Thursday, March 18, 2010

Omands Creek: In One Spot

All my posts and related material on the Omands Creek Active Transportation project:

Destroying What is Unique.


Open House Live Blog.

Post-Open House Thoughts and Overview.

My goal is to have more material than all the mainstream media outlets combined. We shall see if I succeed....mwuahahaha.

Omands Creek Overview

I arrived at this open house expecting the complete opposite of open houses on AT matters I`ve been to in the past. That was because at this open house, I knew people were actually going to show up.

And show up they did, when I arrived shortly before 6PM, there were already more than 50 people in the lobby of the church, glazing over signs and pamphlets, talking with MMM Consultants.

Glazing over the signs myself I took a few notes. First of all, their "criteria" on which this project was based.

1. Maximum 5% grade.
2. Maximize tree protection.
3. Flood protection for a 1:100 flood.

A couple more points get the jist. WTF? Who decided a little pedestrian bridge needed protection from a 1:100 flood that area residents say only floods for two weeks? The other completely, completely shocking thing about this criteria, was the complete lack of environmental assessment Nothing. Here we have a natural habitat, and no environmental consulting. Oh...but they'll try and minimize how many trees get cut down. Yeah okay.

I've spoken to these MMM consultants before. They won't anwer anything. They are completely useless. They don't know of budgets, of timeframes, of details regarding safety or snow removal or how it affects anybody else other than cyclists. Which is complete crap becasue, how do you make plans and proposals without budgets, time constraints, or general parameters of a project?

I avoided them and was interested in taking a picture of the nice and misleading artists' rendering, which I have posted under my photos. Following that I went downstairs.

They had a board at the back set up with drawings some school kids had made as well as letters they had sent to Bill Woroby at Public Works. Most of them said the same kinds of things, such as:

"Kids of all ages go to Omands Creek just to go down the hill on a toboggan. Have you ever gone down the hill?" Emma

Yes indeed, MMM consultants and related engineers. Some consulting you did....some imagination you had.

And then I met and talked to Kevin Nixon, the Active Transportation Coordinator. He stated there was "comprehensive public consultation" to find heavily used active transportation routes so they could focus on those ones to upgrade. I asked him if he likes seeing this many people come out, to which he responded "absolutely." He also stated it was difficult to get input from neighbourhoods, and that they had changed their strategy "to go to them, not them come to us." They apparently do this by going to malls and setting up kiosks.

I gotta say, if this is their idea of consultation, it's bullshit. How can they accurately gather information at shopping malls? Moreso, it seems that absolutely nobody knew about this particular bridge until February, in which a small group of a handful of residents were consulted, and their concerns ultimately ignored in the plans, the City instead shoving through the 1-million-dollar 4-metre-wide bridge, if only because it takes advantage of shovel-ready stimulus cash from the feds.

And that's exactly the answer we got from Bill Woroby all night long, that this was the only project approved by the feds, this was the only way we could use the money for a new bridge.

And we heard time and time and time again from residents speaking up, that they would rather see the money not used at all or the existing bridge and path simply upgraded. And time and time and time again Bill fired back with not being able to use the funding for any other project.

Plus, who would have guessed they got a blanket statement from the government that does not require them to do any environmental assessments of any kind for any of the 37 proposed projects?

Seems a little counter intuitive don't it? Building green infrastructure, for cyclists, less emissions....but at the environment's expense? What is this here, Russia?

That was honestly, the two big shockers of the night. 1) The City is glued to the idea of building this bridge and nothing else, only because the money is there and if we don't use it we don't get it, and 2) there is no environmental assessment or environmental considerations being done, despite it being a sensitive ecological area.

So it boils down to this....the City says "yes, lets build, we have the money." The residents say "no, we don't want it." The City says "....too bad." The residents fire back, "but why can't we just upgrade the park as it is?" The City defends their position, "no, we don't have federal funding for that."

The Feds approved a one million dollar bridge that goes over a bloody creek, but how much would it cost the City to simply repave the existing path and fix the existing bridge? A hundred grand? Not an option.

Harvey Smith however was more, shall we say, optimistic. In speaking with him afterwards he stated "I've been assured by the head of Public Works that if it was registered clearly by people here, that the bridge will not be built." Interestingly enough, Harvey also said after the meeting was over, that "I've never been in a public meeting where little kids had a voice." And he said it like he meant it and like he believed it would have an impact.

