Tag Archives: Saskatoon Transit

What I Want My Mayor To Be

Well that was fun.  My column this morning on the Mayor missing the first day of the Big City Mayor’s Conference got a lot of feedback.  When I say feedback, what I am really saying is that most people hope I move out of the city soon.

One friend asked me that if I was Atch’s chief of staff, what would I do to make him a better mayor in 2016.  I really don’t have a problem with Atch personally and I think some things can’t change but here would be my list for what I think any mayor should do.

  1. Represent us on the national stage well.  That means showing up for things like the Big City Mayor’s Caucus when the federal government changes.
  2. Engage the population well.  Nenshi, Tory, Ivison, and a lot of other mayors use Twitter to not only communicate but listen to citizens.   He needs a website.  My preference would be that we did mayor.saskatoon.ca but even mayorofsaskatoon.ca would work as his platform for which to inform the public.  A couple of years ago I visited Michael Bloomberg’s mayoral website.  I was blown away but the design and the content.  I could find essential services information, New York City research, and all of his initiatives.  Really, how much does that cost?  It’s all being prepared anyways, so why not make it available to the citizens.  Using social media, you can not only talk to people but listen and make them feel heard and connection to their mayor.  Some do it better than others but there are people who have ideas, problems, and issues with the city.  Give them a voice and help them be heard.
  3. Be transparent: That debate over Atch posting his schedule online (which he did exactly once) was insane.  All he has to do is post the special interests he meets with.   Nenshi does this on this website.  It lists community groups, consular visitors, business leaders, and the occasional celebrity.  It doesn’t give away secret negotiations (which the Mayor doesn’t often do, city managers do) or even his lunch plans.  It does let Calgarians know what their mayor is up to and what people are shaping his decisions.  Why can’t Saskatoon’s mayor do the same thing?  Why can’t the Mayor of Saskatoon have the same disclosure as councilors do over travel and other expenses? 
  4. Acknowledge all of the data that is out there instead of going, “Saskatoon is different”.  This isn’t just about complete streets, density, homelessness, suburban sprawl, bike lanes, or policing.  It is all of them.  Other cities have fought our battles, been confronted by our problems (and found solutions) and many have researched the results.  Yet that kind of thinking if rarely shown in Saskatoon.  It is the kind of thinking that should come from a Mayor’s chair.  They are the one that is there full time, has a staff, and sets the tone.  Can you imagine a data driven City Hall adopting best practices from across the continent?  No I can’t either.  Is it too late to recruit Michael Bloomberg into Saskatoon?
  5. Be able to articulate where you want the city to go and become.  I am not just saying “1 million people” but do you want it to be a car driven city that is all about freeways or a city based around public transit and alternative forms of transportation?  You can’t be for everything, have a vision and drive it.  Let the people decide what they want, if it isn’t that vision, well that is the cost of leadership.
  6. Be financially responsible but understand the need for good investments that will save the city money down the line.
  7. Hire the best managers in the country.  Get managers who will push council as much as they will be directed by them.  Calgary’s manager calling for investment in the city was great.  Jen Keesmat calling out John Tory’s plan for the Gardiner Expressway is how cities are supposed to work.  Strong leaders bring conflict but they also bring out great ideas because they are all working on making Saskatoon a world class city.  I loved to see Mike Gutek battle with City Council, not because I liked to watch the fireworks but because I honestly felt that we were making progress as a city during those questions and answers.  Hard questions were asked and hard answers were given back.  That is often where progress is made.   On the flip side, the transit debacle showed that competence is hard to come by in our own City Council and administration when they locked out the ATU once illegally and then tried to do it again.   If you are going to lock out the transit drivers and make your own citizens going through hardships, at least do it correctly.  Maybe it is time to look outside the city for top talent.
  8. Speak bluntly about the city’s issues.  I miss Ralph Klein but we all know what Calgary was going through when I lived there.  The same thing with Nenshi today.  We are going to face some challenges ahead and some of them are because of the federal and provincial governments.  Others are going to be from the business and non-profit communities.  Call a spade a spade.  The Mayor doesn’t need to be everyone’s best friend, they need to be the leader of the city with our interests at heart.
  9. Go the galas but attend the community barbecues as well.  There are a lot of people in this city that will never be able to afford a Mayor’s Cultural Gala or Swinging with the Stars but things like a community barbecue mean a lot to them.  Be at the events on both sides of the river and for all economic classes.  There is more to the westside then the Farmer’s Market.

