About the Blog:

Guelph Politico is locally sourced and dedicated to covering the political and cultural scene in the City of Guelph. Est. 2008.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

City Being Charged by MOL for Warren Death

Earlier this month, the City said that the Ontario Ministry of Labour was close to finishing its investigation into the death of 14-year-old Isabel Warren in a wall collapse in a southend washroom last spring. Well, it seems that the province concluded their findings and are charging the City under the Occupational Health and Safety Act for responsibility for the accident. Here's the statement made by the Office of Chief Administrative Officer this morning.

As part of its pledge to keep the public apprised of developments relating to the June 16, 2009 tragedy in South End Community Park which took the life of Isabel Warren, the City is letting it be known that it received notice yesterday that it has been charged by the Ministry of Labour under the Occupational Health and Safety Act in relation to the accident.

The City joined our entire community last year in mourning Isabel Warren. Like each of you, we are devastated by her death and saddened that it occurred in a well-loved community space. City Council and staff continue to offer their sympathies to the Warren family.

Immediately following the accident, the City inspected a number of City-owned washrooms and, as a precaution, temporarily closed the washrooms in St. George’s Park, Hanlon Creek Park, and Guelph Lake Sports Fields. The City retained an independent structural engineering firm to assess those facilities and based on its recommendation, re-opened one of the washrooms, and kept the other two closed until upgrades could be completed last fall.

As a further precaution, the City has since issued a Request for Proposals for building assessments and reviews to be carried out for a number of City facilities.

We understand that members of the public entrust the City to see to it that public facilities are safe. I wish to assure members of the community that public safety is of paramount importance to the City of Guelph. Although there are many parties involved in ensuring buildings are designed, approved, built, permitted and inspected for safety, we acknowledge our role in this process.

With respect to the charges, the City is seeking legal advice and will be responding.

At this time the City is not aware whether any other parties have been or may be charged in relation to the accident in South End Community Park.

The City will continue, to the extent that it can, to make information available as this process continues.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hanlon Creek 5 Talk About Getting SLAPPed

It was surprise back in February when five protestor were singled out by the City of Guelph and Belmont Equity for the inflated $5 million price tag assigned to last summer's occupation of the Hanlon Creek Business Park lands - plus - any future disruption on construction on the site. Well, it seems that no one was more surprised than the so-called Hanlon Creek 5 themselves.

Last Friday 4 of the 5 gathered in front of City Hall to talk about what they've won, why they were SLAPPed and what they're going to do next. Matt Soltys, Matt Lowell-Pelletier, Josh Gilbert and Cailey Campbell gathered around a banner emblazoned with the words "Stop the Sprawl" and took turns reading from prepared statements.

Gilbert began by recapping the events of last summer. "There has been overwhelming opposition to the business park at public events, City Hall meetings, and the public consultations that have happened," he said. Gilbert also recounted the numerous envirnomental groups, 500 occupation participants and the two judges that thought the occupiers might have had a point about using the precautionary principle to take a second look at the HCBP as planned.

Next Soltys discussed the definition of SLAPP, or Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation. "This is a legal move where a plaintiff launches a ridiculously high lawsuit at someone who's doing something they don't like," he explained. "The plaintiffs rarely, if ever, win any costs. The real intent of these things is to overwhelm people's lives and prevent them from doing what the plaintiffs don't like."

Soltys further explained that $5 million price tag was unrealistic and absurd. "For one, we don't have any money, and the city knows that. And to say that somehow the five of us are responsible for lost future investment is equally unrealistic."

He also said that the reason he and the four other people named in the suit were highlighted was because they're well known community activists. "[B]y including 'LIMITS' and 'John and Jane Doe' in their lawsuit, the City of Guelph is targeting those who engage in lawful activities and had nothing to do with the occupation."

Soltys then further implied that this was a scare tactic perpetrated by Guelph officials. "The City's auctions have made numerous people feel too threatened to even talk about this issue, much less get involved."

The money issue was raised again by Campbell, who said that the City is putting thousands of dollars of taxpayer money into a suit against five people they know that they can never get a dime from. "We are five people who are living under the poverty line," she explained. "Out only option for economic survival after the lawsuit if the city were to win damages will be to pursue bankruptcy."

Campbell also said that the group was representing themselves in the suit because they can't afford to pay legal fees. Further, the people identified in last summer's injunction on the HCBP occupiers owe approximately $12,000 in legal fees, which is being paid back solely through fundraising efforts. "The costs were at the expense of winning our injunction against the City of Guelph in order to hold them accountable," said Campbell.

