Monday, August 16, 2010

Just how screwed up is Active Transportation, anyway?

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.

31 comments:

The Great Canadian Talk Show said...

"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"

Let me correct you.

Gerbasi said she was against it and then 72 hours later when she found out who was behind it she flip-flopped. Based on our survey last winter, the Mayor and
7 councillors opposed the closing of Assiniboine as a west-to-east route from Osborne to Main. A couple didn't answer IIRC.

bwalzer said...

OK, let's assume that a community consolation process was followed in the case of the Assiniboine Avenue plan. Let's also assume that the local residents were pretty much all opposed. Then what?

The street after all is maintained for the benefit of the entire city. Why are the opinions of people who merely live near it somehow more important than the opinions of those who will use the street to get to and from downtown? Who speaks for the users of transportation infrastructure at a community consultation meeting? Should your proposed letters perhaps be sent to the entire population of the city?

The Wosley bridge process is a good example. I am still recovering from an accident at the existing bridge. Someone there mentioned that they had seen 10 other people crash in the same way. The recently canceled bridge would of prevented these injuries. At what point does the right of people passing through an area to be protected from unnecessary risk override the right of local residents to control their environment?

I think that public consultation for these sorts of things should only be used as a source of perspective. The options of local residents are only important if they are particularly insightful. We already have a political process in place to make these sorts of decisions.

Ed said...

True consultation happens when decision making power is given to stakeholders. This would include the cyclist rep, the local resident, the business person, planners, engineers, etc. Get these people around a table talking, agree to a compromise.

The Great Canadian Talk Show said...

Nice theory Ed, except...

in Sherbrook when a compromise was reached the report about it never made it to Public Works and the city and cyclist reps did not admit that one had been achieved, insisting no changes could be made to the bike lane plan.

Coun. Smith is STILL waiting for an explanation of why he wasn't invited to the June 18th meeting, never got a copy of the June 24th briefing notes about the meeting, and where the promised report disappeared to.

Ed said...

GCTK, not sure what your story has to do with "my" theory.

All you are describing is dysfunctional decision making on main street. Which is pretty much what Graham describes in his post.

I was referring to Arnstein's "Ladder of Citizen Participation". It's not exactly clear to me where we are on this ladder right now but it is clear where we are not.

The Great Canadian Talk Show said...

@ ED:

"Get these people around a table talking, agree to a compromise."

That's what I was addressing.

Graham said...

@ BWalzer

If it was followed then, well, you know, it was followed. I can't really say any more than that, if consultation took place then it did and those plans go through. I am 100% certain however, these plans have not gone through that process.

The Wolsely bridge is hazardous, definitely. I am assuming from your response that you weren't at the open house. I was and I can say, that residents overwhelmingly and repeatedly told Bill Woroby that they wanted the existing bridge fixed. Not only for obvious safety reasons but just that it is also an old, poorly designed bridge.

They said no. Our plan, or no plan. Upgrading or replacing the existing bridge was not eligible for the federal funding. On top of that, Bill Woroby cited that environmental reviews would have to be done, and DFO would need to be contacted. The street level bridge approved for federal funding however, was exempt from environmental review.

But yes it isn't just those area residents. I can't say those are the only people that are allowed to speak, I go to these open houses and such and I review the plans, and in no way am I a resident of Assiniboine. However it is their street that is being changed, it is their parking that is being lost. These changes are what make them people who are to be consulted with.

Ed said...

@GCTS

so what are you trying to say?

In this instance you're aware of the city gathering the stakeholders together to reach a compromise but it was too late to change the plan b/c the feds had already approved it?

Omega said...

Thanks for doing all of this.

I can definitely agree that there are times where these community initiatives manage to take on a life of their own. Where they actually become ignorant towards the very people they were intended to serve.

I wonder sometimes how much this might have to do with ego and a sense of pride some people get when put in certain project positions?

bwalzer said...

I did actually attend the meeting for the Omand's creek bridge. That experience is a big part of why I don't think such things have any particular political legitimacy. I personally will not be attending any more community consultation meetings unless people stop treating them as some sort of bag attached to the side of the regular civic political process. This does not mean I think the regular process is working, just that trying to get around it is a waste of time.

I have some guesses as to what is going on with the Omand's Bridge thing: The city hired consultants to fix the bridge. They came up with a proposal using whatever the current standards are. If the city spends another $65k on consultants it is likely that they will get the same proposal based on the same standards. ... so things are kinda stuck.

The Great Canadian Talk Show said...

@ Ed:

"it was too late to change the plan b/c the feds had already approved it?"

No it wasn't too late, and it had nothing to do with the feds.

It had everything to do with the city bureaucrats and the bike lobby double -crossing the people into thinking there was deal. The residents were lulled into not attending the Public Works Committee, thereby making it seem that there no little opposition to the current plan which will steal parking away from rooming houses and apartment buildings and 6 local businesses.

unclebob said...

Great post Graham

I might just add that one element which caused residents to overlook the open houses was the nature of the notices and I doubt it was accidental.