I don’t know if anyone running has those traits but the more they do, the better off the city will be.

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.

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.

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.

Contextless Thoughts

  • After the Saskatoon Transit lockout is done, I can’t see Ann Iwanchuk winning a second full term.  Especially with Mike San Miguel quietly running again.  Her campaign was largely financed by labour and with the city attacking the ATU like it did, her slim margin of victory, her constituents relying on Transit heavily, and a lack of a signature issue so far, it could be really tough to win re-election.
  • It could hurt Clark and Loewen with their base and could mobilize the non voting parts of Ward 2 to really hurt Lorje.  I am not saying councillors will lose their seats but rather could face much tougher re-election races than they would have.  The right opponents will capitalize on this.
  • Despite what people think, this won’t hurt the mayor at all.  That is what the attack ads are targeted to protect (at the expense of councillors).  In many ways he could come out of this the winner, especially if this weakens rivals and empowers his base which to be honest, never rides a bus.
  • Of course the city being the city, coincided the lockout with the Mayor’s Cultural Gala.  You had some city councillors tweeting pictures of the city’s elite having a fun time while lower class people were being kicked off buses and having to walk home.  
  • Why would the city run attack ads against the very union it needs to negotiate with on the first day.  Saskatoon already has laughable communications and that didn’t exactly make the city look good.  Of course the political nature of the ads was bizarre.  Several city councillors swore to me that they never had any foreknowledge of the ads until they ran but both city staff and some others on council say that council saw and approved the ads in an in-camera session of executive committee.  It’s not exactly breaking news that council members lie to me on issues.  
  • Speaking of executive committees, it would be a lot easier for them to lie to me if council and staff stopped leaking what happened in there.  If only they had a way to investigate the leaks…
  • I have had several discouraging conversations with people who are utterly dependent on the bus for work, to provide care for a spouse who is in a nursing home, to get to school.  In Saskatoon we call those people collateral damage.
  • It is weird to hear councillors go all out in defence of their real fiduciary duty but ignore their responsibility to those who rely on a public service.  Empathy for those who have been hurt by this strike has not been something that has been communicated well.
  • I don’t really miss the NFL.  You would think I would after watching it every week since 1987 but I haven’t.   I glance at some scores but other than that, I haven’t really missed it.  I still have some college football, the Huskies, and the CFL but I have never cared about them like the NFL.
  • Brady Hoke needs to be fired from the University of Michigan.  He sent back out a quarterback with a concussion back onto the field.  That should be a fireable offence in any league (including when the Calgary Stampeders did it a couple of years ago in a playoff game against the Riders).  You send out a player with a brain injury, you are fired or suspended, especially in the NCAA.
  • What could Stephen Harper be thinking?  $300,000 courtesy ride for a couple of European diplomats because he wanted to have them at a reception?  Does he just not care anymore?  That does not look like a move by a politician who is planning on re-election.  Not only that but there is still widespread opposition to the deal in Germany.
  • The NFL is talking with Texas head coach Charlie Strong who has taken some strong steps in dealing with player misconduct. “We can’t compromise and sometimes that means getting rid of the best player.”
  • If you are a big company and you want to associate your brand with a strong event, I’d talk to the people behind Nuit Blanche right now.  Over 5000 people were on 20th Street last night for the inaugural event and it was a big time success.  People were partying, shopping, and hanging out all over the place.  What a great event.  Someone needs to step up and get behind it in 2015 monetarily so it can get bigger.
  • After reading this piece by Cathal Kelly, you will realize that the Blue Jays will never get any better than they are now.  So yeah, that kind of sucks.

