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Saskatoon

Launching something new

A couple of months ago I relaunched my photoblog at BridgeCity.ca.  My photos have always been popular on Flickr (more than a couple million views) but I wanted some place to pull out and highlight certain ones about Saskatoon.  When I saw www.bridgecity.ca was available, I bought it, found a template, and started to upload a photo or two a day to it.

This site averages 1000 visitors a day who view on average about 5 posts each time they stop by.  The site has a large archive and benefits from a decade of people linking to it.  I didn’t expect 1000 hits a day but I was really disappointed when I launched Bridge City and didn’t even get a single hit some days.  Now a couple of months later traffic is holding steady at about 175 hits a day and growing.  Here is what I learned during this.

  1. Use Google Webmaster Tools:  This isn’t going to get you any hits but does tell you if Google is indexing your site which is really all you can ask for.  It will also give you an idea of what people are searching for.  Also use Bing Webmaster Tools.  To be honest the amount of traffic I get from Bing is nothing compared to what I get from Google but some people still use it and Yahoo! Search so you might as well incorporate it into your site.
  2. Figure out how Google Image Search worked.  Google has no idea what those images I was posting to my site are.  They rely on the words in the attribute tag and the words I am using on the site to describe what I am posting.  I had images on Flickr that had gotten thousands of hits but only 1 hit on Bridge City.  The difference was that I described what the image was well on Flickr and had not on Bridge City.  When I changed that, Google figured out what the subject was and suddenly ignored content was found.
  3. I don’t rely on SEO very much but I do use a plugin in WordPress to see what Google thinks it is seeing and then I do my best to accurately describe what it should be seeing.  Huffington Post has perfected this but often uses misleading headlines and descriptions to drive traffic.  I want accurate titles and descriptions so that people can find what they are looking for.
  4. The hardest part has been tagging the photos.  Do I call that building office or commercial?  Did I call others like it a restaurant or a pub?  Is it a pub or a bar?
  5. Do I link to the business?  I try to.  It’s a site about what I think is cool and interesting about Saskatoon.  Since I am using business names in titles, I tend to put a link back to the business or organization.  That way if people are looking for something, with a click they can find it.  I have also learned that some businesses have websites that are hard to find.  If I can give it a good link, it helps them too.
  6. There are some boring neighbourhoods in this city.  You can see where I tend to spend my time by the categories and the tags at the bottom of each page but there are some parts of the city that really have nothing interesting to photograph (I am looking at you Westview, Montgomery, and Wildwood)  It speaks of some really poor neighbourhood design.
  7. Most of the shots are on foot.  Wendy and I will park the car somewhere and go for a neighbourhood stroll.  Since I take a lot of shots of schools, we generally go on the weekend so as to not freak out parents, teachers, police, RCMP, Interpol, the Department of Homeland Security… you know, those kinds of people.
  8. Some officers from the Saskatoon Police Service has taken a mild interest in what I have been doing.  One time Wendy and I were kind of trespassing near the tracks by the grain terminals and a couple of cops wandered down to see what we were up to.  When they saw we have cameras their concern wandered off an instead they questioned me on the lens I was using.  The same thing happened downtown when I was ask, “Is it actually focusing on things”.  I then explained aperture to the officers who actually took some notes.  I find that so far the cops have been far more interested in mine and Wendy’s difference in cameras than what we are doing.  They actually remind me of cops in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston who seemed to be drawn to the guy with the camera and had opinions on what to photograph than anything.
  9. Thank you to the City of Saskatoon for posting this neighbourhood map.  It the official arbiter of what neighbourhoods are called and where the boundaries are.  More than one time I have sent someone to it and heard back, “I could have sworn that X was part of Y neighbourhood”.  I’ve done it myself.
  10. A lot of buildings downtown are double and even triple attributed by reputable sources to the same architect.  I have brought this up to a couple of developers who all said, “I know”. It’s been fun looking back at contradictory archival data as well.  I don’t think we will ever know for sure.
  11. I don’t get this but architectural websites don’t always list their own works.  I have a feeling that there probably was some strong disagreements during design or construction and the architect more or less washes his or her hands of the project but it makes it hard to track down who created the project.  Winnipeg has a building database.  I wish we had one in Saskatoon.  If for no reason than to help celebrate some of the great architects in our cities history.  Hopefully a project like this will happen when Saskatoon finally gets a school of architecture.
  12. I wish the public and separate school boards would publish a list of architects of their schools.  These are tremendously important to our community and so little is known of them.  Either that or I am going to have to do it.

