By Gerry Barker
July 31, 2017
This now the 10th year that city council has been controlled by a majority of members of council, followers of the former mayor, Karen Farbridge, and a supplicant cadre of senior staff managers.
If the Corporation of the City of Guelph were a private company responsible to shareholders, the former mayor and most of the board of directors would be fired. As a matter of fact, the former mayor and some of her council were fired in 2014. But Coun. June Hofland saved her seat by just five votes in Ward Three, delivering to the left its majority of seven out of 13 councillors. Hence the title: Landslide Hofland.
The city was taken over by a rookie Mayor, Cam Guthrie, who defeated the former mayor by more than 5,000 votes. Mr. Guthrie during his campaign, promised to keep property tax increases to match the Consumer Price Index.
His first budget negotiations started in December 2014. It didn’t take long for the council majority of seven and the city senior staff to demolish the Mayor’s tax plans and returns to business as usual as if an election never happened.
On March 25, 2015, the budget approved a property tax rate at 3.39 per cent that was later elevated to 3.96 per cent when the increase in assessment figures recalculated the property tax rate. There were a number of additional proposals, including increasing the staff with hew hires, spending money on projects and policies of the previous administration including $600,000 on bicycle lanes, chiefly on Woodlawn Road.
That project was never completed except to restrict vehicle lanes from Victoria to the Speed River Bridge; add bike lanes and a left turn centre lane. This was a hallmark of the Farbridge administration that whenever a major street was repaved, the same lane configuration reduced vehicle lanes. Today, the cumulative effect of these lane shrinkages are causing increased traffic jams on major roads in the morning and afternoon rush hours.
The millions that have been spent on bike lanes and trails has been a sacred plan to reduce greenhouse gases by stop using vehicles powered by fossil fuels. The expectation was that more people would use pedal power to shop, go to work and be healthy.
In fact, former councillor Maggie Laidlaw, boasted that within 20 years there would be no cars on Guelph’s streets. Well, the exact opposite has happened as the city expanded bringing more cars. Ms. Laidlaw was defeated in 2014.
This social engineering plan, supported by a tiny minority of bike riding advocates has been a disaster. Not only in terms of money being spent, but many of the lanes did not cover the full length of roadways. So a bike lane would appear and then disappear further down the road. Examples are Woodlawn, Woolwich, Silver Creek, Stevenson, Speedvale, Gordon, and soon Downey Road.
In many cases cyclists are forced to use sidewalks because there is no bike lane. In Guelph, that is against the law. Police report that some 18,000 tickets have been issued to bicycle riders.
The other day, I was driving west on Speedvale, about four in the afternoon, going down the hill toward Edinburgh. When a female cyclist, pulling a baby trailer, was on the road where no bicycle lane existed caused heavy traffic to slow down, give her wide berth and avoid a serious accident.
Instead of spending more money expanding bicycle lanes and paths, plan to spend that money completing the gaps in bike lanes on major roads. Now there are some heavily traveled roads that would require widening at a very high cost. An example is Speedvale from Woolwich to Manhattan court. That project alone was estimated to cost $14 million by staff that recommended not doing it.
The issue of stolen bicycles could be solved if the bikes were licensed so they could be traced. The very expensive and high tech bikes are targets and are sold outside the city making detection difficult. Perhaps using a cell phone, a small GPS device flipped on and monitored when parked would help protect the bicycles and their owners.
Another idea would be mounting a min-alarm system on the bike that would squawk if a bike wheel lock were tampered with.
A small annual licence fee would go into a special account and be used to improve bicycle access and usage. It’s time for those cyclists to improve their safety as well as those of other users of the road.
The city could offer incentive for the cyclists to register their bikes by offering a free flashing light, bell and luminous strips for rear fenders.
Ride safely out there.