Friday, January 21, 2011

bike lanes and ward politics

CATCH News – January 21, 2011
Councillor veto on bike lanes to be reviewed

Staff are being asked to design a formal public consultation process on the installation of new bike lanes to replace the current ad hoc system that allows individual councillors to veto approved cycling facilities in their ward. The change proposed at Monday’s public works committee was questioned by the councillor who last year blocked a major mountain bike lane.
Debate was opened this week by Terry Whitehead asking staff why he hadn’t been consulted about bike lanes on Stone Church Road. He was responding to the committee’s receipt of the minutes of the Hamilton Cycling Committee – a group of volunteers who advise the city.

“Certainly the feedback I’m getting in regards to our bike lanes appearing on the west mountain, the residents feel that they haven’t been part and parcel of the consultation,” he noted. “So I am trying to understand what the process is so I can be able to communicate to those residents who are impacted by this plan.”

Daryl Bender, the city’s alternative transportation coordinator, explained that the Stone Church lanes have been “embedded in the construction project” on that road, but offered to increase consultation with Whitehead.

That led Brian McHattie to ask for “a more formal consultation process” rather than “inventing it as we along or playing catch up.” He cited the challenges he faced in last year’s installation of bike lanes on Dundurn Street South.

“The role of the ward councillor is a little unclear to me as well, as to whether that's in fact a veto role where if I didn't want the Dundurn bike lanes I just would have said I don't want them and they wouldn't have happened,” he explained. “I’m not sure that's the best process.”
Committee chair Russ Powers agreed that there is “perhaps a need to formalize a process” that staff should develop. That brought Tom Jackson into the discussion to remind his colleagues that he was the author of the current veto system and argue that “it would be unfair to staff just to go back and review” the council resolution on the bike lane master plan.

“One of the amendments was subject to a neighbourhood and ward councilor consultations which I think is exactly what Councillor Whitehead is getting at, that I think are incredibly important and critical before the master plan in certain parts of the city is overall implemented,” he contended. “It was a council resolution and I think it was a worthy one a prudent one and one that I supported last term to say that neighbourhoods and ward councilors should be consulted before the final implementation in those particular areas.”

Powers responded that the request for the review doesn’t contradict that practice, but just would just lead to a required consultation process “to ensure that that takes place”.

Last year Jackson vetoed a 3.3 kilometre installation of bike lanes on Queensdale Avenue between Upper Wellington and Upper Ottawa that are part of the city’s cycling master plan approved in 2009. In email correspondence obtained by CATCH through a Freedom of Information request, he initially argued that scheduled reconstruction of the road should proceed without a decision.

“I still maintain that I do not detect a clamouring for more ‘commuter’ bike lanes across the mountain,” Jackson wrote to Bender at the time. “The possible loss of parking on the north side cannot be dismissed that easily.”

Bender had explained in an earlier email that a staff investigation “found the highest demand for parking was less than 30% of available parking” on Queensdale.

“We are not accommodating the occasional cyclist,” he explained. “Rather, by improving the street for cyclists, the intent is to improve the street for bicycle traffic, thereby increasing bicycle traffic.”

Jackson ruled against the bike lanes after a neighbourhood meeting of about 40 people in April that was also attended by members of the cycling committee.

“Taking the comments under advisement and with the ‘straw vote’ and taking into consideration the citizens that were there both from the Highview/Sunninghill neighbourhoods (bordering Queensdale itself) and those who were from other parts of the city, I am satisfied with the reconstruction plan proceeding WITHOUT bicycle markings,” Jackson explained in an email to city staff. “As well and as discussed, there will be NO loss of parking on the north side of Queensdale and NO need to re-locate any fire hydrants.”

It’s unclear when Bender might report back to the public works committee on possible formalization of the public consultation process on bike lane installation. Later in the same meeting, Whitehead questioned the appropriateness of the cycling committee having reserve funds.
“I like to see people stick to their budget,” he stated. “If there is a surplus you go back to general revenues, not into reserves.”

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