Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reflecting on Assiniboine events and Audit

Now that city council has concluded, and the findings of the Audit report on the Assiniboine Avenue bike project have been unanimously accepted I can finally speak to it all.

I could go on here about how disappointed I am and such but...I can't, really. Maybe that's what people expect me to say about it. However, the fact that an audit on the Assiniboine path (item 11) was done is a major victory. That I was able to speak at EPC and council is major, because it wouldn't have happened without this audit. Without this report, things would have just moved on without anything being done or anything being considered or the problems with consultation being bought to light.

The only thing I am disappointed with, is that the treatment I received from city officials and 311 staff in this journey, will not be investigated at all. Apparently, being lied to and smeared within city departments is par for the course when it comes to actively participating in municipal-level politics. Apparently, nobody on council thinks anything should happen to the people who told me multiple times that I could not contact the Auditor, and then proceeded to defend their decision to do so. No citizen should face this sort of interference in trying to be involved.

In the wake of that, it was my councillor at the time, Jeff Browaty, who stood up for me and assisted me in contacting the Auditor, and providing assurance that the Auditor had at least received my letter. Mr Browaty, to this day, is also the only person who has ever offered me an apology.

To say I'm disappointed in today's debate though, I just can't say that. There is an amazing sense of accomplishment here. The City Auditor to write a report on this. In the wake of last week and my lambasting of the members of EPC, James Turner in particular took up the story and ended up on Page 1 of the dead-tree-Sun. Turner also remarked to me that he has never before seen this level of action upon the actions of a citizen, and that in itself was outstanding. It was on CBC news that day as well as a print story by Jen Skerritt, and I'm not sure about the Metro. This is the most noise I could have possibly made about this, way more than I hoped or thought would happen.

Everyone knows the process was a sham. And because of the debate today at City Council, I can walk away assuredly that this will not happen again. Certainly Councillors Fielding, Orlikow, Smith, Wyatt, Browaty, and certainly the Mayor, are aware of how badly this was done. You can listen to the Mayor's comments from last week here, which confirm that they well understand that this sort of thing will not happen again, and that any bike path in the future to be installed, will not just consist of consultation with Bike to the Future, and bike-friendly "stakeholders."

Jenny Gerbasi today attempted during the debate to spin this against the opponents of
the bike lane, saying that it was a "small group" out to "hijack" this otherwise beautiful, amazing wonderful transformation. She was undoubtedly referring to myself and the "TGCTS group," apparently oblivious to the fact that, and the audit supports this, that it was a small group of pro-cycling folk hijacking the entire consultation process.

Paula Havixbeck to her credit as a relatively new councillor, would have none of that. This to me was the most interesting part of the morning debate on consultation. Why? Because she challenged Gerbasi on the notion that this was a "small group out to hijack" the process. Havixbeck pointed out that there were 9, count'em, 9, parties involved in the lawsuit against the city regarding the bike path. All 9 of those parties, she noted, were not on the "stakeholders" list. So is it any wonder this lawsuit came to light? Hey, maybe if consultation happened, those 9 would have been identified as stakeholders in their own neighbourhoods.

It was also quite honouring to have Colin Craig of the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation come to speak. Again, it is an amazing sense of accomplishment, to have someone like that come to speak and know that it was happening as a result of your work. Not only mine, but the work of TGCTS as well. Colin noted that while this project was considered small-time, peanuts, that these little things add up. He raised pertinent questions, my favourite being, what will happen or has happened to the people at fault for this, have they been demoted, or have they had a reduction in pay?

Of course not. And that at the least is the kind of action that should be taken. Recourse. Ross Eadie went on at length about how some raised pedestrian crossing on Powers was useless and should be removed. How does that happen? Where does the money to fix the mistakes of the consulting companies come from? Who was in charge of these decisions? Why are colossal fuckups allowed to go by without reprimand?

Lastly, and (sort of) unrelated. I want to briefly address how AT projects are in no way environmentally friendly, nor can cycling lobbyists claim that it is.