But has the the punitive legal action done anything to dampen the enthusiasm or commitment of these activists? It doesn't seem so. "It is up to the collective 'We', this growing environmental resistance movement," said Gilbert. "We need to continue resisting development and building new societies based on mutual aid and co-existence with the natural world that sustains us."

No court date has yet been set to hear the suit, according to the Hanlon Creek 5, they are currently in the process of discovery. About 30 people came out to show their support for the legally entangled quintet.

For more info about the Hanlon Creek 5, or to offer your support click here.

A Glimpse at the Future of Transit

Today, the City posted several artistic renderings of what the new transit hub at Carden and Wyndham will look like when it's finished. Check it out:


Additionally, there was this more official looking plan of how the new transit hub is going to layout the blue marks are spots for city buses, the green marks are for out of town buses like Go Transit and Greyhound.

What else are we to expect:
  • The interior iof the VIA rail station on Carden Street will be renovated
  • The exisintg Greyhound bus terminal will be removed
  • The City will build a new bus platform and waiting area, new public washrooms and new stairs and elevator for pedestrians travelling between the north side and the south side of the rail tracks from Neeve Street
  • VIA and Greyhound service will be maintained throughout construction
  • Parking will not be available at the VIA station or on Carden Street during construction
I'm kind of sad to see the old Greyhound station go, but it'll be nice to get a modern transit hub in this city. Now if we can just find the magic formula to get more people to evolve past the single-occupant car...

To check out more about the transit hub click here.

Valeriote Goes Ad Hoc for Senior Care

It took a lot of effort, but I managed to surpress the urge to write "Valeriote Forms Death Panel -- I Kid" in the headline box. All joking aside though, it's nice to see that there are still people in Parliament that can get along. And despite the drastic misrepresentation of the issue by people like Sarah Palin, an aging population plus limited resources means this end of life and elderly care issues need to be looked at seriously by serious people. But let's read what the Valeriote team has to say in a press release

Frank Valeriote Announces Formation of Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care

Frank Valeriote, Member of Parliament for Guelph, is pleased to announce the formation of a new, non-partisan multi-party group of MPs spanning the political spectrum aimed at promoting awareness of glaring deficiencies in Canada's palliative and compassionate care framework, fostering constructive dialogue and substantive research on an array of related subjects, and implementing policies to address this critical deficiency in the nation`s approach to long-term health.

The Parliamentary Coalition on Palliative and Compassionate Care (PCPCC) is an ad-hoc organization whose membership is open to any legislator who shares the pressing concerns of a growing number of Canadians about present levels of care available to an aging society and people with disabilities. Inspired by broad consultations undertaken in every region of Canada by Members of all parties, PCPCC will preoccupy itself with a series of distinct but symbiotic challenges including:

1) A critical nationwide shortage of expertise and material resources in the fields of palliative, hospice, and home care;
2) Suicide prevention, pain control and the implications of an ongoing mental health crisis;
3) Elder abuse and;
4) Disability issues.

The group`s founders include Joe Comartin (Windsor-Tecumseh), Frank Valeriote (Guelph), Michelle Simson (Scarborough Southwest), Harold Albrecht (Kitchener-Conestoga), Kelly Block (Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar).

Each of the inaugural members has committed to conducting the Coalition`s work in a spirit of cooperation and purpose, and to enhancing the profile of these serious issues within their respective national caucuses and broader constituencies. United in a belief that Canada`s elected representatives should confront such contentious issues boldly and without recourse to partisanship, the group will circulate a formal invitation soliciting the participation of any interested colleagues in the House.

“While we acknowledge that we have the best health care system in the world, with Canada’s demographics changing so rapidly the shortcomings and gaps in our health system must be urgently addressed. Too many Canadians have had experiences where family or close friends have born witness to serious shortcomings in hospice and home care, or even the occurrence of elder abuse. Our newly formed Parliamentary Committee feels compelled to add valuable momentum and ideas to find solutions. Meaningfully addressing end of life and mental health issues as well as issues effecting people with disabilities bring dignity and a sense of significance to the lives of those suffering as well as their families and care givers. It is our sincere hope that this collaborative, non-partisan group of MPs will be able to help accomplish this in Parliament."

Monday, April 26, 2010

CUPE 1334 Marks Day of Mourning for Workers

Wednesday is Canada's National Day of Mourning for workers who have suffered workplace injury, illness and death. To commorate the day, the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1334 offers this press release and the event it discusses to help Guelphites mark the occassion.

Day Of Mourning will emphasize criminal code provisions for worker deaths.

