What started out as a plan to add bus lanes to Crowchild Trail and 14th Street in the southwest has become a big public relations problem for the city.

An information session for the southwest transitway became so heated earlier this week that Mayor Naheed Nenshi cancelled the remaining sessions.

Now, the group speaking out against the transit plan is asking the mayor for an apology — something Nenshi calls "ridiculous."

Nenshi has cancelled the rest of the public engagement sessions for the controversial BRT line, a 22-kilometre bus route from Woodbine to the downtown core. He said he heard from city staff that certain people in attendance at Tuesday's meeting were physically and verbally threatening.

"I heard of 20-odd incidents that had happened, including the following: one member of the public saying about one of my colleagues, 'where is that bitch, I'm going to strangle her,'" Nenshi said.

 

Ready to Engage spokesperson Rick Donkers said Friday that Nenshi has "demonized" the group. 

"The mayor is using his office to turn us into the enemy here," he said. "We are simply a small group of concerned citizens who found you can't fight city hall one on one, so we gathered together."

"And for that, we're experiencing the wrath of the mayor."

Enough is enough, says Nenshi

​Nenshi said he's fed up with the conflict. 

"This group has been spreading misinformation about this plan for months, and I've tolerated it, because it's their right to talk about this stuff," said Nenshi.

"But when it comes to this kind of intimidation, I'm not standing for it anymore and it's pretty rich that they're looking for an apology."

Donkers told The Eyeopener Thursday morning that his group wasn't responsible for any of the incidents that took place at the meeting. 

"Show me where Ready to Engage has incited anyone," Donkers said. "It's the city's lack of answers that have frustrated people."

Nenshi 'extraordinarily disappointed' over southwest rapid-transit meetings0:50

 

Nenshi fired back, saying one Ready to Engage member allegedly hit and pushed a city staff member. Group members were also stationed outside the meeting, urging people to sign Ready to Engage's petition.

Project already approved

Ready to Engage is to blame for the heated, confrontational nature of the public information sessions, said Nenshi.

"It's this group. It's that simple," he said. "It's two bus lanes on a road within the existing road right of way that do not take away any car lanes. It's better transit service for people who need it to Rockyview Hospital and Mount Royal University."

Donkers accused Nenshi of avoiding questions about ridership studies or the budget for the trip by focusing on the events of Tuesday's meeting.

But the plan for the southwest BRT has already been approved and funded, and these sessions were simply meant to give citizens the chance to have their say in fine-tuning the design, Nenshi said.

"Of course there have been ridership studies," he said. "We can talk about the budget but it doesn't justify this behaviour."

In place of face-to-face public engagement sessions, the city is ramping up its online engagement for the project. 

Donkers said Ready to Engage will continue to urge residents of southwest Calgary to press the city on its plan for the BRT.

"The mayor continues to divert attention from the real issues, which are the legitimate questions that we raise," he said. 

With files from the CBC's Erika Stark