Thursday, December 27, 2012

Charleswood Traffic Part 1

The Corner of Grant and Shaftesbury
The corner of Laxdal and Grant
The Corner of Cathcart and Grant
On December 4 at the community committee for Assiniboia, the consultancy firm MMM submitted their report to the city in regards to traffic in Charleswood. This work is in preparation for the extension of the William R. Clement Parkway and development of housing in the area in the next several years.

As anyone on Grant Avenue will tell you, the street is becoming the main thoroughfare for the area and beyond. The sleeper communities of Headingley and other places that hug the Perimeter Highway use Grant/Roblin Boulevard as a speedway to get out of town.

The problem of course is that many schools, seniors homes, apartments and housing line the street which means 80 kms is out of the question. That doesn't mean people will not attempt to try.  Subsequently, there are above average accidents happening all along the street.

The IKEA Seasons of Tuxedo have had an immediate fallout for traffic along Shaftesbury Blvd. Despite changes to the intersection and a widening of the road on all sides to meet the now twinned Sterling Lyon Parkway, it doesn't address that Shaftesbury itself is only two lanes all the way to Assiniboine Park.

Holy crazy traffic and potential accidents! Shaftesbury and Grant Avenue is home to two schools, one university and one church and community hall. There are buses parked out on both sides of Grant and parents dropping kids off, people turning into the schools.

The recommendation from MMM is the build a $7 million twinning of Shaftesbury from Wilkes to Grant Avenue and monitor the intersection at the schools corner for further changes. One of the other recommendations is to twin Shaftesbury all the way to Assiniboine Park at Roblin Blvd.

As with all road improvements, the question has to be asked: If these changes are to be made, does it just increase traffic even more. The answer is probably yes.

The Canadian Mennonite University is already planning their response to the traffic along Grant. It is in the form of an overpass for a future building on the north side of the street.

Schools all over Winnipeg are running into the drop off and pick up issue with parents double and triple parking. Two to four buses can be parked on Grant Avenue waiting for students at the various schools on that corner.

Bower Street between Shaftesbury and St. Paul's High Schools

Seems to me the solution for the high schools is a bus loop, parent drop off and pick section on Bower. It is already used for that purpose. Get it done.

As for the university, ask them if they would like a bus loop along Shaftesbury on the north and south sides. Parents dropping off kids is less of a concern for that campus. However, good bus connections are always welcome.

And whether CMU knows it or not, they are going to lose their boulevard and maybe a small part of their lots when Shaftesbury is twinned.

Shaftesbury between CMU and Shaftesbury High School
As anyone can see, there is no room to widen to the east of Shaftesbury. This means it must happen west. Could the city sweeten the pot with bus loops for the campus students?

I am no traffic engineer but it seems that it is important to have good lines of sight all along an intersection with as many students as we see as well as bike and foot traffic headed to the park.

The solution is NOT high speed roads at that intersection in all directions. The solution will be to remove parked buses, parents dropping off kids and other road blocking impediments that cause people to change lanes erratically and blindly.

Continued in Part 2

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Pat Martin

Pat Martin...Before and After Christmas Season

Pat Martin courts controversy. As an Opposition MP, he has come to realize that theatrics are sometimes the only way to get noticed in the world. The problem is that the theatrics displayed by Martin are laced with violent anger and menace. While this might play well in an alcohol filled night at the union hall, it doesn't sit well with grandma around the Christmas table. She would have pulled Martin by the ear and washed his mouth out with soap.

Anger has marked many of the outbursts we have seen from Pat Martin. I don't know that Jack Layton ever dressed him down but Tom Mulcair, who has gone through a makeover to soften his how fiery persona, probably has told Martin to cool it.

The latest late night Twitter blast from Martin resulted in a half hearted apology and a deletion of his account. If only it were that easy to correct his regular outbursts. He does no credit to the NDP and certainly shows he is not a future cabinet minister in waiting or representing a government in waiting.

There are only two NDP members from Manitoba. Care to guess which one has the inside track on a cabinet position if the party ever forms government? It is Nikki Ashton up in Churchill. I can imagine that make Martin very mad. Or he is content to knock about like a bull in a china shop?

Every time Pat Martin explodes, it draws focus to his actual duty as a MP for Winnipeg Centre. This isn't always a good thing. The attention is often drawn that he doesn't live in the riding according to one radio station? Where does he live? By all accounts...out west on the coast. Is this true? I have idea but it draws comparisons to a certain mayor who resides as much as possible under the tax laws in Arizona.