The kids, they all had the same points....the loss of their beloved hill, the loss of habitat, that kind of thing. They referred to the creek in general as a "valley" instead of a hill. Many people who got up to speak also proclaimed that when they were kids they tobogganed and slid and rolled down the very same hill.

It will remain to be seen: do we live in a Democracy, or not?

After today's open house, if this bridge gets built, we live in a city ruled by the iron fist of beuracracy.

The only way the City can possibly demonstrate that it actually does do public consultation? Is to axe this plan completely and simply upgrade what is currently there, without federal help. Anything else is contrary to what this neighbourhood wants.

Time will tell.

Open House Live Blog

Open house ran for two hours and went 45 minutes over time. Here`s the big bad ugly details.

7:09 Nearly dropped my SD card with all my pictures in my coffee cup. Great way to start?

7:10 People flooding into the church basement. Easily 200 people here, if not more, might even end up being standing room only. Harvey Smith is here, the MMM “we don't give answers” consultants, AT Project Coordinator Kevin Nixon, Bill Woroby, Pat Martin, Anders Swanson

7:15 Met area resident of 3 years Harish, moving to Canada from India in 2004, sitting beside me, commenting on the plans.

7:19 Too many people here, people standing all around the walls. Late getting started organizing so many people. They seated for 200, and there's at least that many here.

7:19 Starting, first Active Transportation open house I've been to that is actually organized, David Asper style. Even have a presentation of the 5 options, and a, gasp, moderator. Time for questions following presentation, targeting 8:30 as a target stop-time.

7:21 Moderator: consulting process, no decision being made at this point.

7:24 Bill Woroby from Public Works speaking.

7:25 Explaining stimulus funding process. Submitted 37 AT location funding requests. All 37 were approved by fall of 2009. City approved these projects in their 2010 budget, totalling $20 million.

7: 27 Funding is contingent upon these projects being completed by the fall of 2010. (No wonder they don't consult). Yup, there we are. Billy said “shovel ready.” Surprise surprise.

7:27 “It (consulting) is not a perfect process.” Bill Woroby.

7:28 Proposal DOES NOT REQUIRE ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW. Does NOT require approval from Department of Fisheries and Oceans. (Graham's bullshit metre just broke. Only been at this for 10 minutes).

7:28 Veronica Hicks from MMM takes the mic.

7:29 Talking about community meeting with area residents, I assume, the meeting with but a handful of residents in February.

7:32 Still talking. Veronica will now go through the pros and cons of every plan. Option “A” is the big-ass 75 metre long bridge that has “1:100 flood protection.” Excuse me while I laugh.

7:32 Graham's note: Meeting Jason Ross beforehand, who stated “all of these plans have some good, and a compromise of evil.”

7:33 Option “B” affects the fishing hill. Option “C” affects the toboggan hill. Option “D” is what was drawn from the meeting with the five residents, simply upgrading the existing park as is. This option cannot be funded via federal stimulus money. Too bad they already put those fancy signs up.

7:34 Option “E” is upgrading the existing bridge. Which has “several technical considerations that would need to be addressed.” Including....wait for it....APPROVAL BY DEPARTMENT OF FISHERIES AND OCEANS. Veronica claims that there are concerns about repeated flooding compromising the safety of the structure of the bridge. This option would also not be able to access money from the feds.

7:36 Ian, representing area residents is speaking. Was part of the original resident “consultation” group.

7:38 Ian cycled over 4000 kilometres last year.

7:41 Ian suggesting we have a million dollars so maybe we should use it.

7:42 “I can live with a flood one in every 2 years. I can live with a flood one in every 5 years, I'll just ride my bike up to Portage” Receives round of applause, complete with whistling.

7:43 “No matter how much I love to ride, no matter how much I support AT....we have to be able to find something different.” Cue more applause.

7:44 Anders Swanson is up.

7:45 Hmmmm...7:45. Only 45 more minutes to go? I think there might be a riot if only 2 people get to ask questions.

7:47 Anders started One Green City in 2007, working on maps for communicating existing AT networks and acquired knowledge of what people desired in different areas of the city.

7:49 Anders shows photo of Omands Creek flooding. The picture is completely misleading. The photo shows the creek completely flooded. Anders calls this “frustrating.” According to area residents I talk to, the bridge floods for only about 2 weeks, 3 weeks tops.

7:52 Anders on “Why we chose this bridge.” Portage Avenue is scary, steep slopes, steep approaches, starts talking about a train bridge....train bridge? WTF does that have to do with the Omands Creek bridge?

