News

Infill and Community Sustainability

Join me on June 11 to discuss zoning in mature neighbourhoods and its impact on school closures with Public School Trustee Orville Chubb, and Russell Dauk from the Rohit Group of Companies.


Smarter Bike Lanes and Community Voice

Smarter bike lanes and community voice. I’ve been clear since the election last October that these were top priorities for me. In my mind, the two issues have become intrinsically connected. And these two things lead to the primary goal -- that we get as many people as possible to choose to ride their bikes, both as commuters and recreationally.

 


Time for a serious conversation about infill

The time has come to get serious about infill development in Edmonton’s mature neighbourhoods.

Over the past 5 years, Edmonton’s population has grown by over 12%, making it one of the fastest growing major cities in Canada. In fact, Edmonton’s population is projected to double to 1.5 million by 2044.

Where will all of these future Edmontonians call home? Our city already occupies one of the largest land areas in the world. It is unrealistic and undesirable to expect that we can accommodate all future growth through expansion of our borders.


Flood Prevention

I live in Aspen Gardens, a neighbourhood that’s been hit hard by flooding in recent years. Nobody wants a foot of water in their basement, and there are a few things we can do to keep that from happening.

 


Annexation in the Capital Region

Edmonton and the capital region are experiencing unprecedented growth. People from across Canada and around the world are choosing to make Edmonton their home due to the strong economy, exceptional municipal services, vibrant cultural and recreational opportunities and the outstanding quality of life that Edmonton has to offer. Meeting the challenges and seizing the opportunities attributed to this substantial growth requires the City of Edmonton, and its surrounding municipalities, to work together and plan smartly.


Living below the Line

One cup of oatmeal. Two slices of bread. Two hard boiled eggs. One potato. A couple of carrots for some colour. This is my daily diet this week. Oh, and every second day I can have a small apple.

 


What to do with Scona Road?

On April 28th, I voted in favour of increasing the speed limit on Scona Road from 50 km/h to 60 km/h.

For me, three issues were in play:

1. Our Transportation Department told us that Scona Road is designed for a speed limit of up to 70 km/h, and there would be no safety concerns associated with raising the limit to 60 km/h.

2. Scona Road has become a lightning rod for the issue of photo radar based on the number of tickets recently mailed to motorists. This resulted in the inquiry made by Councillor Bryan Anderson.

3. The surrounding communities have long been concerned with speeding on 99th street (south of Scona Road), and worry that increasing the speed limit on Scona Road will increase the speed of traffic in their neighbourhood


Sprucing Up Our Strip Malls

The Italian Centre on 51 Avenue is my happy place. If you go there on a Saturday afternoon, it’s packed. The deli lineup is twenty people deep. The people who shop there come from across the Ward and across the city. The cannoli alone are worth the trip.

Why am I waxing poetic about the Italian Centre? Well, it’s a great example of a thriving local business in a mature neighbourhood, and yesterday, Executive Committee approved a pilot program to try and encourage more local businesses to set up shop in mature neighbourhoods. 

As this program moves forward, the city will choose three communities where three or more businesses are willing to work together. These businesses can be anything: hairdressers, bakers, bookstores, and anything in between. The city will provide demographic analysis and market research advice to help those businesses create a joint marketing campaign. Each pilot site will receive $250,000 worth of support, along with an additional $30,000 in matching dollars for facade improvements or community involvement.

Many neighbourhoods in Ward 10 could benefit from this program. Can you imagine what it would be like to have a thriving shopping centre in Lansdowne or a bustling local grocery store in Ermineskin or a local brewery at Petrolia Mall? Imagine the Glass Monkey Bistro or Sunterra or a locally owned pizzeria like Famoso within easy walking distance of anywhere in the Ward.

We have a lot of work to do before we get to that point, and the City doesn’t have all the answers, but we do have a role to play in in creating the conditions for businesses to succeed in mature neighbourhoods. This pilot project will help us find some answers and bring fresh, locally-made cannoli to mature neighbourhoods across the city.