Of course they were poorly distributed but more importantly they contained no clue that major change was on the table.

On the other hand, the "kiss your parking spot goodbye" notices put out by the alternative media for Berry Street may have been a little outrageous but they got the message across and people reacted appropriately.

I am as convinced as you are that this downplaying of change was by design.

Something stinks.

I think the jury is still out on the mastermind behind this ......be it Nixon or Marr or someone else

I know you have Marr's contract and the contract itself suggests we should have expected better but they probably have no shame.

I wonder if there is a second, perhaps even more revealing contract surrounding the provisions of the Federal funds.

It may very well look a little like the contracts of Hydro export sales which remain hidden but which govern everybody's actions.

Does it reek? Oh yes, yes, yes!

Kenton Larsen said...

Graham: now this is journalism with two-way communication and everything. Good job!

unclebob said...

Graham
I had a look at the Federal releases on funding and what strikes me is the tight deadlines.
If they do not complete the work by March next year the funds disappear and the city is obliged to complete it themselves without the money.
To me that means it has to essentially be completed by the end of October as construction grinds to a halt over the winter.
That means about 60 plus a bit days.
No wonder we are getting the bums rushunclebob

unclebob said...

Ed
Arnstein's ladder is interesting

We have reached the bottom of the scale at manipulation

It just doesn't get any worse than that.

Here is the scale 1-8

8. citizen control
7. delegated power
6. partnership
5. placation
4. consultation
3. informing
2. therapy
1. manipulation

The top three represent citizen power - the middle three tokenism and the bottom two non participation

The description of the bottom two is " These two rungs describe levels of non participation that have been contrived by some to substitute for genuine participation. Their real objective is not to enable people to participate in planning or conducting programs but to enable powerholders to educate or cure the participants"

bwalzer said...

If the best argument against the change on Assiniboine Ave was a loss of parking then it seems quite clear to me that the right choice is to go ahead with the project. There is no right to on street parking in Winnipeg. Nor should there be...

unclebob said...

Considering the potential costs that might fall to the city for failure to execute on time, I think it is about time to suggest that somebody lied about the project being shovel ready.
There is a cost and consequences attached to that lie

Ed said...

@bob

If we're not at one of the top two rungs the decisions aren't legitimate. Don't the planners learn this in their education, continuing or otherwise?

The ridiculous stimulus deadline really isn't an excuse. I guess one can talk about how a particular special interest group got their way but it seems more that they were just around at the right time. Active transportation funding, who else would a city without a plan go to?

Which brings us to the real problem. Proper planning and consultation takes time and leadership. We just went through a bunch of BS with Speak up Winnipeg that looked like it could have climbed a couple rungs up the ladder but ended being a way to excuse more land opening up for sprawl. Manipulation. Our tax dollars keep going to consultants producing glossy reports instead of towards community engagement and local neighborhood plans.

The funny thing is, the petty little squabbles about a bike lane here or there, buffer zones, street lights, etc, all distract from holding the proper feet to the fire. Instead of petitioning to stop the bike lobby we need to elect politicians who have a clue. I'd say speak up winnipeg is the biggest double cross I've seen in while.

unclebob said...

@ED
I think our role in the alternative media is to rat out the people, elected or otherwise that continue to operate on the divine right of kings.

In my publication this week I named three councillors who actually listened on occasion. Browaty Orlikow and Smith

By extension the others have been poor. I will likely name them more specifically with examples in the future.

The problem is that when somebody puts on the hat of power, their previously engaging and sharing behaviour starts to change and not for the better.

Graham said...

Parking on Assiniboine Avenue, BWalzer, is incredibly important and yes, it most definitely has a lot of weight in moving forward on a decision.

There are many, many apartment towers there. You can't exactly create parking for visitors, and it is already crunched as it is. Also, the City's Property Planning and Development is located on Assiniboine, an important civic office for people applying for all sorts of things from zoning variances to build a shed to doing the paperwork necessary to construct something. I'll slip this in here too: the most profitable parking metre in the city is directly across from PP&D on Assiniboine. That is no coincidence. PP&D is a very busy place.

The taxi company relies on parking for their business. Cabbies have to be able to park, jump out of their car and run in quickly. This company was not approached at all and there was no communication with this business in regards to this plan. This bike plan would drastically change how their business works at that location.

So it would seem the importance of scarce parking spots on this street is very, very important and affects more than one or two people in the neighbourhood, and more than one or two people across the city.

Graham said...

Oh I noticed too they took out those stupid posts on the bridge at Omands Creek? Sheesh. It's about damn time.

unclebob said...

@ ED

I would really like to engage you on Plan Winnipeg but I think we would find ourselves singing in complete harmony.

The warm and fuzzy plan did not even try to grapple with priorities or new actionables.

A very good example of this comes from the crime and safety section. It looks like that area will be the number one political issue in the campaign for mayor and will probably make or break the candidates on this alone yet this was not given any prominence nor was it suggested that any budget be afixed to it nor was it suggested that any concrete particular action should be undertaken. It simply repeated what we are already supposed to be doing that we do not do very well.