And what of his achievements as MP? Well, Martin would probably point to getting Gordon Bell High School the sports field on the old Midway Chrysler lot or getting the government to drop the penny. Well, let us look at those particular things. In terms of Gordon Bell, Martin was asleep at the wheel when the much better suited Murray Chevrolet lot across was available. And it was students at Gordon Bell who advocated for a sports field when people like Martin let them down. As for the penny, it will end up costing way more than anyone thought possible when eliminating it. Like a lot of NDP ideas, expect to pay more for them in the end.

So what can we expect of Pat Martin in the future? Well, so looks like more of the same. He is likely to blame others for his violent outbursts and anger. He will still take his riding for granted and think they don't really care where he he lives. And he will continue to miss critical issues in his riding or propose policy ideas that cost lots of money.

To the NDP, I ask: Is this the best you can do? If Winnipeg Centre is one of the safer ridings in the country for your party, why put an inferior product out front? Perhaps nothing can be learned from the NDP defeat in Transcona. True, robocalls might have played a part but did anyone in the NDP think that Jim Maloway was the best you had to run there? And now he is back to provincial politics and likely to sit on the back bench forever as no one thinks to ever put him in cabinet. The NDP lost one of the safest ridings in Canada because they took it for granted. Could this be true for Winnipeg Centre in the future as well?

Pat Martin cannot help but be Pat Martin. It is up to the NDP to decide if this is good enough for them because it is the party that this reflects very badly on.

If the NDP can't pull their heads out of their backsides, they find themselves shut out of Manitoba in the same way they are shut out of Saskatchewan. They need better MPs if they ever hope to form and keep in government.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Kapyong, Kapyong, Kapyong

The battle for Kapyong continues.

It has been characterized in the media again as a victory for the First Nations against the federal government. But it is more complicated than that.

What the federal ruling said was that the federal government must negotiate in a meaningful way with First Nations in regards to surplus land as part of a 1997 agreement. The land claim is not settled. No transfer was ordered. In fact, the judge stated clearly that no transfer to First Nations was automatically in the offing. Further legal wrangling was suggested as being a possible outcome.

In layman's terms, no deal happening yet.

The court says talk. Or appeal to a higher court. We'll see.

The Princess Patricias left the base in 2004 for CFB Shilo. The Liberal government had been in contact with the First Nations in regards to the land from 2001 to 2004 about its disposition. However, it should be noted that Liberal MPs in Manitoba were far more focused on not seeing all of Manitoba's military bases close.

In 1992, CFB Portage la Prairie closed. And in 2001, CFB Shilo sat empty after Germany repatriated training to home territory. They had used the base for thousands from 1974 onward.

CFB Winnipeg's Kapyongs Barracks required costly upgrades and the feeling was that moving the Princess Patricia's to Edmonton to join the rest of the battalion was the best option.

The Free Press mentions that some Liberals were involved in that discussion surrounding the base and the military unit. This is true. However, let's not forget the timeline. Lloyd Axworthy left Ottawa in 2000. At no time would he have had the chance to discuss what was to happen to Kapyong. Ron Duhamel died in 2002 and was sick in that year. Rey Paktagan lost his seat in 2004, the year the Princess Patricia's left the barracks.

My understanding is the latter two Liberal MPs were part of the caucus push to save the military presence in Manitoba. And to that end, they were successful in halting the transfer of the Princess Patricia's to Edmonton along with the area MPs Reg Alcock and Anita Neville.

There were some preliminary discussions in regards to the lands from 2001 to 2004 between but no one was sure exactly how much land might be available or might be absorbed by CFB Winnipeg's military air unit. In other words, the thinking was that some of the land would become surplus but the houses and possibly Lipsett Hall would still be needed by the base. And in fact, that has been the case. Many of the military houses are in fact occupied by Royal Canadian Air Force members.

Lipsett Hall was used up till 2009 by Canada's national volleyball team.

It is fair to say that no discussions of any kind took place in 2005. However, it can also be said that the Liberal government at the time was not attempting to sell or transfer the lands either.

Or were they? If we accept that the 1997 federal obligation was to negotiate land settlements for surplus land and that Kapyong was declared surplus in 2001 with final departure of the military from the site in 2004, how is it that part of the base was transferred to the city of Winnipeg in that year for construction of the Kenaston underpass?

 Kenaston Underpass, land transferred to the city in 2004

If you examine the picture above, you will note that land on both the west and east side was transferred to the city for the underpass.

Now this was Reg Alcock's main infrastructure project and it required land from the military base to achieve it. Additional lanes were carved out of the east and west side of the base. The underpass cost $43 million and built between 2004 and 2006.