Guelph — On April 28, workers, their families, labour leaders and others in Guelph will gather to demand improvements to workplace health and safety laws and better enforcement of existing laws. This includes enforcement of Criminal Code provisions regarding workers killed on the
job.

Bill C-45 amended Canada’s Criminal Code in 2004. It created requirements that hold organizations and individuals within the organization criminally liable for death or bodily harm caused at work. Specifically, Section 217.1 of the Code establishes a legal duty for persons directing the work of others to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of workers and the
public.

To date, one company has been convicted under these provisions. The first C-45 charge in Ontario proceeded to court on March 22, 2010. Millennium Crane Rentals of Sault Ste. Marie was charged with criminal negligence causing the death of a worker. A criminal investigation into the December 24, 2009 construction incident that killed four workers and shattered the
legs and spine of a fifth worker is now underway.

According to Workplace Safety & Insurance Board statistics, last year the families of 488 workers filed death claims and more than 317,000 workers filed occupational injury and disease claims. The outcomes of countless other workplace incidents and exposures go unreported, especially occupational disease claims.

In 1984, the Canadian Labour Congress, and its affiliated unions, established April 28th as the day to honour workers killed, injured or made ill. Today the day is recognized in more than 100 countries. Day of Mourning events will take place in more than 40 Ontario communities and
many more workplaces.

Local Event Information

Event Host: Guelph and District Labour Council
Location: Goldie Mill Park
Date: Wednesday April 28th, 2010
Time: 5.00pm
Speakers: Mayor Karen Farbridge, Blain Morin CUPE OHSC, Janice Folk Dawson CUPE 1334, The Gurley Flynns

P.E.D.A.L. to the Metal

Some people just don't know the definition to think small. To wit, a group from Guelph will be biking to British Columbia, down the west coast of the US, then east to the Texas Mexican border and south through much of Central America to promote sustainability. Here's infor about the group, Pollinating Experiences, Documenting Action and Learning, plus, infor about a fundraising event they're having next weekend.

P.E.D.A.L. Across the Americas is a project started by a dynamic group of youth who will cycle the length and breadth of North and Central America, departing June 19th, 2010. The primary purpose of the tour is to document and publicize sustainable livelihoods being practiced across the Americas in a range of social, political, economic, and environmental climates.

Through this tour we resolve to illustrate that sustainability is accessible to everyone and that people living in a variety of conditions can make meaningful contributions to planetary health. We aim to weave a network along our route connecting what we call “sustainability models”: those individuals, families, communities, and organizations that develop and demonstrate successful sustainable and socially conscious living initiatives. The intent is to empower the public at large in transitioning to sustainable lifestyles, and to facilitate the sharing of relevant resources and information. Ultimately, we intend to aid others in their journeys toward sustainability by publicizing what we learn so that people across the continent can take significant and permanent strides towards forming a sustainable society.

--------

Pollinating Experiences, Documenting Action and Learning

Two Wheels. One year. Nine countries. 16 000 km. Sharing environmental success stories across the Americas.

A CYCLING PROJECT FROM GUELPH TO COSTA RICA

FUNDRAISER SHOW ‘FOLKS FOR SPOKES’
@ NORFOLK CHURCH
MAY 8, 6-10PM

with
EVALYN PARRY
JAMES GORDON
PETER SLACK
P.O.I.
DENNIS GAUMOND
TERRA LIGHTFOOT
CARMELLA FARABAKHSH
Members of PEDAL

$12 or PAY WHAT YOU CAN

MOTHERS DAY ‘BRUNCH FOR BIKES’

@ 7 BAGOT STREET
MAY 9, 9 AM, 10 AM, 11 AM, 12 AM
SEATING TIMES

$8 or PAY WHAT YOU CAN + PLEASE RSVP

T O U R B E G I N S J U L Y 3 , 2 0 1 0

info@pedalacrosstheamericas.com
www.pedalacrosstheamericas.com

Friday, April 23, 2010

Quick Hits

A couple of really brief notices for you this afternoon:

1) It's Guelph's birthday today. Mayor Karen Farbridge marked the occasion on her blog

It was 183 years ago on this day that John Galt felled the first tree to establish Guelph.
Read more...

2) Maggie Laidlaw has thrown her hat back into the ring for the 2010 election. Posted today on Guelph Votes was notice that Laidlaw was running for her fourth term as Ward 3 city councillor. Here's the new scoreboard:


Politico Reaches 200 Posts

Happy Politico Reaches 200 Posts Day! Though it didn't happen as soon as I would have liked, the Politico blog now celebrates its bicentennial. Who would have thought?