Moving cars off of a thoroughfare into already-gridlocked streets is not environmental. It is irresponsible and completely contrary to the on-the-surface goals of AT stuff. What cycling lobbyists really want, is for all cars to be off the road. But having to detour and sit in traffic for an extra 10 minutes per commute or more, is not going to make people leave their cars. It's going to make them hate bike lanes. There is nothing "progressive" (hey, that's the oxy-moronic name of this blog) about it. There is nothing "progressive" about shutting down entire streets that serve hundreds or thousands of vehicle trips per rush hour. Those cars will not leave the roads. Those people will not leave their cars for bikes or buses. Not in this city. As long as we continue to sprawl, and continue to ignore building a solid residential population downtown (you know, one that outpopulates Waverly West), then people will remain in their cars.

My blogging colleague James Howard has written rather flattering things about my work on the iconic Slurpees and Murder:

Speaking of unsurprising, the consultants behind the Assiniboine Avenue bikeway project were charlatans who fudged numbers and forged consultation, nobody on City Council could be bothered to listen to public concerns or question the information they had been handed, and nobody involved in the whole mess would admit that any wrongdoing or impropriety had occurred until the relevant documents were forcefully wrangled out of the system through Freedom of Information action.

...This is the culmination of tremendous work by Graham, who struggled against the various departments of City Hall for well over a year on this case.


Oh, and thanks for mentioning my art show, James.

So there we are. This is all pretty substantial. I'm just wondering if I'll ever get that phone call from the Winnipeg Foundation about the Free Press' "citizen journalism" program.

Where to from here? I'm not sure. Not much seems to catch my interest in Winnipeg these days. Then again I am sort of preoccupied with the arts scene and such, searching for work (an endless adventure) and trying to figure out what's next or what to do with this website. And on that note, if you've any comments or suggestions about my writing in the past 5 years, or maybe you see something that's missing on the Winnipeg blogosphere scene, drop me a line.


To cap off here, I have to say that none of this would have been possible without The Great Canadian Talk Show and the work that were done on that program. Everything seems even more vindicating when you consider the amount of flak that TGCTS received at the time. I believe we were called "conspiracy theorists" at one point. We turned out to be right. In the spirit of the show, give credit where credit is due.

The TGCTS podcasts get better and better as we get better working with the new medium, and it's really starting to take shape. You can subscribe via iTunes for free and have the show downloaded directly to whichever device you like. Plug TGCTS on in your car during the drive home to drown out all that awful stuff that passes for radio in this town.

You have the power. I proved it.

18 comments:

bgilchrist said...

I would suggest that it is a splinter group of cyclists that seems to be radicalizing more and more as time goes on. Have you read their latest minutes? New project is to get the Premier to appoint a 'Minster of Active Transportation'

Anyway, I commute by bike quite often, Assiniboine parkway is nice but completely unnecessary. Unfortunately BTTF and City's ATC focused more on projects that were visible and that drivers would be forced to deal with as opposed to ones that made most sense. Where is the MUP signage from Winsmart to Assiniboine? As Sean Penn says - 'Want the most bang for your buck?' get the spray paint out and spray bike lanes and drop a diamond lane down Pembina.

jonathan said...

You should be commended for your persistence. This must be immensely gratifying.

I say this as someone who uses that stretch of Assiniboine regularly, as a cyclist, pedestrian and occasional driver, and even though I think my experiences on that street are 100% better than they were before the change.

The problem, as you pointed out, was process. The motivations and result of the decision, I think, remain open to debate.

nra said...

Well done man. Seriously well done.

Graham said...

You're absolutely right, Gilchrist.

They want this, they want obstruction, they want to shut down streets and make it impossible for drivers. And they'll claim being environmentalists while they do that, which bothers me quite a bit. As for Pembina, yeah, that's where something is truly needed. Everyone, drivers and cyclists alike, know how dangerous it is for cyclists to commute down Pembina. Cyclists get hit there all the time. It's also a heavily used route. That's what they need to focus on, not little things like Assiniboine.

Which reminds me of something else, many many cyclists I talked to when this was all going on said that all that needed to be done was Assiniboine to be repaved. The bumps holes and cracks poised a lot of danger.

Mario Bento said...

Congratulations are in order!

Well done, can't wait see what's in store for you next.

Marty said...