The five most popular posts are

  1. Affinity Campus
  2. 2nd Avenue Lofts
  3. Irene & Leslie Dube Centre for Mental Health
  4. John Deere Building
  5. Nuit Blanche

I am biased but there are my two favourites.

  1. Taking a selfie
  2. 2014 PotashCorp International Fringe Festival

Old-style infills are out and row housing is in: Calgary to get Boston-style digs

Hey, look at what Calgary is doing.

Step aside, humble duplex: the next wave of infill housing is side-by-side-by-side units.

In a bid to bring more density to established neighbourhoods without triggering massive resident backlash, Calgary council has approved new zoning rules that would allow row houses, as well as secondary suites in duplexes and row homes.

Councillors would have to authorize rezoning bids to allow these units in older neighbourhoods, so they won’t sweep across Calgary anytime soon. But there is demand there for them, said one architect who works on small inner-city redevelopment projects.

“It’s got the front yard. It’s got the house. It’s got the backyard. It’s got the garage,” said Stephen Barnecut. “So you could put it next to a 1950s bungalow and it won’t really feel out of place.”

Saskatoon already allows them as seen by several historic properties and the new SoCal lofts in Caswell.

Looking back at the Saskatoon Transit Strike

I chose not to write anything about the lockout because as soon as it lifted, I got several versions of the in-camera discussions and to be honest, the stories shocked me.  Instead I put together some excellent posts, columns and articles from other people observing the lockout.  

The first comes from October 10th and is by University of Saskatchewan law professor Keir Valance who said back then that the lockout was illegal.  He was right.

More importantly, though, the lockout may well be illegal, and so may be the City’s unilateral changes to the pension plan. And the Union quickly brought an application before the Labour Relations Board, arguing exactly that.

On Sept. 26, 2014, the Labour Relations Board issued an interim Order (LRB File No. 211-14). That Order didn’t end the lockout, but it did prevent the City from implementing any further unilateral changes to the pension plan. On October 14th, the City and the ATU are back in front of the Board to argue about the legality of the changes to the pension plan and to the legality of the lockout.

The Law

The language that potentially renders the City’s actions illegal is the same now, under the new
Saskatchewan Employment Act (“SEA”), as it was under the now-repealed Trade Union Act. Section 6-62(1)(l)(i) of the SEA reads:

6-62(1)It is an unfair labour practice for an employer, or any person acting on behalf of the employer, to do any of the following:

(l) to declare or cause a lockout or to make or threaten any changes in wages, hours, conditions or tenure of employment, benefits or privileges while:
(i) any application is pending before the Board…

["Pending" means that the hearing of the application has begun but the Board has not yet rendered a decision, so an Employer or Union could not, for instance, file a frivolous application just to prevent a lockout or strike.]

Unfortunately for the City, there was an Unfair Labour Practice (“ULP”) application pending before the Labour Relations Board when the lockout notice was issued. It appears the ULP was unrelated to the lockout – it related to discipline of a bus driver and was heard back in May – but the language in the SEA doesn’t say a “related” application, or anything of the sort. It says any application.

In order for the lockout and the pension plan changes to be legal, the City has to convince the Labour Relations Board that when the SEA says “any application”, the statute really means “any related application”. That flies in the face of the plain wording of the legislation. However, in fairness to the City’s position, most of the time the ULPs in such situations are related either to the lockout itself, or to the collective bargaining process that was underway. The intention of s. 6-62(1)(l) is to ensure that employers don’t “raise the stakes” on a ULP by trying to place economic pressure on a Union that has decided to pursue its rights before the Board. It’s about protecting the integrity of the Board’s process, and not allowing the rule of law to be undermined by economic power.