Valley Line LRT

Last December, City Council passed a motion telling the citizens of Edmonton, the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada that building the southeast leg of the LRT (the Valley Line) was our number one infrastructure priority.


Skyrattler First Place Site

In Skyrattler, a community in the south part of Ward 10, I’ve heard many concerns about the use of a surplus school site for the First Place program. These aren’t NIMBY concerns. Reasonable and engaged community leaders have asked excellent questions about development on that site.

As surplus school sites go, it’s pretty small. And Skyrattler is a fairly dense neighbourhood: 84 per cent of housing in Skyrattler is multifamily. While the First Place surplus school site was never intended to be a park - in fact, none of them were - that’s how the community uses it. The proposed development would take up 1.2 hectares, and the total neighbourhood greenspace is 4.09 hectares. It makes sense that they’re concerned.

They’re not opposed to infill development, though. They, like most Edmontonians, recognize the logical benefits of the First Place program. It helps individuals and families who’ve never owned property in Alberta to buy their first home. It supports our long-term goal of having 25 per cent of new development be infill. It gives people the option of buying houses in mature neighbourhoods instead of the suburbs.

If we want infill to be successful in Edmonton, we have to listen to communities. That’s why, at their February 18 meeting, Executive Committee decided to defer the Skyrattler site to the last phase of the First Place Housing program. The City’s administration is going to talk to the owners of 810 Saddleback Road and to the Skyrattler Neighbourhood Association to find a better way to move forward with development. There are other sites in Ward 10 that are slated to go ahead on schedule.

For the First Place program - and infill generally - to be successful, public engagement is essential. It seems like every conversation I’ve had since the election comes back to public engagement. If I sound like a broken record, that’s because this is important. We need to do a better job of listening to communities. One of my Council Initiatives is on public engagement, and I’ll be writing a blog post on that in the coming weeks. The unique nature of the Skyrattler site, along with the engagement that community leaders have already shown, gives me confidence that deferring the site will allow time for meaningful engagement and a better plan overall.


We Need To Talk About Cities

Canada’s Minister of Finance, Jim Flaherty, delivered Economic Action Plan 2014 (Budget 2014) today. He gave a speech to the House of Commons. In a couple thousand words, this speech talked about red tape, pipelines, and national parks, among other things. These are important things to talk about and are, as Mr. Flaherty mentioned, a responsible way to a brighter future for Canadians.

But 81 per cent of Canadians live in cities or urban areas, and Minister Flaherty didn’t talk about that. 86 per cent of Albertans live in cities or urban areas. Minister Flaherty quoted Thomas D’Arcy McGee in his speech, saying “We are in the rapids and must go on.” That’s an apt description of where Canadian cities are today. By the end of this decade, Edmonton will be the fastest-growing city in Canada. We’re definitely in the rapids, and we must certainly go on.

Rapid growth brings challenges in housing, transportation, and infrastructure. Cities have to deal with these challenges, and we need other levels of government to recognize that. Today’s speech didn’t mention cities - not once.

That’s not to say the federal government isn’t aware of our challenges. They are, and they’re committed to the multi-billion dollar Building Canada Fund, which funds projects that address national, regional, and local infrastructure. Cities are anxiously awaiting clarity about the parametres of the Building Canada Fund, and Budget 2014 hints that clarity is coming soon. The Government of Canada is aware of our challenges, but they’re not talking about it yet.

That’s the thing: if we’re going to manage Edmonton’s growth and come out the other side as the city we want to be, we can’t go it alone. Our successes are tied to real commitments from the federal and provincial governments, and those commitments will grow out of meaningful conversations about the challenges cities face.


Downtown Office Tower

Today, the City of Edmonton announced that we’ve successfully concluded negotiations with the EAD First Street Building Corporation to lease space for City staff in a new office tower. I recognize that some of you may have questions about this announcement, so I want to share some of the background with you. 