There is a lot of material flowing from the debate yesterday, aand when the transcript becomes available I will be blogging and podcasting about the presentations and responses from councillors in particular Gerbasi who seems to be fine with people being screwed over as long as it served her purposes. Catching her trying to deny she assured people in 2010 that the bike lane could be removed was bizarre.

The safety shortcomings of the Assiniboine "plan' is not a dead issue thanks to Havixbeck who really surprised me (in a good way) yesterday. And the mystery of Kevin Nixon's supposed investigation that would have circumvented an audit is far from done yet either.


Another important point is the contempt and rudeness certain councillors show to delegations that oppose their methods of rammming thru their pet projects. That is an issue I expect Graham will become more involved with in the near future.

Marty said...

Once the transcript becomes available we will have lots more to work with. The Nixon self-investigation is note a dead issue and neither is the aspect of the 'facility' not meeting any safety standards. Gerbasi made a big mistake yesterday with her attack on the victims and it will come back to haunt her because Havixbeck was clear something had to be done to level the playing field.

Alyson said...

Well done.

jonathan said...

Just a question:

A) Are you opposed in principle to any current street ever being closed to vehicle traffic?

Or B) are the details of the Assiniboine closure (not a closure, of course, but a diversion of most traffic away from the street) your main objection?

Because I think B) could be a sensible position while A) is shortsighted.

I don't think the objections of drivers, businesses, or residents are a sufficient condition to put the kibosh on an AT project. There has to be some weighing of trade-offs.

Druski said...

I agree with bgichrist and yourself on what would be useful priorities to improve cycling, and the comments re: the process seem warranted (as the auditor's report indicates).

However comments like "What cycling lobbyists really want, is for all cars to be off the road", seem way out there. I've never seen anything from BTTF that indicates that stance. Can you cite a source?

Graham said...

@Jon

A) Yes.

I disagree that it is shortsighted. There was absolutely nothing stopping AT plans from proceeding on Assiniboine without (essentially) shutting it down as a thoroughfare. There existed an unexplored option for both. They could've painted lines on the road like they do everywhere else.

For that matter, there was nothing shortsighted to opposing outright the Omands Creek project. Why couldn't there have been both, coexistence?

Shutting down streets entirely for the purpose of encouraging AT is missing the point of AT. The point of AT is not to make it impossible for people to drive. Nor is the point of AT to make people sit in traffic longer because you've kaibohsed their PM rush hour route. Just like making bus lanes doesn't make people leave their cars in droves for the bus. It just means you sit in your car longer and curse the goddamned fucking bus lane.

At the end of the day, AT is a personal choice someone has to make. And that choice is going to happen whether there are thingies painted on the roads or not.

Marty said...

Oy.

1) The first objection is that the redirection of traffic exiting Carlton was done completely illegally. This was stated by the Chairman of Public works, Coun Mike O'Shaughnessy, when we had him on the air and told him the mapping approved by his committee had been changed. He was quite clear, another public meeting to allow public input had to have been called.

2) City staff, in their own paper presented to a national conference, lied about their depth of consultation and volunteered key information was not gathered, let alone disseminated to the south Broadway or general community.

http://tgcts.com/uncategorized/what-a-difference-a-year-and-an-audit-makes-2010-city-report-celebrated-now-discredited-consulting-work-on-assiniboine-bikeway

There is no evidence that aside from the bike lobby "wanting" an AT facility on Assiniboine, that it has been implemented either safely as outlined in international standards, or sensibly. And a walk down the street makes it obvious how non-sensible it has been.

2) The auditor confirmed out long-held complaint that the notices were indeciferable and would not have alerted readers who were not AT lobbyists that parking, lane and traffic direction changes was on the table. Therefore the materials almost exclusively engaged only bike lobbyists.

3) "I don't think the objections of drivers, businesses, or residents are a sufficient condition to put the kibosh on an AT project. There has to be some weighing of trade-offs."

WRONG WRONG WRONG. Gerbasi might think her social engineering trumps local consultation but the auditor found otherwise. If something does not work for a neighborhood - which INCLUDES the real stakeholders, not the fake stakeholders who were cozy with the consultants and city staff - then yes, it can and should be kaiboshed, especially when the advertising and brochures were deliberately misleading.