Now my question is: If the base was declared surplus in 2001 and the military left in 2004, how is it part of the base was sold to the city that year? Who was paid for it? The military? The federal government? No money changed hands?

Now, I am not arguing against the underpass. Anyone who waited for two trains to pass only to get hit by a third train probably fully understands why the need was there. But how was the land made available?

If it was so easy to transfer land without dealing with surplus land issue, why couldn't the city get three lanes each way all down Kenaston?

The only conclusion I can make is that the land was kept off the books when it  transferred to the city. Because in all honesty, shouldn't the land have been part of the overall surplus Kapyong property?

Makes for an interesting legal argument, doesn't it.

But let's get back to the Free Press and Liberals in regards to Kapyong. At least one of the Liberals mentioned could have had nothing to do with Kapyong being declared surplus and other two were out office by 2004 while the base was still in use.

If Reg Alcock were alive, it might be revealing to ask how Kapyong land was extracted for the underpass.

By 2006, the Liberals were out of office. Why did nothing happen with the base in 2005? My only conclusion is that everyone was distracted by the impending election. And with the underpass under construction through till 2006, it is possible the Liberals didn't want questions about they sold part of the base already under our noses.

It is only in 2007 when the Harper Tories began the transfer of the base as a whole to Canada Lands without consulting the First Nations that the real proverbial pile hit the fan. Unlike prior Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments that signed agreements to transfer urban lands to First Nations, Vic Toews sought to sell the land as strategic land rather than surplus land.

In the end, the court in 2012 believes the government failed in its obligation under Treaty 1 to negotiate meaningfully.

And round and round it goes.

This has been through three rounds in the courts. More could come.

The resignation of the PC Youth president over inflammatory remarks that some say are racist demonstrates the mindset in regards to a possible land transfer of Kapyong to First Nations. Even aboriginal leaders are sensitive to the use of "urban reserve" lest people believe the negative connotations of what reserves are like in Manitoba. Most leaders are careful to indicate that the area would be an economic zone not a transfer of the reserve population from old reserve to new reserve.

To be blunt, the First Nations want the land to generate income.

It remains to be seen whether a deal can be made. The fears are through the roof that Kapyong might be full of crime, protests, roadblocks, poverty and who knows what else.

I don't think it will be but the Harper government certainly is acting like the last thing they want to see is the First Nations get the land.

I think in the end, Winnipeggers want the land used wisely and that the Kenaston be widened. Throw in a service agreement for water, sewer and roads and city politicians should say: "done deal."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Polo Park Traffic Congestion

St. Matthews at Polo Park. Blocked by a dance school

St. Matthews is not a direct intersection

I have written a lot about Polo Park over the years. It has become in my lifetime the central shopping district so much so that it has squeezed out its entertainment neighbours of hockey and football.

There has been some sullenness about consumerism and moving people from box store to box store and I get that. However, the city was started as a trading area and remains a commercial city to this day. How soon we forget that Portage and Main began when one merchant tramped his way to that road corner thumbing his nose at convention and damned the fact that the infrastructure was elsewhere.

 City planning can be organic or a technical and political process. Wrong decisions by the public or the private sector can prove costly. And it doesn't always have to be about commercial losses or tax revenue. It can be about disease and fire as we have seen from the great cities of London and Chicago.

The Bartley Kives article on what is happening in Polo Park  on improving traffic points out that Sam Katz has put a lot of stock into moving cars around the city. He is correct. The amount of time spent on synchronizing traffic lights is $12 million. The amount on Polo Park traffic enhancement will be $30 million.

And the sad thing is that on streets where we want faster flow as motorists, more traffic lights are going up. The example for this is Kenaston where there are a many more intersections and traffic lights.

For purely self interested reasons, most people want to be able to step out of their house when they want, go where they want and do it as fast as they want. Faster is better.

Many cities have tried to accommodate that and have built infrastructure to achieve that. However, like healthcare, it can break the budget if we don't control ourselves. In other words, if we don't take some responsibility for our own decisions, we can expect it may cost us more time and money in the end.

By way of example: If you move to Waverley West, don't be surprised if there isn't a school or daycare right away and that you are caught in traffic. Despite tens of millions being spent, the roads still can't handle the cars and budgets for building several schools.

Politicians and city planners satisfy this demand will never be able to keep up. And like Sim City, riots and fires will erupt.

