Monday 26 December 2011

Destroying brand new infrastructure: It's a Winnipeg Thing

For a person who only bikes a half-dozen times a year, I'm surprisingly supportive of active transportation infrastructure. In a quiet sort of way though. I don't go around pushing the active transportation gospel on unwilling victims, and I realize that regardless of how much you try to develop it, only a very small percentage of people will ever commute by pedal power in a city as sprawling as Winnipeg.

However, I would love to see an integrated network of paths that would let me bike around the city without having to compete with vehicular traffic, and was therefore pumped when the brand new Bishop Grandin Trail West opened late last year. Now, if I wanted to I could bike all the way to Assiniboine Park or my friend's place in White Ridge without riding on a major road!

Winnipeg's newest active transportation corridor claimed the starring role in this year's International Trails Day festivities in Winnipeg, and earned sparkling praise from Winnipeg's AT Madame Janice Lukes: "This new trail is a stellar example of community connectivity."

It also happens to be a stellar example of poor planning, because this is what the trail looks like now:

Less than a year after it was paved, the trail was torn up and the communities are connected no more. That's about $2 million of trail torn up to make way for the construction of the Kenaston extension through Waverly West -- something that has been planned for over six years.*

I suspect the Winnipeg Trails Association is in denial because they have not yet recognized this destruction on their web site. Both the Bishop Grandin Trail West map and their spiffy new BETA version map show the trail as being intact, which it very much is not. In fact, there are "No Trespassing" signs at the start of the trail section (which I, um, didn't notice until after I had taken the above photo. I mean, after my Research Assistant Julio took the photo.)

How does this happen? This particular section of trail was funded by the Municipal Rural Infrastructure Fund, which is an extension of the Canada-Manitoba Infrastructure Program. This is separate from the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund that gave birth to many other active transportation improvements of questionable wisdom, but like that program this one is a use-it-or-lose-it affair with a specific deadline for spending your money. I have noticed that putting a drop dead date on spending money will ensure the money gets spent, but greatly increases the chance that it will be spent poorly.

I can't tell you if this botched trail was a result of deadline-related pressure, or bad communication, or something else, but there is really no excuse for it. Somebody at City Hall needs to oversee this stuff and connect the dots. I've heard of other instances where a road was repaved, only to be torn up right away for sewer repairs or some such thing. Perhaps a big chunk of Winnipeg's multi-gazillion dollar infrastructure deficit it due to one $50k/year slacker who spends his time on Twitter instead of cross referencing project dates?

Anyhow, at some future time we'll get to see if this stellar example of community connectivity will be reconnected, and if there will be some reasonable way to navigate the new intersection at Bishop and Kenaston. I sure hope so, because some day I might actually want to hop on my bike and ride to Assiniboine Park for the afternoon. Well, okay ... I'll probably take the car, but it would be really nice having that option of biking though.

* Waverley West Area Structure Plan, December 2005. Dollar value estimated based on this article that specs $20m for 12 km of trail. Total length of trail between Waverly & Scurfield is 1.8 km, much of which is torn up,

did you know: that the MTS Centre got $34 million from the Canada-Manitoba Infrastructure Program?

Sunday 18 December 2011

The speed limit is too low. I have proof.

If you follow local Winnipeg news, you probably heard about the kerfuffle over a photo radar speed trap at Grant Ave. and Nathaniel St. where the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and anti-speed trap advocates Wise-Up Winnipeg are urging people not to pay their tickets because they believe the speeds aren't being measured properly.

Earlier in the year, Wise-Up Winnipeg also questioned whether the speed limit was properly posted on this stretch of road.

Here's the thing: even if the speed limit signage is posted correctly, and even if the radars are calibrated properly, these tickets should never have been issued. Why? Because the speed limit itself is incorrect.

This is not just my opinion. It is fact. I'll explain: In 2003 a report was submitted by the Winnipeg Public Works Department titled "SPEED LIMIT ON GRANT AVENUE AND ON KENASTON BOULEVARD". The report was conducted by traffic analysts and signed by J.A.Thomson, Director of Public Works. It has since been removed from the City of Winnipeg web site (at least I can't find it) but I happen to have a copy.

