Manitoba

Office of Public Engagement to review $334M Winnipeg bike lane project

It will be up to the City of Winnipeg's Office of Public Engagement to take a second look at who was consulted on a huge walking-biking strategy for the city. The staff of newly minted office won't have to look far to find opposition.
It will be up to the City of Winnipeg's Office of Public Engagement to take a second look at who was consulted on a huge cycling and pedestrian strategy for the city. 2:01

It will be up to the City of Winnipeg's Office of Public Engagement to take a second look at who was consulted on a huge cycling and pedestrian strategy for the city.

The $334-million, 20-year strategy would enhance pedestrian corridors and crossings and connect the city in a series of bike paths. But some of the bike paths aren't popular — especially in downtown Winnipeg.

The City of Winnipeg's new Office of Public Engagement is looking into how downtown business owners were consulted during the planning process for a new $334 million bike and pedestrian path network. (Bert Savard/CBC)
The strategy calls for protected bike lanes along several streets downtown, including along Hargrave Street from Broadway to Portage Avenue. 

The owner of Oscar's Deli worries the protected bike lane will eat up precious parking spots his customers use when coming by for lunch. Larry Brown said he doesn't own his own parking lot and relies on the spaces on Hargrave for his customers.

It would be nice if somebody would come by and see what our feelings are on this.- Larry Brown

"lot of them are coming in to eat. They will park there, but mostly it's the pickups ... takeouts," said Brown,

Several business owners contacted by CBC News declined an interview but voiced similar fears they would lose parking to bike lanes.

The pedestrian/cycling strategy was compiled by top consultants in North America and engaged the public through online forums, open houses and phone surveys. It is widely supported by several local bike advocates and groups, including the Downtown Winnipeg Biz. The strategy document says over 3,000 Winnipeggers were surveyed for their opinions about walking and biking in the city.

Not consulted

But Brown wasn't consulted and is a bit cynical about how the public was asked their opinion.
Larry Brown, the owner of Oscar's Deli in downtown Winnipeg, feels he and other business owners were left out of the conversation about how the city's new active transportation plans will affect downtown businesses. (CBC)

"It would be nice if somebody would come by and see what our feelings are on this. I'm not the only one. There are loads of small businesses along Hargrave and Carlton ... the other streets that will be affected."

Michelle Finley is the recently (just two weeks ago) installed acting public engagement officer for the city. She said the mandate of the new office is pretty clear: "To increase consistency and transparency in the way we share information with citizens and ultimately to increase the number of people participating and get feedback on city projects."

The Office of Public Engagement was an election promise made by Mayor Brian Bowman in his pledge to open up City Hall. Little was said of the idea until last week when Bowman passed a motion at his Executive Policy Committee to delay the cycling/pedestrian strategy so the Office of Public Engagement could review how public consultation was done on the project.

Bowman was responding to Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt's public musings that the strategy was ignoring business owners in the downtown.

The Office of Public Engagement burst into life last Friday with a link on the City of Winnipeg's website.

Vote pushed back

The review has pushed back a vote on the entire cycling/pedestrian strategy until June. Michelle Finley said she and the other staff person assigned to the office will examine both sides of how the consultation was done.

"We are looking at things that went well and and we are also looking at things that could have been done better," she said.

But it will take more than that to ease some of deli owner Larry Brown's cynicism. He sees plenty of decisions, especially about planning, done with little actual consultation.

"It's not often they come to the people. It's done behind closed doors, it's decided among councillors."

Finley said the Office of Public Engagement will look at best practices for public consultation used by other cities and review how Winnipeg uses technology to engage citizens for their opinions.

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