The plans of all 37 Active Transportation projects can be difficult to follow. I need to clue people into the plans for Assiniboine Avenue downtown. This is a summary of a very major bike route planned for Assiniboine Avenue. I'm bringing everyone up to speed. If you're someone who says bloggers just rip off stories in newspapers, or that I don't know how to write because I didn't go to a special school, or that bloggers don't know how to investigate things, well, I don't need to tell you where to stuff it.
It is hard to write something cohesive when I am sitting on so much information. The reason why it is hard, is because all of the pieces haven't fallen into place yet.
Last fall I attended (covered) the public open house in Wolsely regarding the street-level bridge the AT people had proposed to go over Omands Creek. Facing strong community opposition, engineer Bill Woroby and AT Coordinator Kevin Nixon squirmed under pressure and tried to convince the upset Wolsely residents that a street-level bridge was the best option. This was an eye-opening event, compelling me to question how other AT projects with radical changes to the immediate neighbourhood were being approached.
This whole process of community consultation or lack thereof should not be shrugged aside. AT projects are but the latest in a number of ram-through projects that have happened in the past two years. In many cases, the plans are poorly thought out and make little to no sense. The issue is that had community consultation actually taken place, the grave oversights would be written out of the plans or they would have been scrapped altogether. It comes from not knowing the area and making plans for it anyway. The best way to mitigate bad planning decisions, is to go to the people that live there and ask them questions.
Let's not pull the knee-jerk string and say that people like me who are going out of our way to put pressure on the AT people and the consulting companies are vehemently against cycling infrastrucutre. When you look at these plans and go to the neighbourhood, speak to residents, the only thing you can say is "well, what the fuck?" There are all kinds of suggestions out there on how to make things better, where to put bike lanes, how to do it, lots of "why don't they just do this"s or "why don't they just put it like that"s.
I just wish that Winnipeggers knew what was going on here. That there are a bunch of people drawing up plans and forcing them on neighbourhoods, going against people's suggestions and ignoring their concerns. That there are people making these plans and nothing you do or say will stop them, even if it says in their contract that they have to hear you out. A bunch of people who pick and choose which data to use, people who would outright fail first year statistics courses and hold no statistical standards to their work, people who choose which residents to talk to and which ones to ignore, and people who stack "public" consultation meetings with bike path supporters who don't even live in the area in question.
For Assiniboine Avenue, there is certainly a lot to consider and take into account.
First, it is very important to note that no councilor was aware of the plans for Assiniboine Avenue. No councilor, or Mayor Sam Katz, have stated that they would support major traffic changes to Assiniboine Avenue for a bike path. Yet it is happening without their knowing. They have already approved their third of the funding cost, no additional scrutiny on their part is required. For that matter, the residents of Assiniboine Avenue do not know. They were not told of public consultation meetings or of the plans that were decided on.
I have in my hands the contract for this particular bike path that was agreed to by Marr Consulting. In it, it emphasizes the need for consultation and communication with area reasidents. It states that they must be involved and that there must be a community consensus of what is going on, and a general understanding of the plans. This cannot be – if nobody was ever told. If the most they got, was a piece of paper stuck to the door of their apartment building.
If that is what passes for community consulting, then it's a good thing I'm not a consultor. I might make the suggestion that area residents be mailed a leaflet encouraging them to come out to an open house to discuss plans with planners and engineers. Hell, I might even make the suggestion that recording devices and pens and paper be brought to the open house so we could make detailed records of how the residents feel and think. Hell times two, I MIGHT even suggest, that the next morning at the office be dedicated to going through those feelings and thoughts, and use them to best change the plans we have.
In an email to councilor John Orlikow, I asked him what the procedure was for getting Canada Post to deliver something to all residents on a street, or in an apartment block, as I know he has used this method to facilitate communication with his own constituents. John surmised that the reason the AT department might not do it, is cost. What is the cost? Fifteen cents a letter. So for a thousand-unit apartment building, it would cost all of $150 to put a leaflet in everyone's mailbox.