7:54 Bridge is narrow, approaches are narrow, bridge is stupid design he says. All are true.

7:56 Anders keeps talking about using the bridge over to Assiniboine to get to Polo Park. I have no idea what this has to do with Omands Creek. This seems like a different proposal to me.

7:56 Anders shows an absolutely ridiculous graphic showing what would happen if Portage Avenue flooded instead of the Omands Creek bridge and how it would affect drivers. Anders, let me introduce to you the apple. Aaaand this Anders, is...the orange.

7:58 New person talking. I'm not sure who she is and she's talking about some kind of universal design policy. Eyes are now glazing over.

8:00 Yes, ring the hourly bells. Half an hour for questions and community consultation/input? Hmph. Lets see how much overtime they go. Judging by how many people are here, an hour may not be acceptable.

8:00 Questions starting.

8:01 Q: Are there other plans? Are there other aspects (park improvements) as part of the plan?

A: Funding is strictly for the bridge. Other parts of the funding do not include the park.

Q: Will other bridge be removed?

A: Low level bridge will still exist if high level bridge is built.

8:02 Q: Woman is concerned about increased cycling speed in park. “Park has ravines and valleys, thats what makes it beautiful. I like Omands Creek the way it is.” Round of applause.

8:03 Q: Questioning why the money cannot be moved to another project, why there cannot be a community committee to view and have dialogue with City. Can we have a proposals for 20 million dollars (worth of trail upgrades) before we're at the shovel-in-the-ground stage? More applause.

A: Double-speak. Starts talking up the Federal guidelines, money has to be spent by March 31, 2011 and specific application to the projects that were approved. Money cannot be transferred anywhere without approval from the Feds. EPC has to approve transfer of City funds.

8:07 Q: “I am tired of cyclists. Cyclists should not be allowed there. A sign should be placed that says 'please walk your bikes through the trail, walk your bike over the Assiniboine bridge.' “ Is also concerned about safety with increased bicycle traffic.

8:10 Q: Derides the February consultation meeting in favour of this “true” public consultation meeting. “Why is the City exempt from an environmental process?” “Will pathways accessibility be maintained? Will pathways be cleared in winter? Who will provide funding to provide true universal access to the park? Is there commitment from City or the Province?”

A: “We received a letter saying we were exempt (from environmental process).” Given a blanket statement saying they were exempt from all projects for this. Talks about winter clearing budget funds.

Dude is being taken to town by this woman, going back and forth with her in the audience.

8:13 from my count, at least 18 more people lined up to speak.

8:15 Q: First kid up to speak. “We don't need the bridge cause it's only flooded for like 3 weeks and you can just walk around the block and get some more excercise.” Huge applause. “And save a million bucks.”

8:16 Q: City should spend money on bridges across the river (Assiniboine Bridge I assume). Says something about using an existing structure at the end of Aubrey to build a new bridge.

8:17 Q: Teacher from neighbourhood school. “Omands Creek is not a place to get across, it's a place to go to.” Has some students reading prepared statements. Very nice. Kids refer to it as “a valley.” Are worried about the environment. Four kids from her class read statements.

These are some seriously well-spoken kids. Kudos to this teacher.

8:20 Q: From Jason Ross, resident for 31 years. Claims Omands Creek is a historical site, though is not designated as such. Is a place where people can make new friends and meet people. States that there is less and less free entertainment in the world. Points out that we did “not win a lottery from Saudi Arabia, this money is still coming from our pockets.” Comments on the fact that if a new bridge was constructed, and will not include removal of existing bridge. Suggests we “rejuvenate the land that is already there.”

8:23 Q: Dude supports changing the bridge. Considers the existing bridge “an existing nightmare.” Claims the bridge was under water for 10 weeks last year. States the bridge does not serve the purpose it should. However, does not agree with any of the proposed ideas. “Let's not delude ourselves to thinking what we have at Omands Creek is doing us any good today.”

8:25 Q: Woman states she attended the first meeting in February. Would like to see the bridge elevated, but keeping in nature with the park. “Unfortunately all of the bridges proposed are of street level. It is disappointing to see one of the options we proposed was (turned into) a combination of options D and E. What we had asked for was that the existing bridge and approaches be improved....and that it be maintained. Why can't options D and E be funded with the same pot of money?”

