Council refuses to budge on funds for bicycle paths
By: Joe Paraskevas
Cycling activists left city hall disappointed Tuesday, having come up short in their attempts to increase capital budget spending on bike paths and pedestrian trails.
City council passed the 2009 budget Tuesday over appeals from community groups and some councillors who called for more substantial investment in Winnipeg's so-called active transportation network.
Council voted 11-4 to approve the $476.1-million budget, which earmarks $3.5 million to be spent directly on bike and pedestrian infrastructure.
Community activists, some of whom lobbied repeatedly before city hall committees in the three weeks since the budget was released, were exhausted.
"I don't know what else to say," said Anders Swanson, project co-ordinator of the cycling group One Green City, told councillors at the end of his five-minute presentation.
"The bicycle is very, very, very, very, very, very good for you," Swanson added, drawing laughter from council members and an audience of about 75 people in the council chamber galleries.
Despite public efforts to convince councillors that investments in active transportation could contribute to everything from friendlier neighbourhoods to healthier workers, the majority on council resisted.
"There is nobody on the floor of council who believes we can't do more," Mayor Sam Katz assured onlookers. "We will get there."
Other councillors pointed out that in addition to the money the budget committed directly, bike and pedestrian paths were also part of some large public works projects, such as the Chief Peguis Trail extension and the planned Disraeli Freeway overhaul.
Councillors rejected a last-minute motion to increase active-transportation spending and sidewalk renewal by $2 million.
The motion was tabled by Point Douglas Coun. Mike Pagtakhan and seconded by Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt.
"We have come into the dawn of a new era here in Winnipeg where the young people are looking for creative choices," Pagtakhan told council during the three-and-a-half-hour debate.
Besides finding jobs, young Winnipeggers wanted to roam their city on foot, by bicycle or on inline roller skates, Pagtakhan said.
"If we want people to get out of their cars, we've got to give them a reason to get out of their cars," he added.
The motion was defeated, but Pagtakhan and Wyatt, who last week were the two councillors in Mayor Sam Katz's six-member executive policy committee to vote against the budget, turned around and supported the document at yesterday's council session.
The two councillors said they had made their points at a cabinet meeting last week and would take their opposition no further.
Councillors Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry), Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre), Lillian Thomas (Elmwood-East Kildonan) and Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) voted against the budget, however.
Gerbasi bemoaned what she perceived was the limited time allocated for budget debate and the relatively little chance ordinary Winnipeggers had to influence budget decisions.
She and Vandal called for the city to hold public meetings to gather input before it released the final budget document.
The afternoon was also marked by tributes from councillors and Katz to Brenda Leipsic, the former councillor for River Heights-Fort Garry, who passed away last week from lung cancer.
A red rose in a vase and a framed 8x10-photograph of Leipsic were on her council chamber desk throughout the budget debate and a book where the public could sign condolences was outside the chamber.
The city's flag was also draped over Leipsic's empty black leather armchair.