That is not to say that infrastructure changed around Polo Park are not necessary.  While the Free Press mentions that the route from downtown to Transcona and downtown to University of Manitoba are listed as higher priorities, the area around Polo Park has remained pretty much as we see it now for decades aside from Silver Avenue being extended and a center turning lane on St. James Street.

I think we can say safely that tens of millions more have been spent on Regent and Pembina Highway.

But that is neither here nor there. The city has infrastructure needs all over the place as a result of low density, low investment and poor planning. And as much blame lays with the city, the province is just as much guilty as they pick and choose their own projects and act as developer as they are in Waverly West.

I do want the city to invest in rapid transit. We have waited far too long to do anything and have let valuable rail lands be bought up for various of developments rather that grabbing them even if it was future use as bus or light rail corridor. At the very least they should have been used as pedestrian and bike corridors. The Oak Bank line through Polo Park and River Heights comes to mind.

But as I said, recriminations can wait.

The question was: Does Polo Park warrant $30 million in infrastructure improvements? The answer is yes.

One big change mentioned was to extend St. Matthews Avenue. This is good except for the fact that like Silver Avenue's extension, it doesn't meet up in a true intersection. A retail strip blocks a true connection. Now, I am not a traffic engineer but it doesn't take a genius to think that a solution might be to curve the street through the stadium site and the retail building. However, that seems unlikely as the city usually takes the past of least resistance.

In short, it will be a Route 90 to St. James extension and a bit of a mash up with poor turning lanes and a pile up at the new Target. That is my guess.

There is talk about Ellice at St. James and changes there. The lack of turning lanes means left and right lanes are blocked through a few light cycles.

One thing I considered might be an interesting possibility is making Empress one way from St. Matthews north to Sargent and Milt Stegall Drive one way from Sargent south to St. Matthews. If you look at what it might entail, I am sure most people might find it intriguing.

In principle, I am not huge on one way streets. I think we have far too many of them downtown and many should be turned back to two way. However, they do have their place and this might be one case as Empress is very narrow and cars turning left at Ellice or into Walmart cause chaos.

So some the stores along Empress such as Walmart are not nice to be around a lot of the time because the two way traffic along the street is brutal.

The city must start taking a principled stand on developers creating turning lanes on their property, landscaping and burying hydro poles on their streets before getting their approvals.

To the people who say this can't be done without driving away business, the argument is bogus. Look at Grand Forks and Fargo to see how the malls there have managed traffic.

The city already has a policy about drive-thrus to prevent places like Tim Horton's having traffic lined up 20 cars deep on Kenaston. The line-ups must take place on the restaurant's property.

It is early stages on what will happen with traffic at Polo Park. At the very least, I want it to be less dangerous.

As far as other traffic issues and rapid transit, I suggest the province of Manitoba get off their butts and take ownership of the rapid transit issue. The University of Manitoba is a provincial institution. They province chose to put it at the tail end of the city. They ought to build the rapid connection to it or at least a large share of it.

And for God's sake, stop letting abandoned rail lands get taken up for development. If Burlington Northern or CP ever give up their rail lines or land, buy the property! If not now, it will be sometime soon that it serves the interest of city and province.

The best development in the city of Winnipeg has been The Forks and that was federally driven with the province and the city along as partners. I think that success can be duplicated. Might be good to see what sort of transportation plan might originate from such a partnership.

However, back to Polo Park: There is without question good reasons to work on the road in the area. We just have to ensure the developers are paying a lot of the freight in terms of traffic so that turning lanes and service roads are part of the solution.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why I Support Marc Garneau

Let Science Lead the Way

The Liberal Party of Canada is the midst of a leadership campaign. There have been several candidates to declare and so far, unlike the past leadership campaign. In 2009, Michael Ignatieff had the field cleared for him by other Liberals who feared his front runner status or who were crippled under debt from the past election and past leadership races.

The elevation of Ignatieff without a race did not serve the leader, the party or Canadians well. It didn't allow for debate on issues, test the themes a future campaign might take across Canada and work out the kinks in the party in regards to its past and future. The media calling it a coronation stuck and there was the criticism that the Liberals that their star would sweep them back into office.

The crippled Liberal finances and organization were no match for the Tories who began the campaign early attacking Ignatieff's foreign work experience and celebrity with: "He didn't come back for you."

Despite momentum leading up to the last election, Ignatieff had never tapped into the populism of past leaders. Nor was he able to deflect or answer easily questions about his attendance in the House of Commons from Jack Layton during the debate.