But rather than celebrating me, I'd rather be celebrating you. I saw this as a great opportunity to thank those you who have taken the time to read this blog, but especially those of you who have gone the extra mile to post comments. And what wonderful comments they have been. Thoughtful, considered and occasionally insightful.

As a writer you want nothing more than to know that you're being read. With Politico though, my ambition was to also start conversations, to get opposing views, to create a veritable public square where no one is silenced and where everyone has an invitation to speak. I hope you feel the same way, and I hope we can keep developing that dialogue in the future.

And now, on with the countdown...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

UPDATED --- Better Know a Ward is Returning

So to all of you wondering, there has been some movement on the continuence of the "Better Know a Ward" series front.

UPDATE

Okay. So I wanted to wait till it was a done deal to unveal who and where BTAW was picking up. So I just got back from City Hall, where I interviewed said councillors, and I can reveal that the next edition of Better Know a Ward will feature Ward 6 councillors Christine Billings and Karl Wettstein.

So what's next? Check out the May 6th edition of Echo Weekly for the actual BKAW column, and then click over to this site here for the audio version.

PREVIOUS POST

This Thursday I will be meeting two city councillors and talking about their ward, their issues, and their plans for the rest of their term (and beyond?). If you've been following along, then you know that Wards 1 through 3 are already in the done column, so by process of elimination that leaves 4 through 6.

I won't tell you is being interviewed, but you are however free to guess (1 in 3 chance, can't beat those odds). The next "Better Know a Ward" will comprise the May 6th edition of "Guelph Beat" in Echo Weekly. On that same day, I'll be putting the full audio interview on Politico.

Stay Tuned.



City Groups Promote Health Equity

Part of province-wide event, Guelph will celebrate and inform along with the rest of Ontario on April 30th for Community Health Day. There press release is below with all the details.

GUELPH, ON, April 30th, 2010 – Guelph CHC Celebrates Community Health Day.

On Friday April 30th Ontario’s 74 Community Health Centres, ten Aboriginal Health Access Centres and 18 Community Family Health Teams are all celebrating Community Health Day.

Community Health Day is an opportunity for Community Health Centres, service partners and community members to rally around an issue of common concern. This year’s issue is health equity. Health equity means better health for all. To achieve better health for all, Ontario’s health providers, health agencies, Local Health Integration Networks and the provincial government must break down barriers that stand in the way of so many populations and communities enjoying good health or accessing the health services they need.

Guelph CHC will be hosting an event in celebration of Community Health Day on April 30th. The proposed agenda is outlined below.

Time: 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Location: Guelph CHC – Main Site (176 Wyndham St. N) lower level

Falling Through the Cracks (12:30-1:30)
Guelph CHC Executive Director, Konnie Peet will present “Falling Through the Cracks”, a presentation highlighting the relationship between socio-economic status and health inequity. A question and answer period will follow.

Health Fair (11:30-12:30 & 1:30-2:30)
Representatives from various agencies will set up displays for attendees to review before and after the presentation noted above. Confirmed agencies to date include: AIDS Committee of Guelph and Wellington County, Anishnabeg Outreach, KidsAbility, Make Yourself At Home Program and Wyndham House Youth Resource Centre.

Help Guelph Envision Guelph

Hey everybody! Want to see what the city might look like a quarter-century hence? Well for the next three nights you have your chance. Look here for all the details.

GUELPH, ON, April 16, 2010 – The City of Guelph invites community members and local media to attend one of three open house events titled Envision Guelph. Participants will review the City’s plans for managing growth, building healthy communities and preserving natural resources.

"These Envision Guelph open house events encourage people to join us as we picture Guelph 25 years from now," says Marion Plaunt, Guelph’s Manager of Policy Planning and Urban Design. "We are hoping people will also share what’s important to them as the city continues to grow and change."

The Envision Guelph open house events are part of the City’s Official Plan update. The Official Plan incorporates policies that govern residential development, commercial development and other land uses, natural and cultural heritage conservation, and the city’s transportation and energy systems along with other related policies and studies.

"The proposed changes to the Official Plan help to ensure that we manage growth and encourage investment while protecting and preserving Guelph’s natural resources, green spaces and overall quality of life," adds Plaunt.

WHAT
Open House
Envision Guelph - Official Plan Update

WHO
Marion Plaunt, Manager Policy Planning and Urban Design
Greg Atkinson, Policy Planner

WHERE
City Hall, 1 Carden St.
Meeting Room C

WHEN
April 20 6:30–9:30 p.m.
April 21 6:30–9:30 p.m.
April 22 6:30–9:30 p.m.

