Council pressed on cycling master plan
Cyclists are being urged to attend tomorrow night’s council meeting to support increased funding for bike lanes and multi-use paths. Last week, the public works committee refused to confirm funding for a proposed master plan for cycling infrastructure and also deferred making the staff coordinator’s job permanent.
Transportation for Liveable Communities is calling for sufficient funding for a cycling infrastructure master plan developed by city staff.
“The best case scenario: City councillors approve $2.5 million in funding each year, which would see the urban cycling network completed in 10 years and the rural web of bike paths completed in 20 years,” says a flyer issued by the group. “If you cycle, or know someone who does, we need you to let your local politician know that you support an integrated cycling network of bike lanes and paths.”
The proposal for $51.5 million for cycling infrastructure was accepted by the public works committee on June 15, but only after amendments to defer any funding commitments until future city budget discussions. And a specific recommendation that “the position of project manager, alternative transportation be made permanent” was also put off.
That position, the only one focused on cycling programs, is currently held by Daryl Bender, the main author of the master plan. He’s been a temporary employee for the last two years, and prior to his hiring, the annual $300,000 budget for bike lanes had repeatedly been unspent.
Tom Jackson asked that the “part about the permanency of the position … be referred to next year’s budget” discussions. He was assured that the change would not have any financial implications.
“This is simply taking a position which exists in our complement but which has been designated as a temporary contract position,” explained Hart Solomon, the city’s traffic manager. “The source of funding is already in place.”
But Jackson insisted that any decision on this be deferred, and the committee agreed. He also pushed through an amendment to make all proposed bike lanes “conditional upon individual links being subject to community feedback in consultation with the ward councillor in affected neighbourhoods.”
Earlier in the meeting, Chad Collins had challenged the wording of another part of the recommendation that he felt might mean “setting in stone” funding for the plan. Staff had suggested the annual budget for cycling infrastructure be increased to $1.25 million from the current $300,000 a year.
“How do we accommodate the increased figure that you’re proposing here, given the current capital budget, without creating problems in other areas when we know we have a capital budget infrastructure deficit,” Collins asked of Solomon, noting pressures to address storm flooding and improved transit services.
“Obviously the priorities are going to be set by the members of council and we’re simply presenting you with a plan that will have to be evaluated in comparison with all the other priorities – and we’re quite cognizant of the financial difficulties,” responded Solomon. “We’re simply suggesting that if cycling rises far enough in the priority system to be implemented at that stage, then that’s the amount of funding necessary to do it.”
Collins remained concerned that the plan could be “written in stone” and moved an amendment that would make the cycling improvements authorized “for consideration in the 2010 and future years’ capital budget deliberations.” He also argued that actual city spending on cycling is already greater than $300,000 a year – pointing to the $14 million in provincial monies allocated last year to a pedestrian/cycling bridge over the QEW as part of the Red Hill Valley trails system.
Margaret McCarthy said she would not support the proposed spending, pointing to “the restricted movement of traffic and vehicular movement around the city” and suggesting that “encouraging cycling in that mix” is an “unsafe practice.” She was also concerned about “our weather conditions” and air pollution that cyclists “would be sucking in as they’re going along those busy intersections.”
The budget for capital projects, including bike infrastructure, is drafted by city staff and usually approved in December for the coming year with very little council discussion. High city debt levels, as well as major recent spending on waste management facilities, the Linc and the Red Hill Valley Parkway, has restricted the size of the capital budget.
In the most recent capital budget, next year’s spending was forecast to drop from $236 million down to $181 million – but that doesn’t include one-time federal and provincial stimulus spending that has so far provided an extra $122 million earlier this month. The city has applied for an additional $84 million for recreational projects.
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