Category Archives: Saskatoon

Contextless Saskatoon City Council Thoughts

1.  I have been asked many times lately if I am running for public office.  The answer is never.  Seriously, I am never running for office so stop asking.  I don’t take politicians seriously and I find myself laughing at many of their first world politician problems.  I could never do it.  Well I could but it would in the same way The Onion covers the world news.

2.  There will be a few winnable seats on Saskatoon City Council.  If Randy Donauer and Eric Olauson win, that will create vacancies in Ward 5 and 8.  If Charlie Clark runs for Mayor, that opens up Ward 6.  At one time I thought because of the transit lockout that Ann Iwanchuk might be vulnerable but that has come and gone and no one cared so her seat is safe.

2a.  As for by-elections for Donauer’s seat (if he wins) whoever wins that would be kind of vulnerable because of a lack of time they would have to establish themselves.  I think as Mairin Loewen and Ann Iwanchuk showed, it also means that your campaign machine is still ready to go.  It could even be an advantage.  Although I doubt anyone who has to run back to back campaigns would think of it as an advantage.

3.  I was really uncomfortable seeing both Eric Olauson, Randy Donauer and Troy Davies bill the City of Saskatoon $700 each for the Mayor’s Cultural Gala. (the report is here)  Not only did they charge their tickets but also for their dates.  I know it’s not against the rules but since that is the case, something is wrong with the rules.  That is taxpayers money for what is largely an evening out.  It was also the eve of locking out the transit workers and causing a lot of hardship for a lot of people.  The optics of it are horrible and in Olauson’s case, it really damages his credibility as a fiscal hawk when he is lined up at the taxpayers trough.

3a.  I was also uncomfortable glancing at the 2013 expenses and seeing Troy Davies submit a bill for a Synergy 8 event, a charity he helped found.    It’s only $75 but it is an event his organization put together.  I am not saying it is against the rules (apparently it isn’t), I am just shocked we allow that kind of thing.  It is like council voted themselves a social fund and all them are using it.  

4.  Speaking of fundraisers, apparently your city councillor doesn’t really want to support your cause as they billed a lot of fundraisers big and small to the city.  If they don’t want to go, why go and why charge the taxpayers for it?  How can this not be against the rules?  It looks like we are paying them to go to social events to be seen.  This is called campaigning.  Why is this allowed? Look at who wrote them.

5.  I am also a bit disgusted with taxpayers paying for councillor domain names and hosting.  I have long said that a system like darrenhill.saskatoon.ca or anniwanchuk.saskatoon.ca would work for councillor sites at a cost of nothing to the city.  Not only do we pay (a lot) for domain hosting and registration but then those same domains are used as election tools which are essentially promoted by taxpayer money during their time in office.   Again, not allowed in other many other cities but here we are, allowing it here.  Of course some the expenses are high because I think that some are being taken advantage of.  When I mean, some, that is us again.

6.  Take a look at Darren Hill’s travel expenses for 2014.  I love that he included a trip that did not cost taxpayers money.  Next year I want him to submit a line in there for a Slurpee that someone bought for him.  It actually makes some sense.  He travels for SUMA and to avoid the perception he is flying on our money, he reminds us that he flew on someone else’s money.  Still, I want to see a comped Slurpee in there.

7.  Even weirder in the expenses is that all councillors have to submit a line by line expense report while the mayor submits a lump sum?  Someone explain that to me.  Yes the majority of this expenses go to pay Richard Brown.  That is fine and I have no problems with that but why not be transparent with the rest of your expenses.  If you don’t have anything to hide, then why not make it available.  If you do have something to hide, why submit the expense.  It’s really weird that we have one standard for councillors and one for the mayor.    At executive committee, he was asked to provide a breakdown on his expenses, he said he would “consider it”.  Transparency in action folks.

8.  So on one extreme is Toronto where mayoral campaigns debate every hour or so (I kept expecting Chow, Ford, and Tory to show up at the Rook and Raven one night to debate) to the Saskatoon example of one debate.  I would love to see a middle ground (slanted heavily towards the Saskatoon model) of 3 to 5 debates on different issues.  I’d watch a debate on the future of downtown, poverty issues on the westside, urban planning, and transportation/transit.  I wonder if we can make that happen for this election.

9.  If Randy Donauer loses his election, I can’t see it hurting a re-election bid in Ward 5.  Darren Hill was destroyed when he ran federally and was re-elected handily in Ward 1.  I am told by all candidates that a local campaign is worth about 3% in terms of winning votes.  If you blow a close campaign, you blame yourself but at least you got close, you get blown out, chances are it’s the party leader or platform (or a really unpopular federal/provincial govt).

