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How to Save the Cycling Committee

This is a guest post by Anthony Humphreys, a father of two daughters who lives in South Etobicoke and is a Toronto cycling advocate. Anthony attended the City of Toronto Executive Committee meeting on Wed, April 20th concerning the elimination of 21 citizen advisory committees.

From my perspective, yesterday’s Executive Committee meeting went “Not well”.

Over forty people signed up to make deputations, but because they dealt with us very last (starting at or near 6:00pm), only about 33 people or so remained to the end to speak for their five minutes.

Full House at April 20, 2011 Executive Committee, photo by Yvonne Bambrick

Full House at April 20, 2011 Executive Committee, photo by Yvonne Bambrick

Of those, two or three people spoke about the aboriginal committee, tenants committee, and bring back the don committee; there was also one each to defend the French Language and the Solid Waste committee. The rest were there to speak about the cycling and/or pedestrian committees; which was at least half of the speakers. More people spoke about the cycling committee specifically than any other committee. (I am so proud of our cycling community!)

In the end, the Executive Committee really seemed like they did not want to hear us (Did putting us off to the end not give it away?). With a few exceptions, the majority of the interactions were with Councillors who are not on the committee (like Shelly Carol, Adam Vaughan, Mike Layton, & Pam McConnell) and in the end the committee voted in favour of the recommendations.

We lost here, but we still have two weeks to make a difference…

Because I’ve been a regular attendee (but never on the committee formally) I can attest to why the committees are unpopular with citizens, staff and councillors. On the other hand, I’m not such an Idealist that I’ll heavily defend the committee like this.

In my own deputation I agreed that the committee structure was far too formal, intimidating, and required citizens to learn the procedures and terminology.In addition, there is still limited interaction (ie deputations) for the public with the committees. However, I want to recognize that this rigid formality is also the strength of the committee. If a presentation is made by a citizen or group and report is presented to the committee then staff are obliged to respond in kind, that is with their own report. This is why I why I went to defend the committee.

However, I did offer a middle ground; I did offer a compromise solution. I suggested that the committee be scaled back to meet only a few times per year, say four — or even twice — a year (rather than the 10 or 11 times they traditionally met). And I suggested that the council keep this for a couple of years, or perhaps this term of council. This would give everyone (council, staff and citizens) time to assess the true value of the committees against the other means of engagement that staff are planning in lieu of having the committees. Staff would engage using social media, town halls, etc, and the committees would still exist, but at a much scaled back level.

I know from experience that many of the public consultation meetings don’t work; they become shouting matches between those who want keep the status quo against those who want the proposed changes. At these meetings, no compromise is possible, and no one is forced to look for a solution. Town halls can offer some good ideas, but there’s no obligation to follow-through. On-line Social-media is limited, and can lack many of the subtleties of face to face interaction. Committees, on the other hand, are forced to work for solutions, they need to find reasonable compromises. And these committees also act as a type of watch-dog on over our City Council, at least within the scope of their mandate.

But they do have a cost in staff time in direct proportion to their frequency of meetings. Which is why I offered the compromise that I did. Keep the cycling committee, but have it meet much less frequently. Give all of us (Council members, staff, as well as citizens) a period of time to wean off the committees, especially if the intention is to kill them eventually. Let this become more of an evolutionary change than and abrupt change so we can all be sure that we are not throwing out the baby with bath water, give us all confidence that we are not losing too much when the time comes to kill the committee entirely. Provide us with time and a means to transition to new ways of doing things. This is what I am asking for, and I hope you will ask your councillors for something like this as well.

BikingToronto guest posts are intended to open our readership up to other voices and news about cycling in Toronto. Interested in writing a guest post for BikingToronto? Just contact us with your idea for a post (or series of posts) and we can talk about it. Please remember that BikingToronto is a responsible and positive outlook on all things related to cycling in Toronto, and has a code of conduct.

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Why the Cycling Advisory Committee should be Saved

On Thursday, we told you that Rob Ford’s City Hall wants to shut down 21 advisory committees (committees that cost virtually no money and take advantage of volunteer work by passionate citizens in areas such as cycling, pedestrian safety, childrens services and economic development just to name a few).