Eco Days this Weekend

The City of Guelph sent out this release today announcing that this Saturday - April 24th - is the Eco Days event for Spring 2010. Drop off your old TVs, computer monitors and dangerous household waste and collect your rain barrel and composter. Here's the deets:

GUELPH, ON, April 20 – The City of Guelph’s first of two Eco Days events in 2010 takes place Saturday, April 24.

Residents can drop off TVs and computer monitors for recycling free of charge and purchase rain barrels and backyard composters, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Waste Resource Innovation Centre, 110 Dunlop Drive, at Gate 1.

The City’s Public Drop Off will also be open at Gate 2 between 8:30 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. for all other electronic and yard waste. The Household Hazardous Waste Depot will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

At the Eco Days events in 2009, 266 rain barrels and 87 composters were sold.

Guelph Eco Days will take place again on Saturday, October 23. For more information about Eco Days, including acceptable TVs, monitors and e-waste items for recycling, visit guelph.ca/wetdry.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

It's a Body. No it's Not. But Maybe....

Despite a report earlier this week that a sinkhole in Baker Street has nothing to do with another misplaced body from the days over a century ago when that area was a cemetery, the London archaeological team that made the call are taking a mulligan.

Today's Guelph Mercury is saying, Whoa. Hold up. It appears that there was a grave under the sinkhole as remains - one bone and one bone fragment to be precise - seem to indicate it was an infant no older than four weeks. The remains will be reinterred in the pioneer section of Woodlawn Memorial Park, according to the article.

As much as this is a sad reminder of infant mortality nearly a century and half ago, but it remains a fascinating reminder of the history that lies under our feet (and roads). And keeping this in mind, I did enjoy this quote from the article:

Guelph Operations director Derek McCaughan said it is an accepted fact there remain occupied graves under Baker Street and the adjacent municipal parking lot.

“We’re well aware of that,” McCaughan said, adding the city “expects to encounter additional graves” when it ultimately moves ahead with the Baker Street redevelopment project.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Calling all Greens

This is special note to all Guelph Greens, your Annual General Meeting is this Monday. Look at the information below and act accordingly.

Green Party of Guelph Annual General Meeting, Monday, April 19, 6:00 PM, Norfolk United Church

Doors open at 6:00 PM, Meeting runs from 6:30 -9:30 PM
Featured Speakers:
Bob Desautels - from the Neighbourhood Group (Borealis and Woolwich Pub) on creating a locally supplied business
Evan Ferrari - from TREC (the group that runs the Toronto Wind Turbine) on “Renewable Energy and Community Power in Ontario”
Bob Bell - Federal Green Party Candidate update

Other features of the meeting include an update on progress in 2009, goals for 2010, and electing the 2010 executive!

For more information see Guelph Greens or email Patti at pdorland[at]gto[dot]net

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

More Candidates in Election '10

Spotted on the guelph.ca/vote website are two new names joining the election race for 2010.

First is David Birtwistle, and if he sounds familiar it's with good cause. Birtwistle was a councillor for Ward 4 serving two terms in 2000 and 2003 with 26 and 28 per cent of the vote, respectively. He was defeated in the 2006 election, losing his seat to Mike Salisbury and garnering a mere 16 per cent at the polls. But it appears his ambitions have broadened since 2006, and what could now make the race for mayor even more interesting is if Cam Guthrie enters the race, as he also ran against Birtwistle in Ward 4 in 2006.

The second new name on the ballot is Allan Boynton who is running for Ward 1 councillor. This is Boynton's first election in Guelph it seems, so I don't have too much about him. And try googling "Allan Boynton" and you get a myriad of different Allan Boyntons in the area, so I'm not sure what to say about him.

The count so far: 2 mayoral candidates; 3 Ward 1 candidates; and 1 candidate each for Ward 2, 3 and 6.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Gummer Remembered

"Is that crane still there?"

That's what a colleague of mine remarked one day as we headed to Red Brick Cafe for some refreshment. Yes, the crane is still there. And yes, it hasn't moved in about a year and a half. When global markets melted and recession seas rose, all work on the bricks and mortar formally known as The Gummer Building ceased.

It's been about a week since the third anniversary of the fire that burned out all but the mere fa├žade of the historic Gummer Building. The promised replacement, a modern office building that incorporated the surviving structure, has yet to see fruition. In fact, a deal to secure an "anchor tenant" in the form of the Co-operators has yet to be even reached.

But I didn't come here today to recite the politics and economics of the Gummer re-building - Scott Tracey did a pretty good job of that in last Thursday's Mercury - I came here to give a visual retrospective.