Still, the Board can’t simply decide what it thinks the law should be. It’s got to operate within the terms of the legislation that gives it its authority (the SEA). Without getting into the intricacies of statutory interpretation, the City would have to have some strong evidence that the Legislature somehow did not intend for the statute to mean what it says it means. That’s not impossible. But the Union has in its favour the fact that the Legislature could have changed the language of the statute when it implemented the SEA – but didn’t.

Okay, so it got weird from the start.  I knew that law and when I probed members of council about it, they started telling me that the city didn’t like the law and it was ruining their strategy so the Board would have to overturn it.  When I brought up voices like Valance, they looked at me like I was mad.  Again, kind of weird.

Oh yeah, there is also this sentence from Valance from that post

Ironically, had the City waited two weeks, there would have been no question that the lockout had been properly issued – because the outstanding ULP was decided on October 3, 2014.

Saskatoon City Council wasted over $1 million of “ratepayers” (you know those of us they are trying to protect) money because they could not wait two week?  Think about that for a while.  If they had waited two weeks, it would have been a legal lockout and they probably would have won.  

So now the Mayor wants a judicial review on the ruling.  According to Valance, that stands little chance of succeeding.

If the City pursues judicial review of the LRB decision, the question will be whether the LRB’s interpretation of the SEA was “reasonable”. In my view, it was (though I hasten to add we still don’t have the Board’s written reasons for why it ruled as it did). The Board has the jurisdiction, responsibility, and expertise to interpret its governing statute. It’s owed deference in its decision. And in my view, finding in the City’s favour would have flown in the face of the plain language of the legislation, and would have flown in the face of the fact that the Legislature has apparently – at least twice – refused to change the section in question.

Whether ss. 6-62(1)(l) and 6-63(1)(b) are good or bad for labour relations is not the point. That’s for the Legislature to decide. And the Legislature has decided at least three times (in 1944 when it proclaimed The Trade Union Act, 1944; in 1993; and in 2013) that these sections were to stay. It should be up to the Legislature to change them.

So let’s get Les MacPherson’s take on it as he arrived at many of the same conclusions as Valance and also the Labour Relations Board (and might as well toss this in there, the Government of Saskatchewan in 1944, 1993, and in 2013)

I find myself mystified by this transit fiasco.

I’m no lawyer, but, to me, at least, it seems crystal clear that the lockout was illegal in the first place. The labour act says there can be no strike or lockout with a pending grievance before the labour board. There was a pending grievance before the labour board, filed by the union in June. On the face of it, the lockout was illegal.

City lawyers argued that the grievance was not relevant to negotiations. Except the act doesn’t say anything about relevance to negotiations. It says “any” grievance. The city, unwisely, was betting the board would read into well-established law what isn’t there. For that to happen would be almost freakishly rare.

The city further argued that the grievance was not really pending because the board had not started formal hearings. Except the act doesn’t say anything about whether hearings have started. It just says there can be no strike or lockout if a grievance is pending. Again, the city gambled that the board would interpret the law to mean what it doesn’t say. Losing this bet will cost Saskatoon taxpayers into the seven figures in refunded wages for lockedout bus drivers, for refunds on transit passes and for legal costs. For the damage done to those who rely on transit to get to work, to get to the store, to get the kids to daycare, there is no accounting.

The city argued that the law as it is invites labour turmoil. Any looming strike or lockout, otherwise perfectly legitimate, could be thwarted by filing a bogus grievance. Maybe so, ruled the labour board, but the law is the law. There are many legislated restrictions on strikes and lockouts, the ruling explained. This is one of them.

“It is not for this board to rewrite the Saskatchewan Employment Act in the fashion suggested by the city.” The city should not have to go to the labour board to be told the law is the law.

By appealing this decision, the city now will be asking the Court of Queen’s Bench to rewrite the law. Why the court would be any more likely than the board to do so, no one has explained. The board is appointed by a Saskatchewan Party government, and not because it is labour-friendly.

As for the labour turmoil predicted by city solicitor Patricia Warwick if the decision is allowed to stand, I wouldn’t bet on that, either. The prohibition on a strike or lockout when a grievance is pending is nothing new. It has been a part of Saskatchewan labour legislation since 1944, and has remained in place after multiple revisions and amendments in the decades since. The idea is to prevent undue pressure on the board while it adjudicates a grievance. Why a law in place for 70 years suddenly would cause labour turmoil is no more clear to me than it was to the labour board.

