Winnipeg Free Press Editorial Not so fast, Mr. Katz
Mayor Sam Katz, clearly hearing a backlash from neighbourhoods where streets are being torn up and redesigned for cyclists, tried distancing himself Monday from the city's "active transportation" plan -- an ambitious venture that this year saw 36 projects undertaken around Winnipeg. Not so fast, Mr. Mayor.
Mr. Katz said he was never a part of and did not see the plans for the street redesigns. Further, he has concluded not nearly enough consultation happened before shovels went in the ground on the bike lanes, traffic circles and curb bump-outs.
Mr. Katz's conclusions on consultation are inescapable -- inviting affected residents to come to a public information session does not substitute for good warning of the street alterations that happened as, or after, local projects went to community committees, where hearings and decisions on ward issues are made. As Mr. Katz concedes, some of the details discussed at initial information sessions varied substantially from the blueprints that rolled out in the neighbourhoods.
And postcards or flyers announcing change, but sent to some residents in affected areas, do not constitute sufficient notice to communities. Councillors agree that the process was rushed to qualify the projects for the federal government's stimulus spending program, which ends in March.
But Mr. Katz's explanation of how this one got past him is disingenuous -- he is the mayor, he advocated for this active transportation plan, and he voted for the $20 million (and the city's one-third share of it) as part of the capital budget. The plans are available on the city's website, right under his nose.
Mr. Katz can sense a rising tide of anger -- and this is election time. On Monday, he said he would have a talk with the chief administrative officer (who has quit and has been replaced with an interim CAO) on halting active transportation projects not yet underway. Within hours, a plan for McDermot Avenue was cancelled. Assiniboine Avenue, which raised the ire of residents and business owners dismayed about the implementation of a one-way control for a block there, is essentially complete and cannot be changed, Mr. Katz said.
The 11th-hour turnabout is an ominous message to send on active transportation. The mayor wishes to deflect blame to local councillors, who saw the details, and the administration, which executed the plans. But, as he admitted, the buck stops at his office. That the process saw redesigns pass with little notice to residents is a sign of poor communication. Residents rely on city council -- a body led by the mayor, a man who brags that he gets things done with an often fractious council by consensus -- for information about changing traffic patterns in their neighbourhoods.
Mr. Katz cannot claim on one hand to be a master of consensus, a maestro of a disparate group of politicians, and on the other plead ignorance of what has been the city's largest active transportation project ever. And how can a mayor who has claimed credit for the building of more miles of bike trails than any other now back away from accounting for the biggest piece of active transportation rolled out to date?
The unfortunate cock-up of what should have been vigorous, early community engagement in a movement to share streets with bicycles has instead pitted motorists and residents -- who lose traffic lanes and parking spaces -- against cyclists trying to find their way to work while staying fit.
Mr. Katz has vowed that the next time such construction is contemplated the city will go "beyond above and beyond" what has been considered adequate in consultation. That's admirable. But Mr. Katz on Monday sounded very much like a mayor pulling the rug out from underneath an administration (effectively two civil servants in charge of the $20-million project) that was left to implement a plan written hastily in 36 parts, under the nose of an apparently distracted mayor. Mr. Katz needs to find why the plan's consultation and execution got muddled, and ensure active transportation does not again get bogged down in acrimony.