April 6th, 2007 was Good Friday that year. And this was the Easter Present received by both business owners and people living in the apartments above.



In the aftermath the next Monday, I got these shots of the building along Douglas Street. What struck me was juxtaposition of burnt out building covered with ice from all the water doused on the fire to put it out. It was a weird and eerie but kind of beautiful sight as I recall.

Flash-forward three years later. I took these shots on Friday evening and what I saw was a building that was well on its way to completion. I hadn't been back behind the Gummer Building in a while, and I was expecting to something that was still a mostly burnt out shell. Not this though. I'm a fan of architeture, and what I see here is a building desperately crying out to be completed.

Despite all the reasons why not, I'd love to see construction on the Gummer begin again. If nothing else, let's get to a point in construction where that ungodly crane can be taken down and taken away.

Wettstein Re-ups for Fall Election

The word has just been received from the Guelph Votes website that Ward 6 Councillor Karl Wettstein will be pursuing re-election this fall. Wettstein is (fittingly) the sixth candidate to come forward for the October 25th municipal election, and the first for Ward 6. If he wins, the 2010-2014 term will be Wettstein's third on city council. He was elected in 2000, then lost in 2003 before being elected again in 2006.

If you're a potential candidate for city council, we (and by 'we' I mean 'I') would love to hear from you. E-mail adamadonaldson[at]gmail[dot]com to break news of your candidacy.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Answers Soon in Washroom Death

Some time ago, one of you out there in blog land asked if there was any news on what happened last summer concerning young Isabel Warren who died when a wall collapsed in southend washroom last spring.

The Mercury had an update in today's edition. Long story short: the province is currently wrapping up their investigation and it should be ready to release its findings in a month. The city has completed its own, independent investigation but they can't release details until after the province releases their findings.

“The field work is completely over. Now we’re reviewing the information and determining whether to take any action,” [Ministry spokesperson Bruce Skeaff] said.

[...]

“The investigation is still underway with the province, and until that has been finalized we can’t pre-empt the province. They still have the responsibility for the investigation,” [City of Guelph Chief Administrative Officer Hans Loewig] said.

“We can’t release anything until the province has fulfilled their responsibilities and they direct us on it.”

More news as it happens...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Things that make you go hmmm...

Not sure why this interested me, but I thought I'd share it just the same. I was walking up Wyndham St yesterday evening and in the old store fronts of Ray's Family Thrift and Lee's Convenience, there were signs like these advertising the "Guelph Remastered" strategy. A couple of things ran through my mind (1) How sadly empty these storefronts seem without occupants or hope for occupants. (2) How I miss Ray Mitchell's fabulous, sometimes message-y, displays in the Family Thrift Store window, and (3) How disappointing it is that this seems to be the best use of two perfectly good buildings on prime real estate that the City can think of. It's going to be a long, dull wait before something better is going to be started here, I think.

Friday, April 9, 2010

U of G Students Say 'Yes' to U-Pass Price Increase

The undergraduate and graduate students of the University of Guelph have given an overwhelming thumbs up to an increase in price for the Universal Bus Pass, or U-Pass. The final results from the March referendum were released earlier today. According to the City, 5,000 students in total voted in the referendum, which is a pretty impressive number for any student election on campus. The new price for a U-Pass is $82 and change, which I believe is a $20 bump per semester. Still, it's only $10 more than the rest of us pay for an adult bus pass per month.

The U of G's post on the matter is here:

April 09, 2010 - Campus Bulletin

U of G students have voted overwhelmingly to accept a $20 increase to the universal bus pass starting May 1.

Results of a student referendum held in March were released today. Fully 90 per cent of undergraduate students and 81 per cent of graduate students supported the two-year rate increase negotiated between the University and Guelph Transit.

The new agreement will see the cost of U of G’s universal bus pass increase to $82.15 from $61.63 per four-month semester. There will be additional $2 price increases in each of the winter and spring/fall 2011 semesters.

Galen Fick, local affairs commissioner for the Central Students Association, said the outcome shows people recognized benefits for all students. “Students will continue to be environmental stewards and have universal support and access to one of the best transit systems around.”

Discussions about the bus pass rate had taken place between the University and City of Guelph for about two months after it was announced that Guelph Transit could no longer maintain services at the current rate. University students represent a significant portion of the transit system’s total ridership.

“The University is pleased that the students and the City will be continuing with the universal bus pass,” said Brenda Whiteside, associate vice president, student affairs, at the University of Guelph.

“This partnership allows Guelph Transit to remain accessible for our students, enabling them to choose living arrangements throughout the city and take advantage of an environmentally sustainable mode of transportation.”

