BY BRIAN KENDRICK, CYCLIST AND FAIRFIELD RESIDENT
In the Times Colonist (May 12), the city invited you to chime in on the insertion of bicycle infrastructure in your neighbourhood. You are asked to weigh in at engage.ca, on proposed designs for either Superior or Michigan streets.
Make your voices heard, but be ready for disappointment.
Despite Lisa Helps professing to embrace public opinion on important issues, be prepared to have any dissenting feedback ignored.
During her emergence in public office she declared,
I know the importance of research-driven policy making.” (Lisa Helps – UVic web page 2014)
This has been followed up with the following claim,
“It’s about transparency in public engagement, and making sure that the people who are most affected by a proposed land-use change are the ones that are providing official commentary rather than, you know, what the lines on an old map say,” Helps said. (TC May 11, 2021)
Unfortunately, these appear to be only statements of convenience, to be trotted out, when they suit a predetermined agenda. The practice of these principles was conspicuously absent during the review and approval process for the Richardson component of the AAA Bicycle plan. From the very beginning, the consultation with Fairfield/Gonzales residents was deliberately cut short, when in Feb 2017, Council instructed staff to finish the bike network by 2022, instead of 2023; AND increased the size from 24 to 32 km. While engagement processes generally take 6-8 months, Council directed staff to “Streamline project processes and activities via a condensed engagement process, bundled procurement, and reduced design timelines, as per detail of this Report” (CoTW 21Feb/2019: Agenda p129)
The results of an independent analysis of email responses to the engage.ca input bear this out. These emails were part of the 1239 page report that went to Council in July 2020 in advance of their approving the Richardson Bike plan. The email results were not tabulated for Council and the only explanation can be that a decision to not tabulate them was made by staff, or they were instructed not to. Neither is excusable.
71% of the incoming emails were variously opposed to the lane plan for Richardson, only 15% showed support, while another 14% were ambivalent or neutral. Did someone figure that no one in their right mind would go through 598 pages of emails in the Council report and do a tabulation?
The total tabulation from the 302 emails is as follows. (CSSmith tabulation Rev. 2 May/21; staff responses are not included).
Non-supportive: 161 responses (71%) represent a multitude of opinions from “support, but not this (proposal)” to “leave it alone”.
These numbers have been available to the City for over a year, and appear to have be completely ignored or dismissed. Why? Because they are inconvenient.
Evidence of the “Streamlined” approach was seen in the badly advertised kick off Walking Tour event in Nov. 2019, and the total absence of an Open House to present the definitive design to Fairfield/Gonzales residents in January 2020, as it was to other neighbourhoods. One may reasonably connect the dominant negative email responses to the absence of that Open House.
Opposition to the Richardson bike project has grown since early 2020. If a survey were to be undertaken taken today the results would make it hard for any elected official to ever approve what Council approved in July, 2020 and reaffirmed on April 22, 2021, by defeating a “pause for further consultation” motion.
The mayor’s much vaunted policy of transparent public engagement, in the case of Richardson, was nothing but a sham.
So, James Bay residents, be prepared to be disenfranchised in this process, just as Fairfield/Gonzales residents were.