The answer quite simply was that he had to get out of Ottawa and into the field to listen to Canadians and get a sense of what they needed from their government. In that sense, it is not much different than other Opposition leaders shortly after being made leader or from what happens in a leadership campaign. The past NDP leadership campaign is a case in point.

In any event, water under the bridge.

The Liberal leadership campaign at present is being held without the threat of an impending election (unless Harper wants to call a snap one since the legislation allows for it). This means that there is no rush to coronate a leader to face off in Parliament at the earliest possible time.

As mentioned, there have been several candidates to declare this time for the Liberal leadership. Justin Trudeau is perceived to be the front runner and has attracted much attention.

However, it is great to see Marc Garneau step up and declare his candidacy as well.

At this point in the race, I am supporting him.

In this day and age in Canada where science and expertise in various fields is under attack, I want a man of science to counter that criticism with reason and experience. In 1984, Marc Garneau was the first Canadian to go into space as an astronaut. He went on two other additional missions and served as Capcom, the lead communications officer for other NASA shuttle missions.

Prior to being an astronaut, Garneau served for 12 years in Canada's navy rising to Captain.

At the time he entered politics he had been serving as head of the Canadian Space Agency for five years.

In 2008, Marc Garneau became a Liberal Member of Parliament and has served with two Liberal leaders and has distinguished himself as a calm and reasoned voice in Ottawa. He is not tainted by involvement with past Liberal governments provincially or federally. He has a decorated career in the military lest someone question if he ever had a job. And if anyone questions his courage, he went into space two more times after a shuttle disaster in 1986.

In just a short time, Garneau has indicated policy ideas on such things as cell phones that has stumped the Harper Tories the past 6 years. Even the National Post has taken notice.

I am sure there are flaws in Marc Garneau the candidate but I am supporting him and his effort to raise the level of discussion in Canada. He has the makings of a great leader.

And clever catchphrases such as: "He didn't back to Earth for you" are not likely to cut it from Harper Tories.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Apartments Downtown

Place Louis Riel Hotel in Downtown Winnipeg

A combination of factors is responsible for new apartment buildings going up in downtown Winnipeg.

The latest news is that Place Louis Riel Hotel is being converted into apartments following on the heels of York the Hotel (formerly the Sheraton Hotel). In the case of the York, it was cut loose from the Sheraton group due to room size which was a little larger because the hotel was once an apartment block. After a brave attempt to go it alone with a name change and upgrades, it was decided that maybe a move back to apartments was in order. In retrospect, it is a wonder that the 271 room hotel was not made into condos. All this happened around 2008/2009.

Place Louis Riel has been an all suite hotel in the city for decades. Notably it has been a place where the movie industry goes back to repeatedly to house crew who are in town to shoot for weeks. It has also served in recent years as a respite for displaced rural and First Nations people when disaster such as flooding has happened. In fact many aboriginal people have used the hotel as a base due to its location near federal and provincial offices dealing with northern and First Nations affairs.

My impression is that the hotel has made a good go of it. They found their niche, they kept up their facility, had a good and experienced staff and filled their rooms.

However, the writing was on the wall. There has been a hotel building boom going on for some time in the city including some all suite hotels such as the Mainstay Suites near the airport.

Place Louis Riel, built in 1970 and converted into a hotel in the 1980s, was showing its age a bit in terms of the exterior. And despite a valiant effort to upgrade to the 302 units, it was probably thought that there were too many newer  and competing hotels coming on the market. Moreover, the move of aboriginal governance to Polo Park in the near future robs the hotel of stable client base.

And this may be the underlying story for some other hotels downtown including the Marlborough Hotel.  If aboriginal governance moves to the Polo Park area, does it make sense to stay in hotels downtown? With this is mind, the Edmonton-based owners have decided to get ahead of the game and convert Place Louis Riel back to studio, one and two bedroom units.

It is likely that the venture will be a success since there is a crying need for apartment blocks in Winnipeg due to low vacancy and a steadier economy.

And Place Louis Riel is not the only apartments coming. The snail's pace development of the Assiniboine Avenue apartment seems to have picked up pace. This is no fault of Crystal developers but more on the city who can't seem stop intervening, blocking or dragging out the highrise apartment.

Moreover, an Ontario company has indicated they are looking to invest $80 million for two high rise apartments on a surface lot downtown. Details are very light right now. If true, this will be the largest addition of apartments to the area since the 1980s.

It will be interesting to see how the pieces fit together and whether there will further announcements but the combination of work around the MTS Centre and the Convention Centre and several apartments, hotels and the like could spur other investment to follow.

Let's hope the Jets season comes back soon as this has been an element in bringing people to the area.