The City's press release is here:

GUELPH, ON, April 9, 2010 –University of Guelph students voted in favour of supporting an increase to the cost of the University of Guelph transit pass (U-pass) as a result of a month long referendum process. A total of 5,000 students participated in the decision with 90% voting in support of the cost increase.

The University of Guelph U-Pass Program has been in place since 1994. The proposal to increase the cost of the pass came about as a result of budgetary pressures faced by the City. Changes to the U-pass are necessary to keep pace with the cost of running the transit system.

“We are very pleased with the results of the students' collective decision to support the Universal Pass. The change in pricing more accurately reflects the cost of providing bus services to the University of Guelph and works to further balance the contribution of the taxpayers for transit services." said Ann Pappert, Director Community Services, City of Guelph.

Since late 2009, representatives from the Central Student Association (CSA), Graduate Students' Association (GSA), University administration and Guelph Transit have worked together to revise program pricing and conditions that provide benefits to all the parties involved.

The new U-pass price will be $82.15 for the Spring/Fall 2010 semester, $84.15 for the Winter 2011 semester and $86.15 for the Spring/Fall 2011 and Winter 2012 semester.

“The University is pleased that the students and the City will be continuing with the Universal Bus Pass,” said Brenda Whiteside, Associate Vice President, Student Affairs at the University of Guelph. “This partnership allows Guelph Transit to remain accessible for our students, enabling them to choose living arrangements throughout the city, and taking advantage of an environmentally sustainable mode of transportation.”

University students represent a significant portion of the transit system’s total ridership. A ridership survey suggested approximately half of the university’s 20,000 students rely on Guelph Transit to get around the city.

“Students were asked to come to the table to continue our invaluable partnership with Guelph Transit. We answered that call and resoundingly said yes, we see the value in supporting the price increase to ensure that everyone keeps benefiting,” commented Galen Fick, Local Affairs Commissioner, Central Student Association. “Students will continue to be environmental stewards and have universal support and access to one of the best transit systems around. The City of Guelph can rest easy, knowing that due process has been followed and the price that students pay reflects the cost of providing the service.”

“Both graduate and undergraduate students have come forward to voice their strong support for the continuation of the U-Pass. Maintaining the U-Pass has ensured that every students’ accessibility needs will be met,” commented Jacqueline de Guzman, V.P. Finance, Graduate Students’ Association. “The partnership between students and Guelph Transit will only continue to grow and strengthen in the forthcoming years.”

In a spirit of co-operation, Guelph Transit continues to work closely with the student associations to develop a more detailed database to monitor ridership and service costs as a basis for future discussions.

The new price will take effect on May 1.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Director's Cut: Consulting group reveals bold plan for Transit

In today's Guelph Beat in Echo, there's a piece about last week's Transit Growth Strategy and Plan. However, due to the limited space I'm afforded in Echo, I could only include so many details. Enter The Politico. If you want to learn more about the transit strategy, read on. It's a bit longer than some of my regular posts, but it's an informative read, I think. Especially if you're interested in transit issues.

Guelph’s Transit Growth Strategy and Plan was addressed in two sessions last week at the Evergreen Seniors Centre and City Hall, respectively. After a public meeting last December, over 1,100 completed written surveys, 6,000 online surveys and interviews with members of council and transit stakeholders, the crew of Dillon Consulting unveiled their master plan, which was, to say the least, ambitious.

I had the opportunity to be a proverbial third wheel as Ward 3 Councillor June Hofland was taken through the proposed changes by Richard Puccini, a transportation consultant with Dillon. The plan was broken up into three areas: improvements to mobility service, changes to conventional bus service and the assessment of Higher Order Transit for the city (ie: light rail, use of Guelph Junction Rail lines and intercity transit). The overall vision of the project, to summarize, is to make public transit the preferred mode of transportation for everyone in the City of Guelph be they resident, worker or visitor.

But before learning where we’re going, the presentation began with an appraisal of where we are and how well – and not so well – we’re doing it. Among the common complaints was the need for better communication about transit changes, not enough service during peak hours and too much during off, and the indirectness of current transit routes. As for reasons why respondents weren’t taking transit, the top three included preferred to drive own car, working in city but living in another town, and inconvenient schedule.

How about why people use transit? Finishing number one in that category was environment, followed up by more pragmatic answers like “no alternative” or “my bus pass comes with my tuition so I might as well use it.” By the numbers, transit runs nearly 250,000 trips a day. On the downside, 38 per cent of businesses surveyed said that less than one per cent of their work force takes transit, however the next largest proportion, 15.2 per cent of business, said that over 20 per cent of their staff got to work on the bus.