A: Feds are strict on what they approve. Sum up his bafflegab: has to go through a lot of red tape, and are under time restraint to complete project by March 2011. He keeps referring to this deadline. Is really starting to bother me. Spend it or lose it! Spend it or lose it! Bridge! Bridge! Big! Yay! Funding, yay!

Basically is saying any alternative would have to go through all this bureaucracy to fund an alternate plan that most of the residents seem to favour, simply upgrading the park. As if they NEED the Fed funding.

Graham's Note: It's a million dollars to make a fuckin' giant bridge, not to upgrade the park with some new pavement.

8:30 Still a lineup of people. How many will they let speak? Going in to OT.

8:32 Q: Parent emphasizing the environmental value of this place, few places where children can access a natural environment and play in natural spaces. Is not keen on any options, would rather not spend the money. “Omands Creek is too important to rush a plan through just because the Feds set some kind of deadline.” Introduces two students, Natalie and Lidia from grade one from Laura Secord School to speak. (Lidia is having some stage fright). “Please do not put the bridge there. I like sliding there in the winter and I like rolling down there in the summer.”

8:36 Q: “I think my grandmother chained herself from the Wolseley Elm.” Very nice. Has been surprised by AT system being put up. References the “monkey trails” as have others. Has some interesting comments, but lots of rambling, not sure how to sum it all up.

8:41 Q: “Anything that is left there still has to be maintained. Any street I've come across in Wolseley is in need of dire repair. If you call a cop you get put on hold, and 311 isn't much help at all. I don't think anyone in Ottawa cares what gets built here in Winnipeg. It's about time the people driving this stuff here started dealing with what we need. Let's get serious.”

8:43 Moderator tells rest of people to keep things “succinct.”

8:43 Q: Ross Eadie is up. I believe he ran for the NDP? I'm pretty sure I voted for him at the time. For those who don't know, Ross is legally blind and uses a walking cane. “This current bridge proposal does not have to be the only way you achieve universal design.” Is not in support of a new, big bridge. “It sounds like this one didn't quite start off right.” Wonders if there is not an option to build a bridge a bridge elsewhere, says using Portage Avenue is not an option for those who want to use the natural environment the park offers. Takes issue with people who claim accessibility must be maintained 100% of the time, says he uses snowshoes in the winter and takes his kids to enjoy the winter environment. Says “give us the million bucks so we can build our AT corridor over Redwood bridge to Kildonan Park.”

8:48 Q: Kid speaks....says he comes from Toronto, where there are lots of hills to slide down but that “Winnipeg barely has any.”

8:49 Q: Teacher is reading statements from her students. Many people are beginning to leave around now.

8:52 Q: Little girl talking about tobogganing with her friends and sister. Starts laughing while telling her stories about going to Assiniboine Park. “I think the kids have a right to say 'no' to the bridge.”

8:54 Q: Another little girl: “Why do they have to spend the money on Omands Creek and not something else?

A: City officials treated her question as a comment and did not answer. 'Tis unfortunate.

8:55 Q: Guy rants about taxpayer money and the provincial and federal governments. Ranting hard. Really really hard. Is upset about the “distance between government and the people.” Finds consulting process “appalling.”

8:56 Q: Says the Wolseley residents take care of the park, picking up garbage and planting new trees every year. Says green space is limited and very valuable in Wolseley. Suggests 4-metre wide bridge will invite teenagers to drive their cars over the bridge and into the baseball area.

8:58 Q: Concerned about process, “not just in Wolesley but throughout Winnipeg.” Says AT is not just about cyclists, but about other forms of active transportation as well.

9:00 It would seem they stopped addressing people's questions and concerns and are just letting people talk now.

9:00 Q: “This is a horrible process. People feel, whether it was in the capital budget or not, people need to know.” This woman uses a walking cane and wonders how people think a street level bridge is any more safe to people such as her. Thinks we should ask the question “what are we trying to fix? And go from there.”

9:02 Q: “We have few natural wonders in this City. This is one of them.....When the City steps in, it's disastrous. Do we all remember the concrete blocks they put in the creek?” Is also concerned about increased speed of cyclists.

9:05 Q: “One million dollars? That's a lot of money. Why does the government come to us and say we're going to build this bridge? Why can't we as a community build the bridge? I look at those pictures, and I don't see any recycled materials in that bridge. And the other thing is, why does it have to be so big? Why does it have to be for a 1 in 100 flood?”

9:06 Q: Little boy talking about tobogganing into bridge pillars. Talks about “the valley” (kids seem to refer to it as a valley. Funny how our perspectives change).