10.  Everyone asks me about if Pat Lorje can win again in Ward 2 which is odd since I live in Ward 1.  Professor Dave McGrane called the leak thing “inside baseball” which means that it is really important to politicos and the media but not that important to voters.  My take is that it will enrage those that won’t vote for her.  I think the bigger danger for any long term incumbent is the population growth and change in the ward.  If enough new people come in, then for all intents and purposes, you lose the advantages of incumbency.  

11.  Personally I think Lorje is vulnerable to a Karl Rove strategy of running against a candidates strengths which is a strong base in Montgomery and Caswell  A campaign that was about the noise from South Circle Drive, failure to stop the wind turbine, the new apartments that Montgomery hated, the new location of the city yards, lack noise walls along tracks, 33rd Street widening, and crime in Caswell.  Instead of trying to get voters to come out in King George, you try to keep her voters from voting.  You saw it in Alberta.  A lot of Progressive Conservative voters stayed home and that hurt them in close races.  It’s a lot easier said that done but I’d expect a couple of candidates to run, especially one from the businesses on 20th Street.

12. I love the debate going on between Toronto Chief City Planner Jen Keesmat and Mayor John Tory.  Two different visions of the Gardiner Expressway (Keesmat is right) but they are able to co-exist.  This is what you get when you have a strong independent city planner.  Saskatoon’s has always been part of the City Hall administration which as the city grows, it may be beneficial for more independence rather then the “one voice” strategy that now exists in City Hall.

13. I don’t get the lawsuit for the South Circle Drive delays against Stantec construction.  It says that Stantec didn’t supervise the project closely enough and therefore it was delayed.  Umm, then who from the city was supervising Stantec and are they responsible?  Why wasn’t Stantec replaced (or penalized) when things started to go bad?  Of course there are some other lawsuits that are happening with other developers.  Do we not have the capacity in the city to even tender out and supervise the projects we need?  I’d love to hear the other sides from this.

13a.  When you don’t hire FTEs like councillors Olauson and Donauer hate, you have to hire outside companies like Stantec which not only cost much more money but also lack accountability.  You aren’t saving money by cutting FTEs you are costing the city more.

14. The city has a problem with 15% vacancy rate downtown (that doesn’t include the old police station).  Where is City Council on this.  A strong downtown is important to all us but I haven’t heard anything from City Admin, Council, or even SREDA.  Is there a plan being executed to help with it?  Do they disagree that it is a problem?  Is there even a plan to fix it?

15. I can’t get excited about the glut of hotels.  A couple of years ago Tourism Saskatoon was saying that the lack of hotels was a major problem for the city.  Now we have a glut which happens when you have a boom, developers from all over scramble to build, especially in areas like the airport business area.  Then there is a glut and that will remain until our population grows again and there is a shortage.  The good news?  Our hotel rates will finally be closer to Calgary’s rather than Manhattans.

Okay, those are just some random thoughts I have been thinking.  Let me know if you agree or disagree with them below.

A “high end” option for Saskatoon Transit

I read this today.

There’s a new private service in San Francisco offering luxury bus rides to downtown from a few select neighborhoods. For $6 each way, Leap buses have free wifi, usb ports, and sell coffee and fresh juice on board during commutes. Leap is just one of a slew of new startups that are providing luxury or private transit services in the context of San Francisco’s often overcrowded and less than stellar public transit.

Muni has been struggling to keep up with its ridership for awhile, and recently announced a plan to improve its service. Under the plan, Muni’s service hours will increase by 2.5%. The bus shelters will receive slight improvements, like better maps, solar-powered lights that will glow even when it’s foggy, and bike racks. Muni will also try to meet service standards with more regularity. These upgrades are much needed and long awaited, but whether or not they will result in meaningful improvement to Muni has yet to be seen.

In the meantime, services like Leap are trying to corner a sector of the market that public transit just isn’t satisfying. Although Leap may reek of elitism, it is also shaking up transit industry and may drive the public sector to improve. Companies like Leap are much more flexible and experimental than public transit, and as a result, are the ones driving innovation in transit. One great feature of Leap, for instance, is that riders can pay using their smartphones or even check in via bluetooth so that they don’t even have to touch their phones. Riders can also check their phones to know how far away the bus is and how many seats are left.

I have wondered why STC hasn’t had a high end passenger service to Regina for years.  You know, wifi, usb and power ports, good coffee and drinks onboard between here and the Queen City and charge premium for it.  Similar to what Red Arrow does in Alberta between Calgary and Edmonton.

I also wonder if something like this would as an enhanced BRT service in Saskatoon.  A high end option for those that do want to pay more.  More spacious seating, a cup of fine coffee, wifi for the trip from Lawson Heights, Confed Mall or The Centre.  More realistically from a regional mandate that took commuters from Martinsville or Warman and back.