The Problem with City Centre Church

This isn’t a theological post so don’t worry.  It’s actually about urban design and it’s a problem that Safeway/City of Saskatoon created, City Centre Church just inherited.  For those of you who don’t know, City Centre Church bought an old Safeway store on 20th Street.  I walk by periodically and something about it has really bothered me.  Now the obvious would be the graffiti on the side of the building, I am a bigger fan of Bon Jovi than I am of hip hop but the art is well done and I don’t think it takes away from the neighbourhood, in fact it adds to it.  I like the blue paint that they painted the building in so that isn’t it (It’s a slightly different blue than the photo below).  As I walked down 20th and was looking at it, I realized what it is that bothers me about it, it’s parking lot.

City Centre Church on 20th Street in Saskatoon
City Centre Church on 20th Street in Saskatoon

Like all old Safeway stores (and new ones as well), they are dominated by a large parking lot in front of the store.  While at the 33rd Street Safeway or the Co-Op on 33rd, you don’t notice it because of the amount of people parked there during the day but with a church, it’s parking lot sits empty much of the week.  The size of (empty) parking lot kills any pedestrian flow on the street, especially when it takes up an entire city block.  It almost ends the commercial district on 20th.  Even worse, the city has a bus stop right in the middle of it that doesn’t have a bus shelter which means that when it is –40 degrees out, it is possibly the worse bus stop in all of Saskatoon to wait at.

The solution isn’t too hard but would come with a cost to the City Centre Church parking lot and the city`s budget (in a commercial business, the loss of a couple of parking spots could be offset by a reduction in taxes but since City Centre is church, no such luck).  The photos from Google Street View are out dated and don`t do the church justice.  The church has a nice sky blue/grey paint job that looks pretty good.  I would steal an idea from Winnipeg and do two things, I would find a way to revitalize the sidewalk and incorporate the streetscape into the church and bring some of the church, into the streetscape. 

The sidewalk is already a double wide sidewalk which would be perfect for trees and benches along the same look and design as what is front of White Buffalo Youth Lodge.

image

It would soften the front of the parking lot, provide some continuity to 20th Street (trees stop for some reason at 20th and Avenue E) and it would provide an opportunity to do something innovative with the bus stop (3093) in front of City Centre Church.  Instead of putting up one of the rather bland and poorly proportioned bus shelters that the city is putting in (often on a slight angle that drives me crazy), why not do what Winnipeg is doing and that is incorporating bus stops into nearby buildings by using their architecture to inspire the bus stops.  The bus shelter below is from Winnipeg and features design features from the office building in behind it.

Bus shelter in Winnipeg

The obvious design implementation would be the paint job from City Centre Church.  While the design isn’t classic, it does feature the curved Safeway roof that would be fun to mimic.  I am sure an agreement could be made with the church that if they change their color scheme, the bus stop would be repainted as well in matching colors.  If you really wanted to go all out, you could use some of Charlie Clark’s ideas to make the city more liveable in winter and heat the shelter during the winter.  As I wrote before, I was amazed that even in –40 weather in WInnipeg, I was able to take off my toque, undo my jacket, gloves and actually use my Blackberry in the shelter without freezing any extremities.    Whatever you think of the current Saskatoon Transit bus shelters (I don’t like them), they provide no shelter from the cold and even then not much shelter from the wind and the rain.  In addition to the money it would cost the city to build, it would also cost the church a couple of parking spots although if it was up to me, I think the addition of something like an architecturally congruent bus stop may be worth it.  The other advantage, especially in the case of City Centre Church is that it would be a great place for servant evangelism

I am not just picking on City Centre Church.  The same could and should be done to the Safeway on 33rd bus stop (it’s at an angle, drives me crazy), Mayfair United Church, in addition to a variety of places downtown.  Basically any building along a commercial street that is backed away from the street and changes pedestrian flow.  Architecturally sensitive bus stops would be a great addition to a variety of these locations, including Innovation Place, downtown, and even by some of the malls.   It would soften the streetscapes, create some community focal points/landmarks, and make riding Saskatoon a lot more pleasant in the winter.

Update: I believe the Riversdale Local Area Plan calls for some improvements and continuity to the streetscaping along 20th Street but my paper copy is at the office and the City of Saskatoon`s website is timing out while downloading the PDF.  So much for storing things in the cloud.