Before getting in to the plan, Dillon had a board that articulated the vision they saw for transit going into the future: “Guelph transit is the preferred transportation mode for residents, employees and visitors of Guelph over the single occupant vehicle.” Now this is a multifaceted approach which includes biking, walking, and carpooling. Also kept in mind as these options were developed is the provincial energy strategy, as well as a recognition that outside factors like density, parking and gas prices will also play a part in getting people on a bus. “What we’re doing here is showing the opportunities,” said Puccini. So let’s begin.

First up were improvements to the city’s mobility service and according to the survey, ridership on Guelph’s mobility buses hasn’t increased in the last few years. The thing is though, it will. With an aging population, the city will need to expand past one mobility bus running four hours a day. Instead Puccini and his fellow consultants recommend getting a second bus and a north and south route. Further, the consultants talked about targeting those routes to the amenities and locations that seniors frequent. It’s hoped that within two years, ridership will expand by 25 per cent and then expand to 60 per cent in five years.

Conventional service is where things really get interesting. First, it was noted in the surveys that despite an overall excellent record of service, transit is still slipping so far as areas being underserviced or dealing with the fact that sometimes bus demand is either overwhelming or unable to meet demand. The perimeter routes have limited hours and don’t pick up nearly as many people in the north end of the route as it does in the south. And there’s a constant increase in ridership at the university that has to be addressed, but at the same time a new plan can’t lose focus of the downtown core.

So what to do? Puccini explained that a grid system was out of the question because the nature of the layout of Guelph streets makes it impractical. Instead, the Dillon team is recommending a complete teardown of the current routes and make the straight shot of Gordon, Norfolk and Woolwich the primary transit corridor of the city. They also suggest adjusting route lengths to make runs 15 minutes during peak and 30 minutes off peak. Sound complicated? It is, but with the new transit hub being developed at Carden and Wyndham in time for the arrival of GO trains in 2011, there’s never been a better time for a full-bodied redevelopment of the bus system routes.

The key to this plan is the Gordon/Norfolk/Woolwich corridor. The downtown and university will continue to act as hubs where people can transfer, but in addition there will be other hubs at Wal-Mart in the north end and Claire at Gordon in the south end. Additionally, several routes will be reconstructed to service specific quadrants, which will also avoid a lot of the back-tracking that bus routes currently do. “Can we tweak?” Puccini asked. “No, it’s broken and it needs to be fixed.”

Another part of the new system is the use of specialty buses. For instance, having express buses specifically assigned to ferry riders from different points to the university, or to factories in the Industrial area. “You can’t design a system that needs 30 people on the bus to be productive,” said Puccini. The also means an expanded service on weekends as well, but instead of running all weekday routes on Sunday but later, the Dillon team advices special Sunday routes, again using the Gordon/Norfolk/Woolwich corridor as a focal point.

Which brings us to the final part of the three step plan: H.O.T. or High Order Transit. High Order Transit goes beyond the basic city bus system and looks at rail options and inter-city travel. Sadly, for people looking forward to a light rail option in the city (ie: street cars), Puccini says it’s impractical given the city’s infrastructure, road size and lack of necessary supporting components (like overhead electric lines).

However, there is room for a rail option in Guelph and the bonus is that we already have the infrastructure in place and we own it. That’s right, this is where the Guelph Junction Railway lines come in to play. And to utilize them, Dillon is suggesting a system similar to Ottawa’s DMU. Think of train without a locomotive, and that in the first car there’s a diesel engine that propels the DMU as it travels from the future home of the innovation district in the southeast end of the city, to the Hanlon Express area in the northwest end. It would a 30-minute, 20 mile per hour trip from one end of town to the other, but it’s one that could be put in place tomorrow, according to Puccini.

But the Dillon team also advices the city to think about “the triangle.” That is the triangle of Guelph, K-W and Cambridge. Puccini says that there are a number of options that could be implemented in an inter-city transit option, including bus lanes between Guelph and other areas, setting up U-pass style deals with Conestoga College, and perhaps even running DMUs not just to K-W and Cambridge, but run them between Guelph and Georgetown, Fergus, Milton, even Hamilton. Puccini pointed out that Cambridge, as it stands currently, is extremely underserviced with only a few Grand River Transit buses running between it and Kitchener.

Overall though, Puccini said Guelph’s ahead of many southern Ontario municipalities with 6.1 per cent of the city population taking the bus as their primary form of transportation. Still 65 per cent are single person auto-centric and the city will need to take steps to discourage that while also encouraging a dynamic, multifaceted approach to transportation.