Dear Winnipeg

A Fun Blog About Infrastructure and Municipal Finance

Achieving Balance

Dear Winnipeg,

I am sorry to hear you’re still in the business of screwing over Downtown pedestrians. First Portage & Main, and now this!

After years of consultations, you finally built a protected bike lane in the Exchange District last year. [That’s good!]

Unfortunately, that took away a loading zone. [That’s bad.]

But you built a new loading zone. [That’s good!]

The loading zone contains potassium benzoate. [That’s bad.]

Actually it doesn’t contain any, but it was carved out of space previously reserved for pedestrians (ie. the sidewalk). [blank stare…]

[That’s also bad.]

Come on, you gotta know that’s bad… even Jeff Browaty has come out against this. Jeff Browaty. You know the guy. Staunch defender of pedestrian infrastructure.

OK. I mean, maybe space aliens replaced our North Kildonan councillor with Bizarro Browaty from an alternate universe, but nonetheless, this is capital B bad.

Bizzaro Browaty on a Bike!
(source photo credit: Ryan Palmquist)

David Patman, the city’s Manager of Transportation at Public Works, said this had to be done to “balance the needs of all road users”.

Interesting phrasing, seeing as he pulled it straight from the Winnipeg Transportation Master Plan (page 37).

But what is that supposed to mean, balance?

Does it mean that each mode of transportation should get an equal number of lanes? Two sidewalks, two bike lanes, two bus lanes, two car lanes?

Clearly not.

Does it mean each mode of transportation should get use of an equal width of the public right-of-way? 25% sidewalk, 25% bike lanes, 25% bus lanes, 25% car lanes?

Hmmm, not that either.

Based on our actions as a city, it looks like we mean to balance the needs of all road users in the space that’s left over after we’ve set aside the space we want for cars. If bikes need more space, it can’t come from cars, otherwise we’ll have to carve it out from pedestrians to keep the car space “balanced”…

That’s what our actions say. Our policy documents, however, say quite another.

So we should be more equal in how we allocate the public right-of-way then? Not exactly.

Equal doesn’t always mean balanced.

What we’re striving for is a balance in mobility across all modes of transportation. That each mode will have equal access to moving about the city to meet their daily needs. We’ve already talked about the financial benefits of this approach, both as a city and personally, not to mention the climate benefits.

But getting balanced results doesn’t necessarily mean making things equal from the beginning.

To illustrate this, let’s have a basketball shoot-out between former Toronto Raptor Kawhi Leonard, and the five-year-old kid from next door. [The one who’s always knocking on your door to ask if you have any cookies.]

Let’s say we want to have balanced results, that is to say, both Kawhi and Little Joey will have an equal chance at sinking baskets, do we design our court contest equally?

Of course not, we’re going to need to make things a lot easier for Joey-Joe-Joe-Shabadoo, Jr. We’ll probably have to make the hoop a little bigger, and bring it much closer, and lower it quite a bit.

But sometimes even that won’t be enough. [He really sucks at basketball.]

We may also have to make things more difficult for Kawhi. Move the hoop back, and up, and make it a wee smaller. [Let’s be honest, even then he’ll still be amazing at it.]

Only then will both players have a balanced chance of sinking baskets.

In case you can’t tell, Kid Cookie is a pedestrian or cyclist, and Kawhi is a car driver. And the moral of this story is if we are planning for pedestrians and cyclists and car drivers to have an equal access to our city’s amenities, it won’t be enough to give leftover space to pedestrians and cyclists to fight over. We’ll also have to take some space away from cars.

Balance.

Meanwhile in Elmwood…

Now tell me, does this look balanced to you, by any definition?

Hey Winnipeg, your balance is showing!

This is the sidewalk on Johnson Ave (about 1m wide), which is beside four lanes of traffic (about 12 m wide). Pretty terrible in the summer, especially if you are pushing a stroller or use a wheelchair.

But it’s downright inhumane for any senior citizens who live on this street, because they get to be trapped in their houses all winter once the snow hits the ground. That’s when this sidewalk basically becomes impassable to all but the most nimble. [But I think Bizarro Browaty could probably handle it.]

Why am I showing you this street? Simply put, it is currently up for street renewal, along with a portion of Watt St. and Munroe Ave, all in the Chalmers neighbourhood.

Last year, the Chalmers Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation undertook several months of community-wide consultations in order to renew their 5-year neighbourhood plan. In all, over 1,500 people participated, from all walks of life including youth, seniors, new Canadians, Indigenous residents, business owners, community groups, religious groups, families, homeowners, renters and more.

This engagement process highlighted several issues with mobility and transportation in the neighbourhood including:

  • a lack of safe pedestrian crossings (specifically noting Watt, and Henderson)
  • a lack of safe, convenient and direct AT access to the Northern Pioneers Greenway
  • a need for improved quality of sidewalks (specifically noting Johnson, Nairn, and Watt)
  • the lack of protected cycling infrastructure close to the daily destinations of residents
  • a need for higher quality infrastructure at transit stops, including sidewalks, benches, shelters
  • a need for a safer environment for pedestrians and cyclists (specifically noting Watt, and Henderson)
  • Moreover, 88% of respondents rated the ability to access local amenities as important or very important.
  • Most agreed that making the community’s streets more “family-friendly” in terms of mobility would help improve other issues in the neighbourhood.
  • Importantly, 86% of Seniors and 70% of Youth reported experiencing recurring pedestrian and cycling issues that prevented them from easily getting around in the neighbourhood.

