Archive for the ‘Other Cities’ Category

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An Overlooked Transit Improvement?

February 21, 2007

(This past fall semester, I took a course in the University of Winnipeg’s Environmental/Urban Studies department entitled ‘Winnipeg and the Environment: A Case Study Approach. One assignment involved all class members to post and discuss on a group blog (that will/has been deleted with the termination of the course. This is one of my posts; originally dated December 11, 2006..)

In the recent few weeks I’ve enjoyed some time (maybe too much time, as it is exam time after all!) out on the town, taking in some of Winnipeg’s night life. While always a fun time, one complaint always emerges if I’m aiming to go home after the night is over is that I often have to structure my evening around Winnipeg Transit’s rather limited schedule or end up having to pay the cab fare (which, while not a lot in the whole scheme of things, is still considerably more than transit fare (especially if one is in possession of a bus pass anyways). Those lucky enough to live within walking distance of their favourite watering holes may not be familiar with this dilemma, but us (inner-ring) suburbanites often face this on the weekends.

The last route 11 northbound bus home from downtown every night other than Sundays leaves the University of Winnipeg at 1:30 a.m. This means that if I’m on Osborne Street or elsewhere downtown, I have to leave shortly after 1 to ensure I make it to Portage Ave to catch the bus. And the 11 is probably the best late night route in the city, too. It has always amazed me, in this era of strict drinking-and-driving laws and the social stigma attached to doing so, that in Winnipeg, the public service in place to provide an alternative and relatively cheap form of transportation stops running BEFORE the proverbial “last call” (section 72(3) of the Manitoba Liquor Control Act).

Other cities have actively pursued a system of “night buses” that operate on a limited schedule and on many fewer routes than normal day-time service, giving those of us who have reason to be up late at night/early in the morning (whether for entertainment, transportation to or from work, etc) options. Toronto operates it’s Blue Nights, and Montreal has 20 night-time routes. Vancouver has recently reinstated its NightBus service after considerable public pressure by transit users.

While Winnipeg may not have the entertainment and active hubs of nightlife like those cities have, nor is our population huge, but from a rider’s perspective, offering the opportunity to take the bus at night is nonetheless one way Winnipeg Transit could broaden its services and appeal and make Winnipeg a safer place to be in the night time. And the environmental implications are there, too — people on a bus nearly always means that there’s fewer need for cars on the road.

I envision a few simple routes emenating from downtown, using smaller buses if desired: Henderson, Regent, a Main-Leila-McPhillips loop, Portage, St. Mary’s, Pembina, Corydon (or Grant). If nothing else, these routes can make a very long walk much shorter, or a potentially expensive cab ride much cheaper and shorter. Night buses will not end up “making” Transit any money at all, but are essential public services even supposed to make money for the governments that provide them? It obviously can not be a hole to sink public monies into, but the issue of providing night buses does bring up the whole issue of the provision of a public service as exactly that, a public service that exists only (and happily) to provide that service. Transit as a whole should be seen the same as public works or emergency service infrastructure; otherwise it will forever take a back seat to the almighty automobile.

I’ll end with a lyric by one of Winnipeg’s most inspired and honest (and darn-good) song-writers, Greg MacPherson. From his song “Genuinely Frozen”:

I’ve been away / I’ve seen other cities where the bus runs all night long.

I have too, and it is something that Winnipeg should start looking at.

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A Civic Election Issue

September 12, 2006

I made mention a week or so ago that everyone’s ‘favourite’ city, Toronto, was holding its own civic election a mere three weeks after Winnipeg’s will have taken place. I also talked about Chicago’s Bike 2015 Plan, the comprehensive alternative human-powered transportation plan that the City of Chicago was implementing to make the metropolis an attractive place to cycle (and walk, and take public transit).

Put the two together and add some more progressive organizations (including the Sierra Club and Mountain Equipment Co-op) and what do you get? TCAT, or the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation, a group aiming

“to make cycling and pedestrian issues a major factor in the upcoming municipal election. (from the spacing.ca/wire)

Furthermore,

it has developed a platform of important issues that should be addressed by the city, and will be conducting a candidate survey.”

Funny how the issue of sustainable transportation is rearing its head both in Canada’s largest city as well as in Winnipeg just before their respective civic elections. It would do the candidates in Winnipeg’s election (though some would be well aware of them already) well to pay attention to the questions and issues being raised in Toronto, because similar issues have been and will continue to be brought up here as long as there seems to be little action on Council to cater to forms of transportation other than the private automobile.

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The State of Democracy in Winnipeg and its Causes and Effects

September 4, 2006

In less than two months now, on October 25, Winnipeggers will go to the polls to elect the mayor and 15 councillors who will lead Winnipeg for the next four years, bringing with them the new ideas, vision and energy that elections toend to bring to governments everywhere.

Or not.

As was written in the Saturday, September 2 edition of the Winnipeg Free Press:

“On Oct. 26, the day after the election, Winnipeggers could wake up to a city council with only one new face, the rookie rep for St. Charles, a seat vacated by the retirement of two-term Coun. Peter De Smedt.”

And how telling that is. For a city that seems to be lacking an identity and a vision, we, its citizens, we’ll likely be getting what we ask for come the late fall election.

Four councillors out of 15 total are likely not going to face any opposition—Lillian Thomas in Elmwood, Gord Steeves in St. Vital, Russ Wyatt in Transcona and Justin Swandel in St. Norbert—and the culture of incumbancy that exists at City Hall means that there may only be four real races to mention: the aforementioned St. Charles, Daniel McIntyre, River Heights and St. Boniface.

