By Gerry Barker
June 29, 2017
A little known bicycle advocacy group has recommended spending $12 million over the next 10 years to create an additional 52 kilometres to an existing network of off-road trails used by bicyclists and pedestrians.
In addition the group promoting this proposal, The Guelph Active Transportation Network Design Guidelines and Feasibility Study, says the estimate is “conservative” plus it would require spending $271,000 annually to maintain the trails.
This group claims that the proposal will make the trails system safer, more bicycle friendly and more efficient. But for whom?
Not to rain on any ardent cyclists’ parade, there should be some data about just how many cyclists there are using municipal streets and the off-road trail system year round. Bicycles are not licensed, have no standard of equipment such as lights and bells yet use roads, sidewalks and speed to get to their destination.
No one knows how many bicycles are used in the city. There are no statistics to determine the demographics of the riders, frequency of use including inclement weather during five months of winter.
The argument that riding a bicycle is healthy, inexpensive and is efficient for of transportation is nonsense when considering that children and most people more than 60 are not able to substantiate the claim.
So, how much has the city paid to create special lanes of roads and off-road trails? The first ten-year plan was to spend $13 million, expanding the bike trail system in the city. There was never any report to the citizen of where and how these funds were spent.
One example of council’s lack of managing your money came when the 2015 city budget was approved. In it, newly elected Coun. Mike Salisbury, moved that because there was no city contribution in 2014 for bike lane expansion, those funds would be joined with the 2015 allocation for a total of $600,000.
Jeepers! He added that the money should be spent putting bike lanes on Woodlawn Road. The result was squeezing Woodlawn from four lanes to two lanes, wider bike lanes and a left turn lane. But this was only from Victoria Road to the bridge spanning the Speed River east of Woolwich.
There is no accessible public record of where the money was spent on one of the busiest roads in the City and a designated provincial highway. The engineer in charge left the city.
Not one member of council or the administration stated that unspent funds in a previous year’s budget couldn’t be transferred to the new budget. This is simple accounting practice and rules. Each year the new budget must start with a clean sheet. Under the former administration it was common practice to balance the city books using money from the reserves.
In Ontario, the provincial law states that all 445 municipalities, large and small in Ontario, must file an audited Financial Information Report (FIR) covering the calendar year.
In Guelph, there has been manipulation of the FIR going on for at least nine years, chiefly due to overspending the budgets, both operational and capital spending.
So here’s the skinny. The city administrations have created huge losses in a number of projects. First, there was the $23 million overage cost completing the new city hall and converting the old city hall into a provincial offenses court. The acting Chief Administrative Officer, Hans Loewig, kicked Urbacon, the general contactor off the job and was awarded with a four-year contract starting at $199,000. Six years later, it cost the city $8.96 million in legal fees and damages just before the 2014 civic election
Then along came the GMHI fiasco that an audit by the accounting firm, KPMG, showed huge losses, unpaid and unsecured debt of $103 million and shareholder-liability of $67 million. Currently, council has authorized a non-elected committee to explore selling or merging Guelph Hydro. The cost of cleaning up this financial disaster is still to be counted but it will be in the millions with the audit cost now at $2.8 million.
Let’s not forget that 2 per cent property tax levy approved by council, starting this year, that was supposed to be used to repair and renew the city’s infrastructure. Then three months ago the city staff upgraded the infrastructure cost from $178 million to more than $400 million.
And that friends, is why our streets have potholes, rough pavement and bike lanes that start at one intersection and disappear at the next.
It’s all a matter of priorities. Now converting wading pools to splash pads is being touted along with the bike trail expansion. Then we learn that the indoor soccer field surface is being replaced under the bubble. Remember, the city is guaranteeing repayment of the $570,000 mortgage on the property.
So, ask yourself first, why is the city staff recommending this $12 million bike lane expansion in view of greater needs especially repairing rugged streets and infrastructure? Second, why are we catering to a minority of citizens demanding high-cost facilities without some form of contribution?
Vehicle operators pay taxes, for gasoline and repairs, licences and insurance. Home- owners pay taxes and user fees. Commercial and industrial businesses pay licences, taxes and user fees. Citizens subsidize public transit. Also, citizens pay for every activity and operation conducted within the city. Everything we do is bought and paid for.
So why are the cyclists getting a free ride and expecting the city to provide them with more trails and controlled access to public roads?
Special interest groups should pay for their projects and not expect handouts from the public purse. In many cases these donations to various groups through the “Wellbeing” initiative are frequently politically motivated.
There are a number of these situations that cater to special interest groups that are either being subsided or given grants. The city is not a bank nor charitable organization.
Citizens are totally dependent on their representatives on council. If a councillor does not heed the opinions and needs of his constituents, then there will be a price to be paid at the next elelction.
Remember what happened in 2014. It can happen again next year when the performance of our councillors will be tested at the polls.