He summarizes with this

To me, it looks like council got lousy advice. On a case that might have gone either way, an expensive defeat is bearable. In this case, council was advised to gamble taxpayers’ money on a crazy long shot for something it could have had anyway, and legally, in two weeks. If I were the client here, I would be angry.

What kind of shocks me in this whole thing is that the city has several solicitors to draw advice from.  They also have a lawyer on Council (Tiffany Paulsen) and someone who is a labour expert (Ann Iwanchuk) who also overlooked or ignored the act.  There are also some other councillors who bragged to me about their knowledge of the labour act and were 100% confident that this was a legal lockout.  How did the all get it wrong? 

What goes on in that bunker where everyone gets it wrong and is utterly shocked when a ruling where all of these outside voices are saying you are going to lose goes against you?  

There is a weird reality that council puts itself in sometimes.  Remember snow removal when council voted against residential snow clearing.  Then it snowed a bunch that winter and in an “emergency debate” on it, many of them played the victims and used phrases like “under siege” and seemed shocked that it snows in Saskatoon in the winter.  The city wasn’t under siege but as councillors they were.  It was all about them.  Then the mayor starts to lecture manager who do not have the funds to do snow removal to do a daily press conference because it must be a misunderstanding right?

The same thing happened with the outrage over roads.  The city for over a decade (it started when Atch was elected) cut back on road repair and maintenance.  What happened?  The roads fell apart and again council acted as it they were victims of this. Now we have the same thing.  A hashtag, website, new pylons (no I am not talking about new politicians but actual pylons with “Building Better Roads” on them) and congratulatory radio ads about doing what other cities just do, maintain the roads.  I don’t get it but it is a weird group dynamic.  There are some intelligent members on council but for whatever reason the sum of the whole is far less then the total of the parts and the result is a very, very low functioning city council and we as a city suffer because of it.

17 years ago today

Wendy and I were married 17 years ago yesterday.  Next year our relationships will reach adulthood.

As anniversaries go it was really boring.  I have only had food poisoning a couple of times in my life and both times it has happened on our anniversary so in this case, non-eventful is good.

This morning we got up and got Mark to Bedford Road so he could get ready to play in the Charity Bowl.  Then it was off to Gordie Howe Bowl to watch him play.

Mark has started all of his games at linebacker this season.  Five minutes before the game he was told he would be playing starting defensive half back and then as he went out he was told to play cornerback.  If you have played football, being told to go out and play a position which you have never even practiced for a second is a recipe for disaster but he performed well and had no passes completed against him and had a couple of tackle.  Bedford won in a blowout so it all worked out well.

This year he has played linebacker, cornerback and defensive line.  Again, the body types required to play defensive line and cornerback are generally exclusive to each position but he held his ground and did well so we are proud of him.  Most importantly, Bedford Road just had their parent-teacher interviews and he is doing well academically.  So far that make Grade 9 a success.

Of course the Charity Bowl is a great Saskatoon tradition and all of the money that was raised today goes to Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Saskatoon.

To keep with the football theme today, I gave Wendy a new Saskatchewan Roughrider jersey and got her a new Starbucks mug and some Pineapple tea.  I was nervous about giving her a big thing of pineapple tea since she hates ham and pineapple pizza but as long as she doesn’t pour it on her pizza, she should be okay.  She turned around and got me a Bluetune Bluetooth player which was great.

After meeting Janice Braden for coffee, we had a noisy supper at Alexander’s.  Not sure what was going on but we were the only couple not in suits and without speakers in our ears.  We had planned on going to The Oddcouple but neither of us felt that hungry after a big lunch.

Of course it was about then that my phone started to go off because council had decided to end the transit lockout.  So if I got this right, Saskatoon City Council took 28 days and a failed labour board ruling to get right back to where were a month ago politically after affecting the lives of thousands with no gain.  People lost their jobs, couldn’t get to appointments, businesses were hurt, and families disrupted for absolutely nothing.

Then I was able to watch councillors go on Twitter and say, “We made the right choice”.  Feel free to help me out with this but I can’t find a historical comparison to an elected body that his this clueless.  I want to talk about the Devine governments with Fair Share Saskatchewan and privatizing SaskEnergy but they had an opposition.  Saskatoon City Council did this all by themselves to themselves.  That almost seems like incompetence without precedent.