It's conclusion:

"The measured 85th percentile speeds on Grant Avenue between Stafford Street and Kenaston Boulevard and on Kenaston Boulevard between Grant Avenue and Academy Road range between 61 and 68 km/h. The collision rates ... are comparable to the city-wide average of 3.3 on regional streets with similar characteristics. Based on this information and on the widely accepted practice for setting speed limits using the 85th percentile speed, it is reasonable to set 60 km/hr speed limits on Grant Avenue between Stafford Street and Kenaston Boulevard and on Kenaston Boulevard between Grant Avenue and Academy Road. Furthermore, it is expected that making these changes ... will (i) result in more efficient transportation routes along these streets, (ii) reduce the incidence of short-cutting traffic on adjacent residential streets, and (iii) provide motorists travelling along these routes with a more consistent driving environment in terms of uniformity in speed limits."
When this study was brought before council it was rejected for unspecified reasons:
"The Standing Policy Committee on Public Works did not concur in the administrative recommendation and therefore did not increase the speed limit.
Further, the Standing Policy Committee on Public Works requested that in the future, consideration of speed limits be referred initially to the Ward Councillor and if necessary to the respective Community Committee." (soucre: Minutes - Standing Policy Committee on Public Works - January 13, 2003)
The traffic analysts collected all this data, did all that analysis, and council just tossed it into the garbage can without any apparent consideration. Even if the policy is good the optics are bad, therefore the elected councillors won't even touch it. Get the Community Committee to agree and maybe we'll consider it ... as if that will ever happen. That's leadership for you.

There is a permanent red light camera installed on Kenaston Boulevard between Grant Avenue and Academy Road at Corydon Ave., and this Nathaniel St. mobile speed trap is on Grant Avenue between Stafford Street and Kenaston Boulevard. In both cases tickets are being issued to drivers that are driving a safe speed according to traffic industry standards. It is immoral and objectionable and counter-productive to issue speeding tickets to people in areas where you KNOW the speed limits are too low.

The reason I found this study in the first place is because a few years ago I was nailed with a photo radar ticket on Kenaston Blvd. I challenged it in court. I presented this study as evidence to show that the speed I was driving was safe according to accepted standards and argued that enforcing this ticket violated the intent of the law, which ultimately is to make streets safer. In fact, enforcing an artificially low speed limit can make streets more dangerous because it causes speed differentials to increase (less consistency in the speeds people drive) which leads to increased accident rates.

Unfortunately the judge I got was completely incapable of comprehending this argument. "But .... you were going over the speed limit."

GAAAAAA! This is why you're almost at retirement and still stuck working traffic court! (I didn't say that out loud.)

Perhaps if I had appealed I would have got a judge with a capacity for independent thought and abstract concepts, but appealing takes time and money and I wasn't up for the challenge at the time. However, if one of you have recently been dinged with a ticket in one of these areas, I will gladly send you this study and I will give you my full support and encouragement as you attempt to fight your ticket.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Derelict Properties Bylaw?

The news that the City of Winnipeg seized an apartment building under their vacant building bylaw stoked up a little idea that was smoldering amongst the moss and twigs in my mind: Perhaps this bylaw could be expanded to include empty lots as well.

I am thinking of a couple in particular. One is on Portage avenue between Edmonton and Kennedy St. It used to be a small park with giant jelly beans that you can sit on, and apparently had a name other than "Jelly Bean Park" which is what I called it, but I don't recall what that name was. It was purchased by a fellow named Ray Rybachuk, fellow developer Russ Knight and his lawyer friend Ken Carroll who came forward with a plan to build a 12-story office and parkade there. That plan was probably a ruse from the beginning, as nothing ever happened there and it doesn't appear as though anything ever will. Instead, the park was turned into a make-shift gravel parking lot that violates every rule the city has about surface parking lots, which are an eye sore at the best of times. (See the bottom of this post for more dirt on Raymond J Rybachuk.)

If only the city had some sort of way to reclaim emply lots by law that are being willfully misused by derelict owners. We could call it a "bylaw" or something. Yeah, a "derelict property bylaw". That sounds catchy!

Honesty though, the city should have the ability to reclaim this land, as the owner is clearly not going to develop it as intended and is blatantly flouting city rules. It is also an ugly "missing tooth" on a high visibity street, and thus has greater negative impact than just any old vacant lot. Perhaps if the rules had more teeth, like the ability of the city to secure this property, then owners like Rybachuk might be more inclined to get their act together.

Another property that I fear may befall the same fate is the old Fat Angel lot on Main Street. Yes, I know what I said:

There are certain buildings that are just so ugly -- so disfiguring to the urban streetscape -- that they must be destroyed, even if it means replacing them with a gravel parking lot.
but to be fair, one of my staffers wrote that piece because I was busy smoking pot and counting ceiling tiles. I am slightly worried though: cars are starting to appear on the site of the old Fat Angel on Main -- another high visibility area -- although they may only be on what used to be the paved area behind the old building. However this may creep into becoming a full blown contraband gravel parking lot as well.

We need a carrot and stick policy. There should be incentives or encouragement for developing crucial areas like this, possibly including access to Tax Increment Financing. The city also needs to get out of the way of progress. There are numerous stories of costly red tape, most recently Basil's fight for a simple liquor license to reopen an establishment in Osborne Village. But there also needs to be a stick to move things along and prevent abuse.