Luckily, they’re now going to tear out all three of these streets and sidewalks, and lay down some new ones. And even more luckily for the people of the neighbourhood, the City’s Universal Design policy applies to street renewals. It says:

Design solutions that respond to the widest range of the population possible… by meeting the requirements for children through to seniors, people with or without disabilities.

City of Winnipeg Universal Design Policy (page 18)

Oh, and also the Winnipeg Transportation Master Plan. It says:

Include accessibility and universal design implications in project scoping, to ensure adequate budget and design requirements are considered at all stages.

Winnipeg Transportation Master Plan (page 35)

and this:

Work with community stakeholders to ensure that changes to AT networks meet the needs of their respective users.

Winnipeg Transportation Master Plan (page 41)

and this:

Ensure that the pedestrian network is planned, designed, implemented, and maintained to increase the competitiveness of walking as a transportation mode choice.

Winnipeg Transportation Master Plan (page 43)

and this:

Continually improve the city-wide cycling network, to close gaps, mitigate barriers.

Winnipeg Transportation Master Plan (page 45)

and this:

Ensure transit services are fully accessible and barrier-free by 2020, including accessible fleet, stops, and stations.

Winnipeg Transportation Master Plan (page 49)

Let’s not forget the OurWinnipeg Sustainable Transportation Strategy, which also applies to this project. It says:

It is also critical that the need for Active Transportation becomes ingrained in all planning activities. This includes adding bicycle lanes.

OurWinnipeg Sustainable Transportation Strategy (page 30)

And here’s what the Winnipeg Pedestrian & Cycling Strategies have to say, which also conveniently apply to this project:

The Pedestrian and Cycling Strategies aim to develop well-connected bicycle and pedestrian networks that serve all areas of the City, including areas that have a high density of historically underserved populations and relatively low levels of existing facilities. An equity analysis was conducted to examine the distribution of pedestrian and bicycle facilities in relation to historically underserved populations. The equity analysis helped to identify those areas of Winnipeg where limited access to walking or bicycle facilities is compounded by socio-economic challenges. Promoting equitable transportation options and harnessing latent demand for walking and cycling are two important reasons to prioritize improvements to bicycle facilities in these communities.

Winnipeg Pedestrian & Cycling Strategies (page 86)

And this:

The combination of low bicycle network coverage and a high equity score indicates a vulnerable community with limited access to safe bicycle facilities. This is a strong justification to connect these areas into the Winnipeg bicycle network with future infrastructure improvements.

Winnipeg Pedestrian & Cycling Strategies (page 90)

And this:

In general, people of all ages and abilities should be able to access all major destinations using the recommended bicycle network. To support this hub and spoke concept, a complementary local bicycle network will also provide neighbourhood-specific bicycle routes.

Winnipeg Pedestrian & Cycling Strategies (page 157)

And also this:

Ensure that bicycle requirements be addressed in all new and renewal road projects that are part of the bicycle network or where the road provides connectivity or support to the bicycle network.

Winnipeg Pedestrian & Cycling Strategies (page 291)

Wow, so very clearly a slam dunk here. [Basketball pun absolutely intended.]

Looks like three streets in this neighbourhood are getting the full treatment for pedestrian and cycling safety and convenience:

  • universally accessible sidewalks
  • protected bicycle lanes
  • curb extensions/bulb-outs/neckdowns at intersections
  • raised pedestrian crossings and raised intersections
  • pedestrian crossings separated by no more than 150m
  • traffic-calmed automobile travel lanes

Except no. The RFP was to contain none of that.

After some prodding, they did add a single line to the RFP:

  • Exploration of sidewalk width improvements;

Doesn’t sound too promising… exploration of sidewalk width improvements. Basically, we’ll look into exploring the possibility of perhaps examining the feasibility of a theoretical widening of the sidewalk, if possible, maybe.

But none of that other stuff our strategy and policy documents say we’ll do. That’s out of scope, they say.

Reminds me of that Seinfeld episode where he rents a car. [You know how to write a transportation strategy, you just don’t know how to implement a transportation strategy. And that’s really the most important part of the transportation strategy, the implementing. Anybody can just write ’em…]

Alas, the City’s vision statement says we aim:

To be a vibrant and healthy city which places its highest priority on quality of life for all its citizens.

City of Winnipeg Vision

Except, apparently not really ALL its citizens. Just those in cars.

You want to drive through Elmwood as quickly as possible? You bet, here’s some new, wide, smooth (and expensive) roads. Have a nice day, sir or ma’am!

You live in Elmwood and want to cross the street to the corner store? Go suck an egg.

[I wish I could, but all the eggs are at the corner store…]

The RFP was awarded over the summer, and the consultant is supposed to deliver its final designs to Public Works in less than two months.

To get what our community wants, they’ll probably say some neighbourhood consultations are needed, because a sample size of 1,500 for a neighbourhood of 10,000 probably doesn’t count. [Eye roll.]

Or maybe they’ll request a signed petition covering at least 72.1% of the registered voters in the neighbourhood who own cats or ferrets (but not both), just because they can.

Or else a balloon-race around the world, because why not! [Actually, this one could be a lot of fun…]

But even if we manage to jump through all of these hoops, and the community actually gets the infrastructure it wants built, the infrastructure that the City’s policy and strategy documents say we are supposed to build, really great infrastructure that will be a game-changer in helping meet the neighbourhood’s own stated needs, especially for our youth, seniors and poor, it’s really disheartening to think that all it will take is a single complaint from one person, and they’ll tear it all up again to hand it back to cars.

So much for following our own policy and strategy documents. At least we can go bankrupt doing it.

Hugs and kisses,

Elmwood Guy