Three questions were asked by the Westmount Walking and Cycling Association. The first question concerned the clearing of snow from the bike path. The questioner stated that the path was not cleared several days after a snow storm. As well residents living along the path and some businesses are shovelling snow onto the path. Some portions of the east bound path still have some residual of ice and snow from the first snow fall. This residue of snow turns to ice. It gives the impression that the city doesn’t care about winter cycling. It undermines the test of the bike path which the city had intended for this winter. It is in sharp contrast to the high standard seen on the Montreal section of the bike path. This issue has been brought to the city’s attention several times in the past month to no avail. If the city wants to facilitate winter cycling it should be able to clear 2km bike path to the same standards which it clears about 100 km of sidewalks on a regular basis. It is a lose-lose situation for the city, lost parking revenue and lost opportunity to try a winter bike path. Could the city amend its practice for clearing the bike path for the rest of the winter and try and put something in place that will allow it to be cleared at the same standard as the sidewalks?
The mayor said that when the decision was made to leave the path open for the winter, the bike path would not get priority over pedestrian walks.
Councillor Ikeman said that it is important to set reasonable expectations so we are not disappointed when we compare ourselves to other places. He commented that the city is in transition, transitioning to more and more cycling. He said that the resources of the city do put limitations on what can be done. There are priorities which include fire lanes, schools, commercial areas, 20,000 pedestrians, people who need to use their vehicles to get to work. Allow 3 to 5 days for clearing of snow by which time people who wish to cycle can do so and if weather is inclement they can take public transport. We should compare ourselves to where we were last year and that indicates that we have made great progress.
Councilor Lulham did not agree that the bike path was poorly maintained. She said that she was amazed at how well the path has been plowed. She said that the pedestrian path in the park was not cleaned well but the bike path was very good. She thinks that the city is doing very well, and she has been most impressed. She said that it is winter and if the expectation is to be at asphalt then the questioner does not have the right expectations. She maintained that the path is certainly cyclable.
Another WWCA member agreed that the bike path in the park was quite well maintained but did not agree that the rest of the bike path was well cleaned and said that the WWCA has pictures of the path several days after the snow storm to back up claims that it is not being cleaned properly. It was also pointed out that it is unfair to call it a trial period when cyclists could not use it because of poor maintenance.
The mayor agreed that a trial means that one should put as much as one can on the side of the trial but there is no point in removing snow quicker than would normally be done if the bike path were to remain. He said that perhaps the city could improve it but they are not going to make a night and day difference.
Councilor Duncan said there are several places in Westmount where snow is consistently dumped for purposes of efficiency. They are not trying to impair cyclists. She said that the city had made it clear when they agreed to try the bike path in the winter that the path would not take priority.
The second WWCA question was concerning bringing to Bixi to Westmount. Bixi has proved its popularity among citizens showing a huge increase in riders in 2010 up to 3 million trips.
What is the status of negotiations ? Will the city be able to arrange for Bixi to be installed by April of this year?
The Mayor said that it would be a poor negotiation strategy on the part of the city to tell Bixi that we have to have a deal by April. One of the key questions is cost. He also said that Montreal was now becoming sort of the banker of Bixi signing some of their loan exposures . The city of Montreal is in to Bixi for about 104 milliion dollars. Westmount wants to make sure that they are not getting in to something that is not tenable. The mayor said that there are a lot of questions about the way Bixi is being run. There was a question about the Bixi offices being in a building owned by the president of Bixi.
The director general said that council would like him to discuss a business plan with Bixi to look at what a minimum amount of service would cost and to examine where the pods would be located and to assess the impact of the pods on residents living around them. Will they be adversely affected by them?
The third question asked by the WWCA was about the master traffic plan.
The questioner stated that the WWCA felt that their efforts to understand and provide input to the Master traffic plan since its announcement have either been ignored or frustrated. In June (2010) the WWCA requested traffic data which they had previously confirmed were available, but the request was refused. Convinced that the city’s refusal to share that data was in violation of the Access to Information Act, the WWCA submitted an appeal to the access to information commission. The WWCA informed the city that they would be doing this but received no response. WWCA volunteer members have spent significant time preparing documents which they hoped would help in the preparation of the plan, but have not even received acknowledgement of receipt of those documents let alone comments or an opportunity to discuss their ideas for the plan.
The documents included:
Proposed terms of reference for a walking and cycling component of the plan
Proposed Guiding Principles for the Plan
Proposed new walking and cycling infrastructure
A copy of the NDG Cycling Master Plan
Over the past six months numerous e-mails have been sent to the city relating to the master plan without reply. The WWCA has repeatedly requested a copy of the planned terms of reference and requested a meeting to share ideas for the plan but to no avail. During this time the plan preparation has been steadily moving forward. The questioner pointed out that input early into the process is critical otherwise citizens are left to comment on a fait a accompli. The WWCA feels that this pattern could indicate a lack of commitment on the part of the city to citizen participation and open governance.
Is the city committed to citizen participation and open governance and if so when can we meet with the city representative to discuss our ideas? And when can we receive a copy of draft terms of reference for the plan recognizing that it is not final? What is the status of the plan?
The mayor said that he would be very happy to provide the terms of reference when it is available. The administration has been told that there must be an active transportation element in the plan.
Councillor Ikeman said that the city has been slow with the Master Plan terms of reference development. The city has not seen it. It is coming shortly, they are anxious to see it. Once seen they will give WWCA every opportunity to give input to it.
In terms of meeting someone from the city?
Mr Ikeman replied that no one was withholding information but the city has not had anything to work with. When there is something put forward, at the earliest possible moment with Mr Campbell’s involvement they will try to get something going.
In terms of meeting someone who is working on the plan so we can share our ideas?
The DG said that he had the second draft copy on his desk. He said that his first obligation is to council. It is not a question of just turning out a call for tender. The intent is to seek professional services from these terms of reference which will be of assistance to the city of Westmount. Need to define exactly what we expect so the professionals that will be looking at this project will understand exactly what it is that they have to work on. He would like to get it to council as soon as possible and see what they think of it. Is it comprehensive enough?
The city is under another element of provincial law which makes it a bit more difficult to divulge information about forthcoming professional services and this means the city has other steps to go through.
Could I have an idea of when we could expect to meet with someone to share our ideas even as a one directional process, even if there are restrictions on giving us information.
The mayor replied that once council has seen it, they would be more than happy to talk about it.
He said that he didn’t think a member of the public should see the document before Council had seen it.
Even if we don’t see the document, but just to say “here are our ideas on the master traffic plan”
Coucnillor Lulham said “you sent your document, we all have it, we all read it, we all know it. We are engaging professionals to do this. She said that the DG had stated it quite clearly that it is a big task to come up with terms of reference for all of Westmount.
She told the questioner that at the point where the consultants come back with recommendations, there will be public meetings , then people are very welcome and all the public, all the citizens will be welcome. We can’t favour one group over another.
We are not asking for favouritism.
Councillor Lulham said that she thought that the mayor has been quite clear, that when we have the terms of reference you will be able to see them.