Ray Rybachuk does not have a good track record. For example, after scrapping his plan to develop the building adjacent to Jelly Bean Park, he put up a large lighted sign on the historic Boyd Building without permission, and only asked for permission after the fact when people started to complain. The city ordered him to take it down, or they would do it for him and charge him for it ... which did not happen. The sign remains, although he did grudgingly turn it off.

The name "Ray Rybachuk" comes up in another unseemly story as well, about stealing proprty. And then there's this: one guy on a website called writes:
Keep in mind Raymond Rybachuk is a convicted cocaine dealer, so how much credibility should you extend to someone with that kind of history?

And more importantly, why is a lawyer Ken Carroll or a real estate professional Russ Knight associated with a known cocaine dealer? Or are they anymore, considering Raymond Rybachuk was evicted from his office on the 8th floor of the Boyd Medical Centre, and is now continuing his slumlord business from Lead Management on Notre Dame St in Winnipeg.

If you are a business professional, be very wary of dealing with anyone associated with Raymond J Rybachuk, including Lead Management, Ken Carroll, Russ Knight, Boyd Medical Centre or any investments offered using the phone numbers 204-951-6750 or 204-989-0635 these are the main numbers used by Raymond J Rybachuk in perpertrating his investment scams, including
his most recent attempt at selling property in Belize that he doesn't even own.
Probably the same guy goes on another rant about "big fat guy Raymond Rybachuk" on a web site called

More bizaarly, the website advertises oceanfront property while accusing Rybachuk of being a scam artist and "convicted cocaine dealer". I don't know if this web site was hacked or what, but it is very strange.

Only $50k for a convicted cocaine dealer? And I can finance? I'd be crazy not to buy!

I didn't link to these web sites on purpose because they are kind of icky, but you can find them easily enough. Sombody certainly has it in for this guy though.

** Update **
Thanks to a certain person with access to the Free Press archives, I can confirm that Rybachuk was in fact arrested in relation to a drug smuggling operation.

Monday 5 December 2011

Violence? Rebellion? What the hell is going on here?

This is depressing. The global economy is imploding, my city is bankrupt, and now I'm being told that my country is going to explode into a civil war between whites and Indians.

We all agree that the Indian Residential School system was a grievous mistake. If you can't turn back the clock and reverse the mistake, what can you do? I thought we were on the right track here: the PM formally apologized, the government has allocated $1.9 billion for compensation, and we put in place a forum to allow IRS survivors to share their stories and begin the healing process.

I guess I was mistaken, because the man in charge of the Truth and Reconcilliation Commision is predicting "great violence" if we don't pick up our game. Those quotes by Justice Sinclair in that article are remarkably inflamatory by somebody in his position. This man whom we entrusted with ecouraging the healing process is instead creating greater divisions, and giving tacit approval to violence by implying that such violence is understandable. This is highly irresponsible, in my opinion.

Douglas Bland expands on this in Saturday's paper, saying that there are no positive stories to tell and that there is no way to bring these issues to light in a non-violent way. The solution? A rebellion!

There is, of course, another way beyond aimless violence to convince Canadians to redress past wrongs... Paradoxically, a unified nationwide aboriginal rebellion may be the best way.
I makes me feel so much better that the "great violence" won't be aimless.

I couldn't help but think of Machiavelli's The Prince as he goes on to pragmatically explain the conditions and preconditions for a rebellion based on "current research". You know, there are some places where advocating a rebellion would be called treason, but I had better let that line of thinking go, as I sense that it won't lead me anywhere good.

So how do we avoid these dire consequences? Please explain in point form with clear understandable steps so we don't screw it up again. You first Sinclair:
You can contribute to that solution by understanding, supporting and engaging in those conversations, by encouraging society to do those things that need to be done and by acknowledging the validity of that state of respect.
Oh geeze. We're doomed. Please Bland, give us something to work with:
Work with the First Nations' community vigorously and immediately to reshape this young population into a positive, community-oriented work and leadership cohort. Finally, and again in co-operation with First Nations' leaders, we could launch a national campaign aimed at convincing these young people they are indeed prized citizens in our national community.
I think people are getting frustrated that we're spending billions of dollars and not achieving any of these nebulous objectives that are supposed to solve the problem. And maybe that's because it's impossible for the government to solve. The government creates laws and spends money. That's really what it does. It can attempt to do more, as it has with the Truth and Reconcilliation Commision, but if you're looking for pride and respect, well, that's a little more complicated, because those are things that start first within your own families and communities. Allowing private ownership of land on reserves might be a step in the right direction, but if you're expecting Canadians and the government to find some way to conjure up these things in a short time frame, well ... just first give me some time to fortify my house for the rebellion.

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