Tammy Thorne (pictured at right), editor of Dandyhorse magazine, and member of the Cycling Advisory Committee has written a great article in BlogTO about why the Committee should be saved, and the good work that the committees accomplish:

Advisory committees provide an avenue for regular folks to get issues to council that are important to them, but might not be at the top of the political agenda. As a committee member I can work with staff over an extended period of time to help track projects and ensure that plans are actually implemented. Indeed, access to staff is the biggest boon of being a committee member to my mind. While some (including me) might say that keeping councillors and staff honest is our bane.

I’ve been working with, and as a volunteer for many years now, and I have to say it’s bad business to turn away good people willing to work for you for free. It’s neither respectful nor cost-effective.

Read the full article on BlogTO.

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City Hall wants to shut down Cycling Advisory Committee

It was rumoured to be happening, but now it’s official… the Rob Ford Regime wants to shut down the Cycling Advisory Committee .  The Cycling Committee is not the only one facing the axe… it is one of 21 committees (PDF) to be shut down… committees that are formed by experts in their chosen field to advise Council on matters, because Councillors do not have time to be experts in everything.

In case you think that this is to save money – the report states that “There are no financial implications resulting from this report. Support for advisory bodies and working committees is provided through existing resources in the City Clerk’s Office and relevant divisions.” (thanks to Ryan for pointing this out in the comments below) … so it’s NOT about saving money, it IS about preventing Torontonians from being involved.

For a Council that was supposed to be striving for accountability, transparency, and “respect for taxpayers”, it has gone out of their way over the past 4 months to close off city government from the people it’s meant to serve.

Councillor Adam Vaughan has sent out an “Action Alert” to alert people to this latest threat to democracy and let them know what they can do (this has since been picked up by the Bike Union as well):

Dear Cycling and Pedestrian advocates,

Over the years many of you have played an important role, advising City Council and City staff on advisory bodies.

Mayor Ford is moving to eliminate these groups and opportunities for resident input.

Two of the groups slated for elimination are the Toronto Pedestrian Committee and the Toronto Cycling Advisory Committee.

Sustaining and building a vibrant city is complex.  In every decision there are hundreds of needs, ideas and perspectives that need to be considered in order to get to creative, innovative, solutions that make our City great for everyone.

We need you and your neighbours at the table with us – governing the City’s many agencies, boards, committees and corporations, serving on advisory committees and bringing your voices to Standing Committees.

The latest proposal to keep people out of City Hall, by eliminating formal advisory roles for taxpayers is on the agenda for the next Executive Committee.

Please come to the meeting and share your views:

Date: Wednesday April 20, 2011
Time: starting at 9:30am
Location: Toronto City Hall, Second Floor, Committee Room 1
To make a deputation at Executive Committee, contact Frances Pritchard of the City Clerk’s office to register. She can be reached at 416-392-6627 or exc@toronto.ca.

The full report is available online here:
If you can’t make it to the meeting, you can still let the councillors on the Executive Committee know how important these advisory committees are to you.

Mayor Ford   416-397-3673  mayor_ford@toronto.ca
Councillor Holyday  416-392-4002  councillor_holyday@toronto.ca
Councillor Ainslie  416-392-4008  councillor_ainslie@toronto.ca
Councillor Berardinetti 416-392-0213  councillor_berardinetti@toronto.ca
Councillor Del Grande 416-392-1374  councillor_delgrande@toronto.ca
Councillor Kelly  416-392-4047  councillor_kelly@toronto.ca
Councillor Mammoliti  416-395-6401  councillor_mammoliti@toronto.ca
Councillor Milczyn  416-392-4040  councillor_milczyn@toronto.ca
Councillor Minnan-Wong 416-397-9256  councillor_minnan-wong@toronto.ca
Councillor Palacio  416-392-7011  councillor_palacio@toronto.ca
Councillor Robinson  416-395-6408  councillor_robinson@toronto.ca
Councillor Shiner  416-395-6413  councillor_shiner@toronto.ca
Councillor Thompson  416-397-9274  councillor_thompson@toronto.ca
Please share this information with your networks and community.