9:07 Q: Harish, who was sitting beside me is speaking. “Politics in India is practised rather deviously. If I may look into the future, what is to stop them from saying in ten or fifteen years, lets make it wider and make it for cars and use the space to build other things?” Questions lack of environmental consulting.

9:10 Q: Two more people speak...not much new.

9:11 Q: Teenager suggests people go see what is under the current bridge. “What will be under the new bridge will be disgusting.”

9:12 Q: Last speaker. “You can't do everything for everyone. But can we make a good route for cyclists to go around the park?” States there is apparently private land along the creek and wonders how that will affect things.

9:14 Moderator states they have taken all the information down. I wonder if I took better notes? Billy states his thanks on behalf of the City for people's input and for coming out and to make them recognize the concerns of the neighbourhood.

9:15 Community member asks when new project will be shown to the residents. Billy says recommendations will be made by May, then to some committee and “some of that information will be transferred back to the community.”

9:16 Dude asks if there will be another meeting showing the new plans.

Billy says no.

A few people stand up voicing their disappointment. No shit, Sherlock? Someone suggests emailing everybody at this meeting. Billy says okay.

9:17 That's a wrap folks.

Omand's Creek Pictures

There we are. Scene of the crime, Halter Park.

How 'bout them signs?

The bridge. Note ample graffiti on side.

View from hill opposite of Raglan. Where this picture was taken would be where a hypothetical 75m long bridge would connect to. As area resident Chris politely pointed out to me, this is also the "tobogan hill."

Turning around from that last picture, is the baseball diamonds (only one pictured).

Artist`s rendering of proposed giant one million dollar bridge. Oh how nice they make it look.

Packed house, democracy in action. Too bad the other AT open houses weren`t like this.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Destroying What is Unique

Proposed bike bridge in Wolsely over Omand's Creek on your way to cross the footbridge over the Red River demonstrates what I consider a modern tradegy.

The particular site in question is a bike path that exits Wolsely/Raglan, enters a steep decline down to the creek, crosses a short footbridge, and begins a moderately steep incline about 100 metres long up to a level surface overlooking two baseball diamonds. I am overly familiar with this site because my running club uses this hill in spring and cross-country training. If you ever see a bunch of crazy people sprinting up this hill like it was no big deal, that would be us.

This is a neat place. It's a diamond in the rough. The scenic, winding trail weaving in and out of trees and over the creek is something of a rarity here in Winnipeg. Lest I forget to mention the two HILLS. Yes, hills. If only because the path goes in and out of a creek bank, hills nonetheless to us here on the prairies.

So what do they plan to do, to "upgrade" this well-travelled and scenic section of cycling infrastructure? Build a giant bridge over it of course, sending concrete piles into the creek bed and replacing a weaving, scenic trail with a boring, perfectly level, sterile, bridge. No doubt hacking down a few trees along the way.


Modern sterility practices involving "upgrades" to pedestrian-orientated infrastructure bothers me.

Let me float a better example, if I may, as I'm sure few are very familiar with this Wolsely location, Birds Hill Park.

At BHP, there is a 7-kilometre trail that goes around the inside of the park, around the lakes, in and out of the cedar thickets and up and down a couple hills. It was wonderful, amazing, and for a 15-minute-rollerblade-per-lap I get far more than I could ever hope for out of that trail. It is perfectly placed, perfectly designed.

However over the years the old tarmack surface became nearly unbearable and everyone started to wonder, hmm, when oh when will they ever resurface this wonderful trail?

Well, they did it last year.....except that they didn't only resurface the trail, they sterilised it. Made it boring. They cut down trees, they made it wider. They lowered the grade of the hills, they lessened the curves of the formerly winding trail. There is now, where there used to be not, a "buffer" zone of nothing a few feet from each side of the trail, where the trees and grasses used to come right up to the trail, making you feel like you were only one step removed from a hiking trail, it now makes you feel like youre on some superspeed highway down the #1. It makes you feel like you're not even in Birds Hill Park at all, any more.

Modern engineering and "planning" and "upgrades" seem to do their best to ignore what is unique to a particular location rather than working with it. Instead we end up destroying what makes a place unique and place something boring and souless in it's stead.

I will most definitely show up to this "open house" to voice my opinion and go further than that if need be. I'll also try to get out there to take some pictures of this wonderful location the City feels the need to Upgrade and Destroy.