Winnipeg’s City Council often rivals ours for incompetence but I think Saskatoon has won this contest.  It’s so weird because at least 8 of the 11 of them do their work, show up at meetings, and read their books.  They can ask intelligent questions and for the most part show capable political instincts.  Yet something goes wrong when they go behind closed doors.  

Of course there are all sorts of interesting questions to be asked.  Mainly what is the administrations role in this and who is running the show at City Hall.  Is it the administration or the council.  I have heard several comments from admin and staff who seem to suggest that administration thinks it is running the show in the city and that council is just there to give some advice.  In fact, even the Mayor’s recent comments make me think he thinks that.  So if that is case, this could have happened in a vacuum of a lack of leadership from city council.  Either way, a lot of lives were affected for nothing.  Absolutely nothing.

A picture is worth a thousand words

The photo below is from Andrea Hill.  Twitter’s ability to show photos has sucked in recent days so I thought I would post it here. (it took 20 minutes for Twitter to load this up)

Sad Saskatoon City Councillors

Those are some sad, sad looking city councillors.  Well Zach Jeffries looks angry but by in large, they look sad.

Homeless in Saskatoon

Homeless in Saskatoon

I just posted this photo Bridge City.  I took it today while walking in Cosmopolitan Park by Saskatchewan Crescent.  I thought it was some stuff that had been stolen out of a vehicle but then I noticed the gentlemen sleeping there.  I was going to chat with him but he was soundly sleeping I snapped the photo and left.

Le Renaissance Apartments and the Radisson Hotel

Radisson Hotel

The Radisson Hotel in Saskatoon is the tower on the right. The hotel was completed in 1983 and at 24 stories is the ninth tallest building in the city and contains 291 rooms. The tower on the left is Le Renaissance Apartments and was also completed in 1983. At 24 stories is the tallest building in the city and contains 96 condominiums.

Wendy and I went for a walk early on Thanksgiving morning.  While dodging joggers and dog walkers along Saskatchewan Crescent, we were able to grab a few shots of downtown Saskatoon.

Progressive Leadership

Atch is showing true leadership on the compost program for the City of Saskatoon.

So the city will run out room at the landfill in 30-40 years if we can’t cut back on the waste going to the landfill.  Most cities in Canada have a composting program like our recycling.  Compost is collected and sold or used for other purposes.  It works well but it would cost to have picked up.  Again, it is what other cities do.  So what does our mayor do?

According to CKOM News, he didn’t do anything.

However, Mayor Don Atchison and councillor Pat Lorje expressed reservations about the implementation of a comprehensive organic waste collection program. Atchison argued that taxpayers may be reluctant to accept another mandatory waste program so soon after the rollout of curbside recycling.

In other word he was worried about the political consequences of taking a long term view of the problem.  That’s leadership Saskatoon style.

Personally it doesn’t matter to me.  Ever since I accidentally built a bio-reactor at home (seriously, it works amazing), we haven’t sent any biological waste to the landfill in two years.  Grass and leaves is cut and mulched, food waste goes in the compost bin/reactor and nothing at all goes to the landfill.  Living in Mayfair, we have very little topsoil and so the idea of sending organics to the landfill when it can help with the garden and lawn makes no sense.  

As a citizen of a city that is running out of space at the landfill, this matters a whole lot to me.  As a father of two boys that may choose to make Saskatoon home, this matters to me.  Choosing short sighted politics instead of a long term solution is… well… typical.

How to fall in love with Saskatoon

Winnipeg columnist Brent Bellamey has written a fantastic column on how people fall in love with a city.  He is talking about Winnipeg but he could be talking about Saskatoon.  

The difficult solution to many of the city’s issues is to increase opportunity and prosperity for its citizens, improving their quality of life, growing the economy and civic revenue.
In business, the greatest success is rarely the result of following trends. Wealth comes from being ahead of the curve, predicting and investing in what’s coming next. A city is no different. Prosperity, particularly in this age of unparalleled mobility, can only be achieved by building a city that inspires and attracts the next generation.

