that should be obvious, completely overlooked. And why?

Well, because these plans are made for cyclists to accomodate vehicles. Whereas these plans should be made for vehicles to accomadate cyclists.

These plans are like, cyclist utopia.

Let's summarize the four proposed routes and then dive into some rather ludicrous details:

Assiniboine Avenue to Osborne
: I'll start with the biggest joke of them all. Simply put, this is a fucking nightmare. A few points....A cycling-only lane physically separated by a curb, 3 metres wide, from Main to Kennedy. This will result in "significant parking loss" and also completely re-route traffic on Assiniboine under the guise of "traffic calming," all to accomodate cyclists.

Bannatyne and McDermot, from Waterfront to HSC:
This plan involves, on McDermot, a cycling lane the whole way. Note that a cycling "lane" is just paint on the road and a "cycling track" is a lane physically separated by a special curb. That's all good and dandy. But on Bannatyne, because there is room, there will be a cycling track. This track will be 1.5 metres wide on the curb lane side of the street.

Alexander/Pacific/Elgin: This one is pretty good. This connects both Red River College campuses via Alexander and Pacific. Most of it is through somewhat residential streets, which makes things easier. What makes things stupid is how they handle high-traffic intersections, such as Alexander and Isabel. Clearly none of these consultants have driven a bike down this route. It also calls for changing some streets to a forced right turn, blocking off through traffic so bikes can go through, and funneling motor vehicle traffic elsewhere.

Eugene/Youville/Egerton: This one, like Alexander, makes some sense by using residential streets. Again, what doesn't make sense is the installation of forced-right turning in a couple of areas. Utterly stupid.

And now for some details...

As I said earlier the consultants could explain the diagrams and such very well, but were completely and totally inept at answering questions about any aspect of these plans that was NOT ABOUT BIKES.

And even if it was about bikes, they would simply defend their design. I personally watched one woman absolutely give it to two consultants, about the Alexander/Isabel intersection. She had incredibly valid criticisms. The consultants attempted to defend the design, but didn't get anywhere, because this woman clearly knew more than the consultants did on this issue. The consultants stood there and started nodding in agreement after some time. Did they take a few notes down? No. Ask for her information? Not that I could see. So what kind of consultation is this? Your complaints are duly noted, thanks for coming?

When I questioned the usefulness of a "cycling track," the answer was for cyclist safety and for "B-type cyclists." Remember, a cycling track is a lane for bikes physically separated from traffic by a special curb. A "B-type" cyclist is someone who does not ride their bike to wherever very frequently and are not experienced cyclist commuters. I asked this question because, really, is a dedicated bike lane and some paint not enough? How about snow clearing? But no, it's not the cyclist commuters they are bowing to here, it's everybody and anybody who owns a bike and may or may not be inclined to ride it.

And how DO you clear the snow, I asked? With a bike lane, it's simple. You can clear it just the same as you do with everything else. With a cycling track? That requires either a new machine or a sidewalk machine. I even had one consultant tell me that cycling tracks would get PRIORITY for snow clearing!

...WHAT? What kind of fucked up city do we live in where CYCLISTS safety in the winter comes BEFORE VEHICLE SAFETY?!

How much money would it cost to clear cycling tracks? No answer. Actually, anyt question about money was deflected. How much does any of this cost, ballpark figure? No answer. How much has the city budgeted for consulting? No answer. They couldn't answer anything about cost for ANY OF THIS! So how did they design these plans? Without regard for COST!

One of the things that makes the least sense, aside from cycling tracks on a street like Bannatyne, is the idea of creating a "forced right" situation in the residential neighborhoods. Say we have a four-way stop. With these plans, they would plunk down a barrier on one of the streets to prevent through-vehicular traffic. Of course, this adds to traffic volumes on other residential streets, and creates a thoroughfare for cyclists. It's a RESIDENTIAL STREET! We're talking about SAFETY right? Jeebus, it's not like these corridors are for cycling down Pembina where safety IS an issue, they're going down YOUVILLE!