Howard Coad School’s playground

Howard Coad School's flooded playground

I took this photo while walking with Wendy through Mount Royal Park near Howard Coad School.  After uploading it to Flickr, it was was viewed by a couple of thousand people and selected by Flickr to be a part of Explore. 

Weird thing is that I don’t think that highly of it but Flickr disagrees.  

For those of you who care about these kind of things, it was taken with my Pentax K-30 and the smc Pentax 35mm DA f/2.4 lens.

The Law of Induced Demand

The long term impact of Saskatoon’s planning and development path

I GREW UP in Los Angeles, the city by the freeway by the sea. And if there’s one thing I’ve known ever since I could sit up in my car seat, it’s that you should expect to run into traffic at any point of the day. Yes, commute hours are the worst, but I’ve run into dead-stop bumper-to-bumper cars on the 405 at 2 a.m.

As a kid, I used to ask my parents why they couldn’t just build more lanes on the freeway. Maybe transform them all into double-decker highways with cars zooming on the upper and lower levels.

Except, as it turns out, that wouldn’t work. Because if there’s anything that traffic engineers have discovered in the last few decades it’s that you can’t build your way out of congestion. It’s the roads themselves that cause traffic.

The concept is called induced demand, which is economist-speak for when increasing the supply of something (like roads) makes people want that thing even more. Though some traffic engineers made note of this phenomenon at least as early as the 1960s, it is only in recent years that social scientists have collected enough data to show how this happens pretty much every time we build new roads. These findings imply that the ways we traditionally go about trying to mitigate jams are essentially fruitless, and that we’d all be spending a lot less time in traffic if we could just be a little more rational.

But before we get to the solutions, we have to take a closer look at the problem. In 2009, two economists—Matthew Turner of the University of Toronto and Gilles Duranton of the University of Pennsylvania—decided to compare the amount of new roads and highways built in different U.S. cities between 1980 and 2000, and the total number of miles driven in those cities over the same period.

“We found that there’s this perfect one-to-one relationship,” said Turner.

If a city had increased its road capacity by 10 percent between 1980 and 1990, then the amount of driving in that city went up by 10 percent. If the amount of roads in the same city then went up by 11 percent between 1990 and 2000, the total number of miles driven also went up by 11 percent. It’s like the two figures were moving in perfect lockstep, changing at the same exact rate.

Now, correlation doesn’t mean causation. Maybe traffic engineers in U.S. cities happen to know exactly the right amount of roads to build to satisfy driving demand. But Turner and Duranton think that’s unlikely. The modern interstate network mostly follows the plan originally conceived by the federal government in 1947, and it seems incredibly coincidental that road engineers at the time could have successfully predicted driving demand more than half a century in the future.

A more likely explanation, Turner and Duranton argue, is what they call the fundamental law of road congestion: New roads will create new drivers, resulting in the intensity of traffic staying the same.

Intuitively, I would expect the opposite: that expanding a road network works like replacing a small pipe with a bigger one, allowing the water (or cars) to flow better. Instead, it’s like the larger pipe is drawing more water into itself. The first thing you wonder here is where all these extra drivers are coming from. I mean, are they just popping out of the asphalt as engineers lay down new roads?

The answer has to do with what roads allow people to do: move around. As it turns out, we humans love moving around. And if you expand people’s ability to travel, they will do it more, living farther away from where they work and therefore being forced to drive into town. Making driving easier also means that people take more trips in the car than they otherwise would. Finally, businesses that rely on roads will swoop into cities with many of them, bringing trucking and shipments. The problem is that all these things together erode any extra capacity you’ve built into your street network, meaning traffic levels stay pretty much constant. As long as driving on the roads remains easy and cheap, people have an almost unlimited desire to use them.

You might think that increasing investment in public transit could ease this mess. Many railway and bus projects are sold on this basis, with politicians promising that traffic will decrease once ridership grows. But the data showed that even in cities that expanded public transit, road congestion stayed exactly the same. Add a new subway line and some drivers will switch to transit. But new drivers replace them. It’s the same effect as adding a new lane to the highway: congestion remains constant. (That’s not to say that public transit doesn’t do good, it also allows more people to move around. These projects just shouldn’t be hyped up as traffic decongestants, say Turner and Duranton.)

Interestingly, the effect works in reverse, too. Whenever some city proposes taking lanes away from a road, residents scream that they’re going to create a huge traffic snarl. But the data shows that nothing truly terrible happens. The amount of traffic on the road simply readjusts and overall congestion doesn’t really increase.

Of course the last paragraph is exactly how downtown Saskatoon will survive University Bridge being shut down and Better Bike Lanes.  It is also why road diets will work.