The City has been reviewing its space needs for City staff in the downtown core for a few years. We have about 3000 staff working downtown in nine different buildings; some of our leases are expiring and other buildings are reaching the end of their useable life. So, in the Fall of 2012, we launched a Request for Expressions of Interest to determine market interest in providing space to house city staff, and in Spring of 2013, we began a Negotiated Request for Proposals, receiving 14 submissions.  

Ensuring a Fair Process

The RFP generated a lot of interest, so the City engaged a Fairness Advisor and two independent peer reviewers to ensure a fair, comprehensive selection process.

Through this process, EAD’s proposal for 350,000 square feet of office space in a new tower being built at 101 Street and 104 Avenue was chosen. The new building will move 65% of our staff into one space. Why is this a good thing?

For one thing, leasing this space lets us save our capital dollars for things like the LRT, libraries, and roads. Moving staff into one building also decreases our space needs by 25%, which provides significant annual cost savings. The building allows us to create a one-stop shop for city services and to continue transforming our downtown.

That being said, I understand that this announcement may raise some questions. If there’s anything I can help to answer, please contact me at michael.walters@edmonton.ca.


Bike Lanes - Moving Forward

Community voices matter. We have heard loud and clear that people support the idea of a bike network but want more say in how their community contributes to it. This isn’t an either/or proposition. By asking citizens for meaningful input, we can build a better bike network. We can begin to make Edmonton a bike friendly city, and we can ensure that communities and citizens have a say in designing a network they will use and be proud of.

If we’re going to build infrastructure that works for communities - starting with core communities like Old Strathcona and downtown - we need to listen to those communities. Bike lanes in Ward 10 were met with concern and confusion because we didn’t take the time to listen to communities. If we had, we’d have known that putting a bike lane on 40 Avenue - a road already strained by multiple school pickup zones - would increase congestion.

I’m committed to building the rest of the bike network, starting with high-quality bike routes on 83 Avenue and 102 Avenue. If any of this is to succeed, we need to learn from our mistakes. We need to welcome community voices, not ignore them. My office will host a public meeting to start engagement on some of the ways we can relocate, redesign, or otherwise fix the Ward 10 bike lanes. I’m also going to make a motion at today’s Transportation Committee to ask the Administration for a report on alternative routes and better public engagement and education. I’m excited about the future of bicycle infrastructure in Edmonton.

Michael’s Motion on Bike Lanes

That Administration provide a report to Transportation Committee by the
end of June, 2014, outlining the following information:

1. A proposed 2014-2018 implementation plan for new bike lane infrastructure, including recommendations for an enhanced public engagement strategy and recommendations for enhanced public education programs.

2. An assessment of the selected routes (106 Street, 40th Avenue, and 95th Avenue), that provides options to better meet the needs of both neighbourhoods and cyclists, including:


a. Recommendations and costs for alternative routes, including consideration of external factors such as scheduled neighbourhood renewal

b. Recommendations to address safety and operational concerns for both motorists and cyclists.

3. An assessment of other routes in the city that have been underused, including recommendations and costs for improved routes and/or removal of little or unused routes.


Ward 10 Bike Lanes Report

If you had asked me six months ago what my top ten priorities would be as a City Councillor, I would not have put bike lanes near the top of that list. I was aware of the City’s 10 year goal to get more people using forms of transportation other than the car and the 2009 Bicycle Transportation Plan, and I thought those were good things. Edmonton is a big city, and big cities have bike infrastructure- even winter cities.


During the 2013 election campaign, my top ten priorities list shifted. In September 2013, on-street bike lanes were installed in Ward 10 on 106 Street, Saddleback Road, and 40 Avenue. As I knocked on door after door, it was clear that bike lanes were a major priority for my constituents. Through hundreds of doorstep conversations, it became apparent that finding a solution to the bike lanes issue needed to be at the top of my list.


After the election, my office took time to listen. We held a public meeting, attended by over 350 people. We received hundreds of responses to an online survey, and we fielded hundreds more phone calls and emails. I took the time to meet with representatives from the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters Society, Edmonton Transit drivers, and the City’s Transportation Department. And every conversation we had indicated that the bike lanes that were installed in Ward 10 do not work for those communities, and they aren’t going to encourage new cyclists. This is not a vocal minority. We heard this across the board from everyone we listened to.