Best regards,

Adam Vaughan

 

PLEASE EMAIL your city councillor and ANY or ALL of the ones on the Executive Council listed above, and let them know that you want Torontonians to have a voice in how they city we love is run.

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Notes from the Toronto Cycling Committee

Last night I went to the first 2010 meeting of the Toronto Cycling Advisory Committee meeting.  It was also the first Committee meeting I’ve been to… after meaning to go for ages.

I was impressed by the turnout.  The room was full of observers (probably at least 40 people).  The observers are people who care enough about cycling in Toronto to devote several hours of a weeknight to the topic.

Reports and Presentations from the meeting are supposed to be posted online, and I’ll let you know when they are… but I figured I’d share the few notes I took.

I’ll use the agenda from the meeting to organize the notes I took (which are italicized).

1. Cycling in Harbord Village

E-mail (December 22, 2009) from Eleanor Levine, regarding her concerns for safety for cyclists cycling in the Harbord Village area of the City of Toronto.

Eleanor presented her concerns about the lack of cycling infrastructure in her neighbourhood… not only for seniors like her, but all cyclists.  She expressed her preference for physically-separate bikelanes over regular bikelanes or sharrows, as it makes it harder for cars to park in them.

2. Presentation from the Ward 20 Cycling Committee

Report (undated) from the Ward 20 Cycling Committee, presenting suggestions for improvements to cycling infrastructure and conditions in Ward 20. Its purpose is to provide feedback to Councillor Vaughan’s office and City staff who can work in co-operation with the broader community to implement changes that reflect the needs of cyclists travelling in this section of the city.

Presentation Document (PDF)

Great (and quick!) presentation from Yvonne Bambrick, Dale Duncan and Andrew Keenan (not sure if I heard his name right) of the Ward 20 Cycling Committee.  This is a group set up by Councillor Adam Vaughan to inform his office about cycling issues in his Ward in order for him to work with the community on these issues.  Lots of great infrastructure ideas such as physically separate bikelanes, bikeboxes, sharrows in intersections, and innovative bike parking.

There was then a bunch of discussion about the cost of various infrastructure improvements asked for in Ward reports such as this one… but Ward reports were noted as important as it allows cycling staff to show city councillors exactly what Torontonians want.

A motion was made for staff to look at the feasibility (and progress, if any)  of items in report and to report back to the Committee.

3. Changes to the Official Ministry of Transportation of Ontario Driver’s Handbook

Report from Toronto Cycling Advisory Committee Sub-Committee, led by the Toronto Cyclists Union.

Presentation Document (PDF)

Margaret Hastings-James (at her last Committee meeting as she is moving to Hamilton and starting a family – Congrats Margaret!) and Yvonne Bambrick presented progress on a great project that is providing input to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation on a Drivers Handbook revision.  In short, the project is attempting to get more references to cyclists and pedestrians in the book that new drivers study when they get their licenses.  Great language is proposed like “be aware and courteous to all road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians”.

Great way to ensure drivers are more aware of cyclists on the road.

4. Presentation of the 2009 Cycling Survey

Dan Egan presented the key findings from a Cycling Survey undertaken this past summer with the same questions of a survey undertaken in 1999.  The city is planning on re-doing this survey every 3-4 years instead of every 10.

I posted about the key findings from this survey yesterday, so I’ll point you at that post for the key findings and links to documents.

5. Presentation of the 2010 Bikeway Program

The meeting was behind schedule, so I had to leave mid-way through this presentation, but basically, for 2010, the City will be concentrating on connecting and enhancing downtown bike lanes and bike routes.  I don’t know if this is because it’s an election year, so getting new bike infrastructure where there are more cyclists may be more politically feasible.  It’s most likely just to enhance the downtown infrastructure to continue to build on the increasing numbers of cyclists on downtown streets.

6. Presentation of the Bikeway Network State of Good Repair

Well, I missed this presentation (as I mentioned above, I had to leave before the meeting ended), so I am looking forward to any documents posted online regarding this. :)

I left City Hall and was entranced by watching skaters on Nathan Philips Square for a few minutes… and wished I had brought my skates.  (photo below by alfred ng)

nightskating

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