Often called generation Y, 18- to 35-year-olds make up the largest demographic in North America today, with the greatest spending power and highest level of mobility. Their lifestyle choices will have a significant effect on the economy and competitiveness of cities across the continent. Those that are most successful at retaining and attracting a young, creative population will flourish in the future.

Winnipeg loses 3,000 to 5,000 (mostly young) people per year to other provinces, yet we continue to focus on creating the city of our postwar dreams. Our auto-centric urban-design template has taken the city from being a place with unique neighbourhoods and a distinct personality to one filled with low-density, cul-de-sac development, making it indistinguishable from any other.

Cities across North America are beginning to understand the baby boomer, suburban dream is less often the dream of the next generation.

North American young people are showing a clear shift to a mobile and flexible lifestyle supported by a greater level of density and urbanization. They live in smaller spaces than their parents did when they were young, focussing more on the dream neighbourhood than the dream house. For the first time, car ownership is dropping across the continent. In 2009, American youth drove 23 per cent less than they did in 2001. During that same period, bike trips increased by 24 per cent and walking rose by 16 per cent. Canadian transit ridership is growing at twice the rate of the population, and more than 100,000 of us belong to car-share programs.

These statistics show young people are gravitating in larger numbers to a lifestyle that is much more urban than past generations did. Walkable streets, vibrant public spaces and accessible amenities are beginning to replace the two-car garage and sprawling front-yard dream. The cities Winnipeg often loses its young people to, the places we compete with for investment, immigration and tourism are looking to the future, reacting to and investing in these changing trends.

I am surprised how many people who are in their 20s and 30s aspire to leave Saskatoon still.  They want to live in Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal for the very reasons that Bellamey is mentioning; walkable neighbourhoods, excellent public transit, bike lanes and vibrant public spaces.  None of them mention the phrase “starter home” or time of commute in their discussions.

It seems like Saskatoon is trying to build the dream city of the past rather than the future.  It is a decision that we could really come to regret, especially as cities like Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, and even Winnipeg (which has a far superior transit service compared to ours) continues to pull ahead.

Let me put it this way, either Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Halifax are correct is striving to build cities that can attract global talent (and therefore become more prosperous) or Saskatoon’s method of building more roads and lowering taxes is.

Here is the City of Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s take on this

Even more important than that, for Canada to survive, we must attract the best talent from around the world. So we need the top graduating engineers in Shanghai or Dubai or Mumbai to say, “I can be at the top of my profession in Canada, and that’s a place I want to live.” We need the financiers to come to Toronto and Calgary as much as they go to Wall Street. And for those people to make those sorts of decisions, we have to have great places to live.

People from Toronto are always shocked when I tell them this, but the oil sands are not located under downtown Calgary. That tower is not, in fact, a derrick. The oil sands are a 2.5- to three-hour flight away. So why are all those great, taxpaying, head-office jobs in Calgary and not a slightly longer flight away, in Houston or Shanghai? It’s because people want to live in Calgary. And what makes people want to live in our city is the fact that the transit is good, the road network is good, we have clean water and all those things that make cities work well.

So he mentioned “road network.  How do you get a functioning road network?

It really is about consistent underinvestment by federal and provincial governments in this kind of infrastructure, and particularly transit. Think about the fact that, in all of Canada, there are two cities that have subways. There are fewer subway lines in Canada than there are in the city of Boston.

The reason the United States has so much transit is because the federal government started playing a very significant role in this in the 1960s and ‘70s. In Calgary, in Vancouver, and especially in the GTA, it’s unconscionable how much we have underinvested in our transit systems. Look, I’ll be a rhetorical politician for a minute: Investments in public transit are among the very best investments any government can make. Think about all the benefits that accrue from that: There are environmental benefits. There are real benefits in congestion savings, which means you’re giving citizens back time that has been stolen from them. Transit is also an investment in social mobility, because if you make it easier to live and work and go to school without needing your own car, suddenly you open up the ability to participate in the economy to far more people. But I think our provincial and federal governments have often seen transit as being at the bottom of the list.

You know what, if we won’t build the kind of infrastructure people want, some other city will.  We have seen people leave before and they will do it again. 

Autumn in Mayfair

Mayfair Community School

A quick shot of Mayfair Community School as the neighbourhood changes from summer to fall.