That’s not to say that anyone wants them gone completely. There is a small minority of people who don’t bike and never will. And that’s okay. But many people are open to using well-designed bike lanes that make them feel safe. I agree with that. We need to install high-quality bike infrastructure in areas with lots of bike traffic, like Old Strathcona and downtown, and I’ll do everything I can to make that happen. When those lanes are installed, I look forward to cycling there both as a commuter and with my family.


People aren’t opposed to high-quality bike infrastructure in Ward 10 neighbourhoods, either. But they want a meaningful voice in deciding where they go, and they want to be sure that bike lanes actually work for their communities. Those neighbourhoods felt like a plan had been imposed on them, and that the lanes are unsafe and underused. We can do better than that. Based on the substantial public input we received, the report my office has prepared suggests some alternatives.

You can read our report here.


Snow Removal

SNOW REMOVAL TOP TEN

 

  1. IGLOO CITY: In eight days (January 2-10), city crews moved 335,000 cubic metres of snow. That’s 11,000 of the large trucks that haul snow to snow storage facilities.

    In 2010, Salzburg, Austria built an igloo camp using 5,000 cubic metres of snow. We could build 71 of those camps using only the snow moved by city crews from January 2-10.

  2. PRIORITIES: Arterial roads, hills, and collector bus routes are the highest priority for snow clearing. After those are complete, neighbourhood roads are bladed to a 5cm snow pack. This creates windrows, which are not removed from neighbourhoods.

  3. WINDROWS: We know that windrows create some inconveniences, and we want to find a way to fix that. But it’s important to note that it would cost $25 million to fully clear windrows from neighbourhoods once per season. For comparison’s sake, our total budget for snow clearing this year was $51.9 million. We can talk about removing windrows, but we need to keep in mind the very real impact that would have on your property tax bill.

  4. HOW WE CLEAR IT: City crews use a variety of equipment – skid steers, plows, trucks – to clear, blade, and move the snow to our designated snow storage facilities. The Southwest Service Yard, which serves Ward 10, covers a vast area – all the way from Whyte Avenue to the far reaches of the southwest. Workers and equipment are stretched thin, which causes problems all across the city.

  5. WHO TO CALL: If you have concerns about snow removal, calling 311 is the best way to make sure your concern is recorded and sent to Transportation. They’ll give you a tracking number, which makes it easier to follow up and see what’s been done about your concern.

  6. LISTENING: In the last week, councillors’ offices have received hundreds of phone calls and emails about snow removal. We hear you. We understand your frustration. We’re working to fix it, because we know we can do better.

  7. WHAT WE’RE DOING: In December, Councillor Amarjeet Sohi made a motion for the City administration to provide a report recommending amendments to the City’s snow clearing policy. That motion is available here: http://sirepub.edmonton.ca/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=1132&doctype=MINUTES

  8. SPECIFICS: Those recommendations will include timelines for removing windrows from arterial roads and bus routes, snow clearing from school drop off zones, options for handling windrows on narrower streets (and associated costs), and so on. Ultimately, we need to match our investment in winter road maintenance with our city’s tremendous growth. In the past, we haven’t done that, and that’s why we’re experiencing problems with road maintenance today.

  9. CITY SIDEWALKS: We’ve been hearing concerns about snow removal from city sidewalks, and we want to fix that. Mayor Iveson submitted an inquiry to Transportation Committee asking for information on whether we’re meeting our targets for clearing sidewalks and what we can do better. Once Council has that information, we’ll make some decisions about what we can do better.

  10. PATIENCE: Clearing 71 igloo villages worth of snow takes both time and, as I mentioned, many types of equipment. So please, be patient. If a crew leaves your neighbourhood without clearing your snow, that might be because a different piece of equipment is needed and on its way. We’re doing everything we can right now, and we’re going to do better. Thank you for your patience.