Democracy doesn’t seem to be alive and kicking in Winnipeg.

For a point of reference, Toronto’s civic election set for November 13 this year sees all of its 44 city wards being contested, and, amazingly (from a Winnipegger’s point of view), 38 out of the 44, or 86.3% being contested by three or more candidates. A legacy, perhaps, from the tenure of Mayor David Crombie, elected in 1972, who had a clear vision for his city and left the attitude of a grassroots democracy in Toronto (if any Torontonians are reading this, I apologize for if I’m taking liberties and making assumptions that may be somewhat contentious).
John Lorinc’s view of the current Canadian city as presented in his 2006 book The New City describes this as

“a generation of idealistic, urban-minded reformers—spurred on by the likes of Jane Jacobs and … Crombie—infused new energhy into local politics.”

So where in Winnipeg is something like this “new energy” that Toronto saw thirty years ago (and ostensibly still seems to retain at least in the number of different voices and visions being heard (and actually debated!))? While the beginning of such a vision may be there with Mayor Sam Katz’s main competitor, Kaj Hasselriis, the rest of the election is turning out to be a matter basic civic duties that should be taken care of no matter what.

So why is there such a lack of enthusiasm in the City of Winnipeg to run or to for the populace to demand change?

It stems from a lack of confidence in the power of City Council to accomplish much and serve their constituants, and more imporantly the entire city. It comes from staleness of council as a result of no term limits when it seems to be something that—through a cursory (and admittedly unscientific) poll—the populace of Winnipeg seems to want, yet won’t stand up to the politicians and demand. It comes from a lack of real ideas and courage eminating from City Hall, touching the citizens they represent to make the changes needed to bring this city into the 21st century. It comes from a small Council where the promise of a promotion to the Mayor’s Executive Policy Committee (and its subsequent pay raise)—which in the end makes all the real decisions—overrides quality debate and conflicting, real visions for the city. And it stems from being a city that simply doesn’t take itself seriously anymore. No one’s shown Winnipeggers how their city can once again be a force nationally and beyond, so they don’t believe it’s possible or worth it.

Hopefully Winnipeg City Council will realise that real changes need to begin with them before the citizens of their city can and/or will be actively be engaged and made to be interested partners in the all around success of Winnipeg.

Too bad it likely won’t be this version of City Council. But prove me wrong, please prove me wrong.

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A Cycling Chicago of the North someday?

August 7, 2006

While browsing various urban and alternative transportation blogs, I came across this post at Toronto cycling blog TorontoCranks.com. Most of the post is dedicated to a City of Chicago press release from June of this year, entitled “Bike 2015 Plan features 150 strategies to encourage bicycling”. In light of the craziness in Winnipeg surrounding Critical Mass that has permeated the media and local message boards and blogs, polarizing the population on both the issues of Critical Mass and cycling in general, this is especially interesting and, from some Winnipeg perspectives, depressing. Chicago seems to actually be encouraging cycling as a viable and attractive alternative transporation option with the adoption of Bike 2015 Plan, as its Executive Summary and two main goals indicate:

“The Bike 2015 Plan is the City of Chicago’s vision to make bicycling an integral part of daily life in Chicago. The plan recommends projects, programs and policies for the next ten years to encourage use of this practical, non-polluting and affordable mode of transportation.

The Bike 2015 Plan has two overall goals:

  • To increase bicycle use, so that 5 percent of all trips less than five miles are by bicycle.
  • To reduce the number of bicycle injuries by 50 percent from current levels.”

Most impressive are the recommendations for a “500-mile bikeway network” that reaches to within a half-mile of each and every resident, the identification of cyclists’ needs with all new and restorative infrastructure development, thousands of additional bike racks and longer-term storage spaces, using rapid transit stations as bikeway hubs, and many more. [full Plan available here: 4.5 MB pdf file] Very ambitious, but, given the right dedication, funding and commitment of the city’s leadership, there doesn’t have to be much doubt that it’ll happen.

Which is in stark contrast to Winnipeg. There’s little reason why Winnipeg can’t follow suit with a vastly scaled-down, yet thorough version of this plan save for leadership. And we haven’t had it on the topic of cycling for 13 years. The now-outdated, yet still valuable 1993 Final Report entitled “Winnipeg Bicycle Facilities Study” (of which an online link seems to be lacking) has now seen a third mayor essentially ignore it, prompting cyclists and all who strive for viable alternatives to the private automobile to say on the topic something akin to what the initial TorontoCranks.com post is entitled: “Chicago’s mayor proves Toronto’s Mayor Miller SUCKS!”

The benefits of cycling abound for both the individual, his/her pocketbook and health, and for society as a whole. The Critical Mass movement in Winnipeg, with all their faults, alleged or true, likely don’t realistically believe a bicycling system akin to Chicago’s comprehensive Plan will come through (though I’m sure they won’t complain); they, and all other cyclists simply want cycling as a valid commuting and transporation choice to at least be taken as a priority by the leadership of this City. With the amounts of money going towards highways and roads built decidedly for cars, is asking for a fair share too much these days? If we have never become the “Chicago of the North” as far as our economy (and size) has been concerned, then perhaps, with the right leadership, we can one day follow in their path as a cold-weather, midwestern alternative transportation hub.