Those narrow roads in Saskatoon that everyone hates

Well they are making new neighbourhoods safer

 The classic American residential street has a 12-foot lane that handles traffic in two directions. And many busy streets in my hometown of Washington, D.C., have eight-foot lanes that function wonderfully. These are as safe and efficient as they are illegal in most of the United States, and we New Urbanists have written about them plenty before, and built more than a few. But what concerns us here are downtown streets, suburban arterials and collectors, and those other streets that are expected to handle a good amount of traffic, and are thus subject to the mandate of free flow.

Second, you should know that these streets used to be made up of 10-foot lanes. Many of them still exist, especially in older cities, where there is no room for anything larger. The success of these streets has had little impact on the traffic-engineering establishment, which, over the decades, has pushed the standard upward, almost nationwide, first to 11 feet, and then to 12. Now, in almost every place I work, I find that certain streets are held to a 12-foot standard, if not by the city, then by a state or a county department of transportation.

In some cases, a state or county controls only a small number of downtown streets. In other cases, they control them all. In a typical city, like Cedar Rapids or Fort Lauderdale, the most important street or streets downtown are owned by the state. In Boise, every single downtown street is owned by the Ada County Highway District, an organization that, if it won’t relinquish its streets to the city, should at least feel obliged to change its name. And states and counties almost always apply a 12-foot standard.

Why do they do this? Because they believe that wider lanes are safer. And in this belief, they are dead wrong. Or, to be more accurate, they are wrong, and thousands of Americans are dead.

They are wrong because of a fundamental error that underlies the practice of traffic engineering—and many other disciplines—an outright refusal to acknowledge that human behavior is impacted by its environment. This error applies to traffic planning, as state DOTs widen highways to reduce congestion, in complete ignorance of all the data proving that new lanes will be clogged by the new drivers that they invite. And it applies to safety planning, as traffic engineers, designing for the drunk who’s texting at midnight, widen our city streets so that the things that drivers might hit are further away.

The logic is simple enough, and makes reasonable sense when applied to the design of high-speed roads. Think about your behavior when you enter a highway. If you are like me, you take note of the posted speed limit, set your cruise control for 5 m.p.h. above that limit, and you’re good to go. We do this because we know that we will encounter a consistent environment free of impediments to high-speed travel. Traffic engineers know that we will behave this way, and that is why they design highways for speeds well above their posted speed limits.

Unfortunately, trained to expect this sort of behavior, highway engineers apply the same logic to the design of city streets, where people behave in an entirely different way. On city streets, most drivers ignore posted speed limits, and instead drive the speed at which they feel safe. That speed is set by the cues provided by the environment. Are there other cars near me? Is an intersection approaching? Can I see around that corner? Are there trees and buildings near the road? Are there people walking or biking nearby? And: How wide is my lane?

So yeah, I hear the complaints out of Evergreen, Hampton Village, and other new neighbourhoods that your narrow streets bug you but they are making those streets safer for children, other cars, and yourselves because you have to drive so slow to navigate them.  You know what, that is a good thing.

I don’t often walk from Confed Bus Terminal

I don't always walk from Confed

Thanks to Hilary for this.

City to eliminate transit entirely

City to eliminate transit

Hilarious.

Going for a walk

A couple of weeks ago a local politicians phoned me up and simply said, “You are stupid and naive”.  That intrigued me so I said, “go on”.  During the conversation I was told the city “actually works” and no one cared about the social issues I was talking about.  I was reminded that “people vote in their own self interests” and they don’t care for others.

They are right.  Statistically I can prove to you that people don’t care about poverty issues.  People don’t care about battered women unless it is an NFL player hitting them.  People don’t care about the children being prostituted or the girls taken from reserves to work the streets.  People don’t care about global warming very much or at least not enough to change.  People don’t care about how we can built a better city.  They only care about their own commute.  The proof is in the hashtag #yxetraffic when there is an accident on Circle Drive.  You would think the world has ended because people are delayed a little bit.