No, it cannot be! With funding from the city, the province, and the feds, are the Active Transportation folks really skimping out on proper notification, as is outlined in their contract, because of cost?
Less than a hundred people showed up for the public open house for the Assiniboine Avenue plans. That's it? All those apartment towers and condos and not even a hundred showed up? Something has gone wrong here. There is simply no way, no way at all, that those people were aware anything is going on.
After the public open house, the plans were changed. Without notification, without telling anybody. They held public consultation on one plan, then changed it to something so different and so extreme, and didn't bother to tell anybody. Marr Consulting convenienlty ignored area businesses as well.
What everything regarding this project and many other AT projects boil down to, is that the people who are making these plans, these decisions, the people who are consulting, are absolutely not doing their jobs. They display grand incompetance over the simplist of tasks, such as notifying area residents. Important people such as area politicians and area businesses, are so frequently left out that the only conclusion you could possibly draw is that it is happening purposely, such that they can report there is no community opposition to the plans created.
All of the hush-hush has happened after the Omands Creek bridge proposal. The timing of events begs the question: did the community opposition give them a bit of a scare? Did the consulting company take it personally? Why have they gone so completely rogue and underground with public consultations? Is it on purpose, or are they just that bad at their job?
Serious questions and allegations, no doubt. But I feel the need to put that out there.
This is the part of the story that really gets you scratching your head. After combing through the contract provisions, I drew up a formal letter for the City Auditor to review the contract and ensure due process is in fact taking place. I sent it via 311 to be forwarded to the City Auditor with the subject headline:
For City Auditor: Complaint: RE: Assiniboine Avenue Bike Path
Within hours I got a response stating it had been sent to AT Coordinator Kevin Nixon, not the City Auditor. Currently, I am still in correspondance with 311 over this decision and whomever made it, why it was not sent to the Auditor despite being clearly labelled for him. I have since been told that it is not the Auditor's job to accept such things from the public, which is blatantly false. Not only does it say otherwise on the city website, I have written assurance from the Deputy Auditor that they can indeed accept audit requests from the public.
So after all of that, it's a lot I know. I can't say any more than I already have in regards to 311, as that is still on-going. When I filed a Freedom of Information Request for the project contract, it was just to see what was going on and to see if I couldn't figure out the grounds on which the AT Coordinator and Marr/MMM Consulting were justifying their actions and decisions that defied all logic. If you've read this far, you get a cookie. In doing so however, I've uncovered not just one but two gold-mine stories. In doing so, I've shocked myself at what I've learned as a blogger with supposedly no journalism credibility, just by filing an FOI.
If I can do it, well then, you'd think that some other people who get paid to do it could connect the dots. And I do this on my spare time. I have a full time job and when I'm not doing that, I spend my spare time working on artistic things like writing and music. When I get fired up about something, I make a post to my website.
I'll end on waxing about the state of journalism in the dawn of the internet era. In the past month, Wikileaks has undermined the entirety of mainstream news around the globe. The resulting backlash from not only the US Government but also various news outlets showed a startling complicity by mainstream journalism to not do any actual journalism work. The kicker is that many news outlets feel that we should pay for their online content, which is mostly borderline plagiarism, wire stories, or press releases, copied and pasted. When something of value is uncovered, as was the case with the leaked military documents, news corporations rushed to condemn it or attempt to devalue the massive leak.
I don't have to be a journalist or a reporter to comment on the state of the news industry. Neither do I need to be a journalist to file an FOI, read it, scratch my head, and post my findings to the internet. Good content, the stuff worth reading, is almost entirely on internet-only sites, many of which rely on donations to support their hard-working journalists.
I also discovered, apparently, that you can do valuable and meaningful work on your own time, driven by your own interests. Assertions about bloggers well, when someone asks me about blogging and mainstream (and it always does get asked) I can now safely and proudly respond by citing the various stories I've covered and researched.
Stay tuned for more on Assiniboine and 311 as the picture falls into place.