I especially liked the section on safe neighbourhoods "Help maintain a community sense of well being and safety by responding to community requests for neighbourhood maintenance and services, such as garbage pickups and general cleanliness in streets and laneways, demolition of derelict buildings etc"

Worse, it took up space time and resources that could have been devoted more productively and it gave people a false sense security knowing a much needed plan was in the act of being drawn therefore they had no need to be engaged.

I am truly, truly disgusted.

Diet Pop Sipping Leftist said...

TGCTS - Can you precisely identify who the "Bike Lobby" is, rather than spewing out an ambiguous term that can be easily used for scapegoating? And, furthermore, are you able to conclusively demonstrate that whatever problems with the AT plans there are result from "the Bike Lobby" and not (the below mentioned) general problems of tight-deadlines when it comes to construction that’s based on federal stimulus funds?
Or would that be too much to ask of a station that depends on fear mongering, Alex Jones style paranoia, and manufactured outrage?

Diet Pop Sipping Leftist said...

Correction: I meant the "above mentioned" problems with deadlines for Federal simulus funds.

Graham said...

@Diet Pop

Tight dealines are no excuse.

In the case of Assiniboine, the first plan is the best plan. The second one is worse. And the new incarnation, which is being constructed and is not on the City's "updated" website, is the worst of all three.

Denial there is more going on here, after reviewing all the facts, is called looking the other way.

Bike Lobby groups are directly involved with the AT projects. This is a fact. Anders Swanson is proof. You can openly debate TGCTS here, but I suspect he knows much more than you think he does.

Diet Pop Sipping Leftist said...

The problem isn't "knowing the details". I bet Alex Jones knows a lot more about muncipial issues in his area or that astrologers know a lot more about celestial patterns than I do. The problem is when unconcious biases influence how those clues are interpreted.

For the last few days I've spent hours reading up on the issue, trying to get to the bottom of it. And day after day what I find is TGCTS spewing hatred against a poorly defined "bike lobby" - which is repulsive considering that a cyclist was just killed in the North End.

Graham said...

If you compare Alex Jones, the 911-Turther, the anti-illegal alien, the "get ready for martial law," conspiracy theorist, the Obama Deception maker, to Marty Gold, one more time, all of your comments will be deleted without notice.

There is a big, BIG difference between spewing hatred, and attempting to participate in Democracy there, big boy.

Go educate yourself on the difference between a rascist conspiracy theorist, and a citizen watchdog. And I'm telling you, not warning you, that that bullshit will not be tolerated on this websiste, and you will have to go elsewhere to use your big mouth.

Diet Pop Sipping Leftist said...

Firstly, I'm not saying that Marty Gold is "JUST LIKE" Alex Jones or "A RACIST". I'm saying that it's possible to suffer from unconcious deficits when it comes to interpreting facts that distort his conclusions. I suffer from it, Marty Gold suffers from it, and you suffer from it. It's all a matter of degree, but I think Marty's confirmation bias against anything the bureaucracy or "special interests" says has lead him astray on this issue.

Now, back to the original question, who exactly IS the "bike lobby"? Is it "some cyclists" or "Bike to the Future" or "The Manitoba Cycling Association" or some combination of the three plus Jenny Gerbasi? Just who is it? Because simply saying "the bike lobby" is fear mongering unless your SPECIFIC.

Graham said...

I highly disagree that I suffer the affliction from which you describe.

I have poured dozens of hours into this particular bike path. For me it is not about the "bike lobby," it is about Marr Consulting violating their contract agreements, and Kevin Nixon, the man who is supposed to hold them to it, failing to enforce it.

The residents of this neighbourhood are getting screwed and they don't even know it. The contract is very specific and VERY, VERY clear. The website information is false. The notification printed on A17 of Saturday's FreeP is not the same map that is as of RIGHT NOW on the city website.

This is not about hatred for "the bike lobby." This is bullshit detectors maxing out and breaking. Something smells here. The "bike lobby" happens to be the lucky recipients of getting the plans they want. It is however, at the expense of Winnipegers at large.

There are better ways to do this. in the case of Assiniboine, the first plan they released made the most sense. The second plan made less sense. And this plan, the third one, is strait up fucked in the head. It makes the LEAST sense. Due process and poor planning is not taking place and it will impact everyone.

Once again, stop right now, claiming that there is all-out blind hatred for a specific person or group. I have clearly not demonstrated as such in my articles and in my research. I expect my readers to do the same.

Diet Pop Sipping Leftist said...

First, I think it's incredibly naive to think you don't suffer from confirmation bias. Every human does, some fight it (and perhaps you do so more successful than most, which makes your conclusions more accurate).

My main concern was with The Great Canadian Talk Show (which, if I understand correctly, isn't just a one man operation - there are other people who do research and help Marty) was speaking of a "bike lobby" in a way that portrayed the lobbyists as every utility cyclist. But thanks for the clarification on the bike lobby being contractors who benefit from the lane construction and I'll try not to get too carried away next time.

unclebob said...

@ Diet Pop

Orange crush maybe?