I inquired about the installation of roundabouts instead of lack-of-foresightingly blocking off streets and creating forced-right turning. Makes sense to me, nobody has to stop and everybody wins. Bikes don't have to stop, motorists don't have to stop, it's "greener," it's win-win for everybody. But was...TOO EXPENSIVE to install roundabouts in residential neighborhoods! Not only is it too expensive, but it also allows vehicle traffic on ALL neighborhood streets. No WONDER roundabouts aren't on the table. They keep cars ON THE ROAD!

What bothers me most about this? That consultants were directly involved here. What SHOULD have happened, was the consultants set up their little boards, and leave. They had a vested interest in what they were presenting, they defended every aspect of it. Was there true data collection? Was there any value to this "consultation?" Will any of these plans change? I highly, highly doubt it.

So why can't they use some common sense here instead of pandering to cyclists?

Why can't they install roundabouts instead of blocking residential streets and creating forced-right turns?

Why can't they take a lesser travelled residential street instead of a precarious high volume one?

Why can't they just paint a bike lane on the road and call it a day instead of making a new curb and new infrastructure just for cyclists?

Why can't they put a bike lane on Assiniboine instead of turning it into an absurd clusterfuck of intertwined one-way streets and single-lane roads with parking on both sides all designed for "traffic calming?"

Why can't they scale back their plans in the interest of saving money? Unless City Hall is prepared to doll out at least 10 million dollars, there is absotively no bloody way all four of these plans will see the light of day in their entirety.

Don't get me wrong here. I'm SUPPORTIVE of getting cyclists some road space. But this is absurd. There's good ideas in some of these plans, I'll give them that. But it's the bad ideas that they cling to and defend. It's when they make the motorist the second-class citizen in the transportation department that things go sour. It's when you put consultants in charge of drafting plans that would see the priority on roads go from car owner, to casual bike rider, things go awry.

I'm ALL FOR improving cyclists' lives. But unlike the multitude of bike lobbies in this city, I ACCEPT that Winnipeg is a car-driven city. We aren't going to change that, and it's absurdity to try to do so.

What we can do is put some things in place to make it easier and more attractive for cyclists. We can make little bike lanes like there is on Princess now. We can use existing infrastructure and turn it into cyclist's paradise such as the Marconi Line. We can plan bike lanes and even cycling tracks when we build new roads, or widen existing ones. That's how you can do it intelligently.

Up tomorrow: How to consult the public properly, featuring David Asper and the new Stadium Plan.

Until then, look forward to road blockages, new one-ways, cycling tracks, bike priority queing at intersections, and potentially dangerous, not-very-well-thought-out cycling lanes.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

'Round and 'round the Charette we go

Lots of info and stuff in this post. Warned.

Today started off with the Speak Up Winnipeg official launch outside City Hall. The Mayor said a few words and had the Speak Up Winnipeg Street Team there for a photo op. Why do I mention this? Well, cause, I'm one of the 8 Street Team-ers. Tom Brodbeck was taking pictures, I'm not sure if he's writing a piece on it for tomorrow or what.

Here is the website if you haven't checked it out or signed up yet. And yes, it really is important that you register and post comments, which may become clear later in the post.

So that was the morning.

In the late afternoon, one of the Speak Up Winnipeg one-week special topic discussions was also started. This would be the special topic of what seems to be a recurrent theme on my blog here, downtown. It started at 5pm at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. I missed the opening speeches but managed to make it for the charette. If you don't know what a "charette," is, it is more or less a roundtable event for idea generation.

These things are organized by Placemakers, a consulting firm that gathers ideas and data from groups and discussions such as these, and tables a report about it. I had quite a lengthly talk with Ben Brown from Placemakers after the event about this. One of the things I talked about was my reservations about this plan working, if it had teeth, if politicians and planners would actually follow the ideas generated from these forums, if planners and politicians listened to Placemakers' recommendations. Ben put it quite simply....the City is paying for Placemakers to gather this data from the citizens of Winnipeg and make their recommendations, and the report will be available to the publc. So this isn't a summer's worth of events to gather data that will just get sucked into the deep, dark, black hole of beauracracy and red tape.

Placemakers also has a blog called PlaceShakers with quite a lot of interesting content.