People do care about their taxes.  Personally I have long felt that I am under taxed for the services we get but despite having a really low property tax rate, people tell me all of the time how much tax they pay.  Apparently they don’t read about anyone else’s tax rates.  People care about how rough they have it.  I get letters from people who live in multi million dollar homes on Whiteswan Drive telling me how bad it is there because of the traffic noise.  When I minimized the road design of Saskatchewan Crescent, I got email from many people who live there about how hard it is to live on Saskatchewan Crescent.  I know, who thought the two worst streets to live on are Whiteswan Drive and Saskatchewan Crescent and where do I send a donation to make it better?  

Politicians tell me all of the time of the people that they fear the backlash from.  It’s not those that are struggling.  They don’t donate and they don’t vote.  It’s those who complain about their taxes, who think the city is spending their money in the wrong places, that only care about the pothole on their street.  It is why the communications that the City of Saskatoon ran as soon as the lockout started mentioned keeping a promise to taxpayers (a promise I can’t find anywhere) and putting the blame on the ATU.  Who runs ads attacking the group of people you are supposed to be negotiating with? 

The special city council meeting that was called to vote on the pension changes had a great Q & A with Murray Totland where each councillor lobbed softball question after softball question at him to help build political cover.  What never came up?  What the city was going to do to help people who rely on transit.  

This is a city council that spent hours a couple of years ago debating what kind of fence that the city should build.  Should it be wood, brick, chain link, cement block, a combination of materials?  Seriously, they went around and around over the most minuscule of things.  Yet when a couple of thousand of people were left out in the cold with no transit, there was no discussion at all?

I agree with labour action.  Lockouts and strikes are part of the process.  At the same time this lockout is different.  There are some hard working people that are being negatively affected.

  • A guy I know who pulled himself off the streets lost his job because of not being able to get to work because he lived on the westside yet had a job in the far north side of the city.
  • A waitress I talked to lived on the westside, attends University of Saskatchewan and works downtown.  It’s almost impossible to get to class, work, and home in the same day.  When I went back to talk to her about it, she broke down in tears from just trying to spend an additional three hours a day walking and not being able to get home between class and work.
  • A couple that has been married for 62 years in our neighbourhood was separated last year when Alan had to be placed in a care home because of his dementia.  He doesn’t eat when his wife isn’t there so she takes Saskatoon transit from Mayfair to his care home everyday to help make sure he is okay.  Now she can’t see him and he isn’t eating.  As she said, “I talk to him on the phone but it’s not the same.  I’m so lonely without him”

And where are city councillors?  Well they are refuting a story from the Huffington Post on property taxes but are silent on a transit lockout that is hurting all sorts of people.  I have some on council that I consider friends but as I have told them, they are failing the city as politicians and as human beings.

A couple of people I have talked to have told me that they are leaving Confederation area at 6:30 a.m. to get to work or class on time.  Next Wednesday I am leaving the Confederation Bus terminal at 6:30 a.m. and am walking to the University.  It is 6.1 kms.  Google Maps tells me it is a 90 minute walk.

To keep me company on the walk, I invited City Councillors along with me.  I thought we could talk about some poverty issues and maybe even a little about the lockout.  So far two have gotten back to me on the record. (out of town)

We will be walking through parts of Wards 6, 4, 3, 2 and 1.  

I am not sure why I am doing this except to work through the incredible disappointment I have with all of city council.  It’s not just disappointment with them as politicians (I feel that after every single city council meeting ever) but rather with them as the leaders of the city.  Of my city.  They are hurting people that I spent almost every waking moment for a decade trying to help and none of them even want to acknowledge that they exist.  Maybe by walking with me we can get some sort of understanding of the challenges they face just getting to work or class.

You can come with me if you want.  We can talk minimum wage increases, Saskatoon Transit, and what it is life to work hard and be ignored.  You will see first hand that I can’t type on a phone and walk at the same time.  

I’m not leading a protest.  I’m just trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with a city that hurts that many people and doesn’t think twice about it.  If you have any ideas why, let me know.  Or join me on Wednesday at the Confed Bus Terminal at 6:30 a.m.  I’ll be the guy that looks like me.  Bring your own coffee.

Wendy’s perspective of Nuit Blanche

Wendy's shots from Nuit Blanche

Wendy has a great post of photos that she took at Nuit Blanche.  They are some of her best shots in a fairly challenging low light setting.