4) Bike to the Future had, IIRC, 29 people at their last AGM. That is a rump pressure group by any measure. How they earned a place at the table and 9 taxpaying and contributing to the area businesses did not, when what BTTF was designed to cost those businesses access and egress to their properties and confusion (and traffic jams) to the residents and drivers, was WRONG.
And a testament to the bias of the consultants and staff against the public-at-large.

5) "What cycling lobbyists really want, is for all cars to be off the road", is absolutely true. They do not respect people who do not share their urge to change the world their way. I was at the 2 big meetings and heard them argue against some of the limitations on the proposed 'facilities' because they literally did not care if ambulances could get down the street.

6) Ask Coun Gerbasi if she intends to distribute the Audit with an apology to the neighborhood for the stated failures of the consultation. She won;t do it even though it is the obviously right thing to do.

She does not care if her constituents were lied to and treated with contempt.

People may have been screwed over, but as long as she got what she wanted for her ideological buddies, she does not care.

Gerbasi's snarky comments and attitude were a betrayal of traditional left-wing values.

Marty said...

Here's what Barb Judt posted on FB:

"What a gong show. Swandel and Gerbasi cried to Nordman about the tough questions I was asking. Gerbasi rolls her eyes when I address her and in fact, made faces throughout when the others spoke. Then Nordman accusses me of arguing?? Ridiculous. If these two have nothing to hide, they wouldn't have felt the need to do what they did. All the while they were crying to Nordman and even after the delegates spoke, did they ever once pay any regard to the women and children of Osborne House Inc.? No. Have either of them ever contacted me to come down to the agency to see the challenges we have? Not once. The message is clear to everyone as to where our agency and the clients we serve fall in their priority scale. They're too busy catering to the pet projects of millionaires and their friends to give a damn about women and children living with violence in their lives."
*******
Podcast and Sun column coming soon.

"Outlaw" Adam Knight said...

Next time I see you, graham - I owe you a beer. And a firm handshake. Excellent work on this.

AK
www.outlawworkout.blogspot.com
@OutlawAK

Druski said...

So no source? OK, I'll disregard it.

Graham said...

No, no formal source, but I encourage you to just go sit in on a BttF meeting. Or go talk to Anders Swanson. Or perhaps talk to people on Wellington Crescent just trying to get to their own driveway who get yelled and screamed at by passing cyclists. Or maybe I should publish my hate mail.

Marty said...

"We envision a city where cycling is embraced as the preferred mode of transportation,"

"Preferred" means, when you hear them argue at public meetings, is to discriminate against cars.

TR_Chick said...

I am a little late to the party on this one, but I feel the need to chip in on this debate considering I am actually a resident of this area and have lived around Assiniboine for the last 2 years and near for the last 5.

Assiniboine is NOT built as a thoroughfare, it never was and it never will be. During rush hour, traffic would line up from Main street back all the way as far as the Donald bridge and back, and then on the southbound streets trying to get on. During rush hour it was impossible to get onto main from Assiniboine because the traffic was so heavy on Main and cars would be sitting on Assiniboine for 20+ minutes (much longer than if they had just gone a block up to Broadway, or another block up to York and taken advantage of traffic signals). Because of all this, people were taking stupid risks like driving down the wrong side of the road to avoid the line up to get onto main so that they go get home.

Traffic has reduced 10 fold on Assiniboine so now residents and people visiting businesses in the area can actually get there. The businesses who were complaining around the Midtown Bridge are short sighted. They lost a small amount of on street parking but gained much better access to their businesses. Before going south on Donald, you couldn't get to Assiniboine because of Hargrave being a NB street. Now it is two-way from Hargrave Place south to Assiniboine. Between that and Navy you can actually get in and out of the businesses there much more effectively.

As well, as or the comments about no one using the bikeway, I see more people on bikes on Assiniboine now that I do cars! I can't bike, drive or walk down Assiniboine without seeing at least 2-5 cyclists.

I understand the issue here is about lack of consultations with the general public and stakeholders... but I think all in all, this project did a lot of good for the neighbourhood and improved road safety for cars AND bikes.