I had a great time at my table, so I'd like to say thank-you to Eleanor, Brittany, Rob and Keith McCaskill. Yes, even the Chief himself was there, which I didn't know it was him until the introductions went around, I wouldn't have been able to recognize him otherwise. It became obvious that our little group of 5 was very like-minded and shared a lot of the same views and opinions which was great because it made everyone really comfortable to talk about things we liked and disliked.

There were 3 questions/topics asked to the tables: things that make you happy in Winnipeg, favourite buildings and natural spaces.

Our group had a lot to say about culture, diversity, mixed use communities, downtown buildings. Things like festivals and block parties, areas like the Exchange and downtown in general took most of our discussion time up. I made sure to mention the importance of having buildings come right up to the sidewalk, with no setbacks. For natural spaces we talked mostly about riverbanks and waterways.

Other notables from other tables included:

Jeff Browaty's table stating an observation that perhaps needed to be stated. That people seem to appreciate compact urban design, yet want to keep their suburban home, yard and garage.

Surprisingly, somebody mentioned the value of riverbottom forests. Loyal readers may remember that this was one of my top 5 "wishlist" of things I hoped people would address at the Mayor's Symposium. It's good to see people talking about it. Riverbottom forest, to begin with, is awesome, thick, and diverse. It keeps the riverbank where it's supposed to be. Preserving these forests could very well save tens of millions in the future, from having to uglify the banks with giant walls of limestone rock.

Someone mentioned the MTS Centre as a favourite building. Regardless of what you think of it's current location and what was there before it, and even though it is "too small" for an NHL team and definitely cramped up there in the 300 level, it's a huge draw. It's a busy venue, we get tons of concerts to fill our cup of ego and we've proven we can pack it for AHL hockey. That means more people come downtown more often. That's a plus in my books.

There were also several comments about biking and cycling and whatnot, but....I'll hold off commenting on that since I'll be at the open house on Wednesday.

As far as the rest of the week goes, it's pretty full. There is a schedule of events right here. Wednesday is Transit type stuff and a visioning workshop (not sure what that entails), Thursday is a mixed bag of sorts, then it wraps up on Friday. I'll try to attend whenever I can.

If you can make it out to the WAG for any of these things, do so. You'll probably be surprised at whats going on and the kinds of ideas being tossed around. It's a really great, positive environment.

After the Charette was over, I headed over to Rinskide for a brewski. I just thought I'd plug the place because it was sadly empty. Although downtown was also sadly empty at 7:30pm. They also started serving breakfast as of last week.

Closing up here, as I mentioned I will be attending the Active Transportation open house tomorrow at Red River College, so I'll have another post tomorrow about that stuff. Following that I will be dropping in on the conversation on The Great Canadian Talk Show sometime around or just after 5pm to talk about all things bikes, bike lanes and bike paths.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Thumbs-Up to The Forks


Turns out the city sold over 2000 compost bins over the weekend. I'm not sure how many years they've been doing this, but it's been at least a few now for sure. This is the biggest reason I think, that makes curbside pickup questionable. A lot of people do it on their own already. It would seem like a waste to do curbside pickup that would include people who already do it.

**End update**

The Forks will start composting organic waste from it's restaurants which is, frankly, super cool.

According to Paul Jordan, 80% of the 400 tonnes of waste produced every year can be composted. This means a staggering 320 tonnes can be converted into useable soil instead of taking up space at a landfill.

Landfills will become known as a very silly and utterly stupid idea in the history textbooks of the future. Humans of course being the only organism on the planet with smarts, is apparently also the only organism on the planet that willingly pollutes it's own environment. What enters landfills is already an issue in some places that are running out of space. Most of it is completely useless crap. That is, useless crap that won't break down for thousands of years, if ever.

The other stuff in landfills is organic waste. Although many people are under the impression that this stuff just simply breaks down, this is not true. Because the organic material is thrown into a plastic bag, it is in an anaerobic environment and takes years and years to break down. A newspaper may take up to 20 years to break down under these conditions.

At the end of the day, a landfill is an ugly sight and only serves as a reminder of the consequences of our lifestyle. After the Brady landfill is filled, we'll need another one. Oh where oh where to put it? And you think there's NIMBYism in this town?

I'll be the first to say that I'm not sure curbside pickup would work or at least, I'm very skeptical of how effective it would be. I'd like to think that with a good public education campaign more people would take on home composting on their own. It's completely effortless and quite rewarding.

Until then, thumbs up to places like The Forks which take it upon themselves to go the extra step. That is really a huge commitment and incredibly beneficial for all of us. I also know that Kildonan Place Mall has implemented a composting program for it's food court businesses.

This is great news. Progressive news.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The True Value of Wetlands

I just don't give a damn about the Friends of Upper Fort Garry anymore. If you want to catch up on what's going on there, see Policy Frog or the Rise and Sprawl.

I also decided not to write an in-depth piece about wetlands. If you're interested in more, drop me a line and I'd be happy to oblige.

In short: Wetlands are invaluable. Manitoba, before settlement, was covered in Tall Grass Prairie and had uncountable acres of Wetlands and watersheds. We've killed off all but the last remnants of native prairie, one can still experience it if you drop by the Living Prairie Museum on Ness.

Wetlands, the other crucial part of Manitoba's Ecology, have suffered similar consequences to the aforementioned prairie. Unfortunately for us, this has hurt us in more ways than one.

To focus on one issue for the purposes of this post, wetlands, which I'm sure most are aware of, are a natural filtration system. They filter and clean sediments and nutrients from the water. Since settlement, they have been drained for farmland, decreasing the amount of natural filtration and increasing the stress on existing tributaries. In short, this means more sediment and more nutrient overloading streams and rivers.

With the intensive agricultural zone we live in, the effects of nutrient loading is more pronounced. Runoff from farmland and such often does not go through a wetland before entering a stream or river, on it's way to Lake Manitoba or, Lake Winnipeg. And thus, we come to what I consider to be the truth behind climate change: man has literally changed the face of the earth. In the Amazon, they might cut down trees. Here in Manitoba, we drain our wetlands. Our "swamps" or we "fill in that low spot over there," or we'll "build a driveway over that ditch."

Wetlands or "swamps" or whatever other derogatory term people use to describe them, unfortunately have a bad rap, for some reason they are unpleasant and seen as an eyesore, a nuisance, something to get rid of.

Say what you will about nutrient loading in Lake Winnipeg, hog farms, the Red River, or whatever else the NDP government attempts to convince us is the reason for the declining health of the Lake. Restoring old wetlands would be leaps and bounds towards improving the health of the Lake, the watersheds in general and, Manitoban ecosystems.

In the city of Winnipeg, I've had a long-standing belief that any new retention pond built for a suburb should REQUIRE that it be constructed as a wetland. If you think this is a bad idea, look no further than the Royalwoods development off of St Anne's road. Take a drive someday. The lush wetland retention ponds created by Ducks Unlimited offshoot Native Plant Solutions has completely transformed the area into an oasis for wildlife, complimenting the existing watershed and wildlife of the Seine River.

Simply put, wetlands are a part of our history and our heritage here in Manitoba. They should be embraced as a crucial part to the health of our environment, our lakes, and even our suburbs.

And talk about a hotspot for wildlife. Especially birds.

To see a wetland in action, one can take the drive out to Oak Hammock Marsh. If you go now, you will see some serious Swallow action as they are nesting and feasting on newly hatched insects. On the water, you'll see just about everything, but I find Coots particularly interesting, as they seemingly run along the surface of the water to escape danger, you the photographer.

You can enjoy the sights and the sounds of an ecosystem that has been restored and representative of what once was. If you've never been to Oak Hammock, the number of birds flying overhead and all around you will seem truly unbelievable.

Wetlands aid in water filtration and the overall health of our water. In the future I hope more are restored, I hope politicians at the provincial level stop wasting their time on hog farms and start spending time figuring out how to restore what has been lost. They are a vibrant oasis of life, and when in great health, mosquitoes are almost non existent, without the use of larvicides or malathion.

With a little education, they could easily become an aesthetically pleasing and desired part of our landscape.