PRESENTATION TO COUNCIL BY MARY LAVIN, MAY 17, 2017
Relinquishing to City engineers the power of decision-making for Vancouver streets puts the fox in charge of the hen house.
Citizens of Vancouver did not vote for a City Council to make these decisions, only for that Council to subsequently forego its responsibilities.
Changes to permanent infrastructure alter citizens’ lifestyles, public safety and the well-being of residents along essential transportation routes. Those are substantial, crucial responsibilities that citizens need to be able to hold Councillors and their respective political parties accountable for at election time.
This Council, by opting to move the goal posts, after having been elected, shifting decision-making to the unelected body of City engineers, would be establishing a very slippery slope. Council would be able to evade unpopular decisions for which they would otherwise have to account at election time. Council would be permitting City engineers to abuse excessive power unchecked by their employers, the taxpayers of the city of Vancouver.
It is undemocratic for a governing body to deny citizens a system of checks and balances. It would be dangerous for roads, neighbourhoods and citizens to acquiesce to City engineers’ sudden, unrestrained grab for carte-blanche decision-making authority. Democratic due process requires public consultation, public hearings and the ability of the citizens to know and respond to these vital matters. Citizens did not elect a dictatorship of City engineers as unelected Councillors whom citizens are unable to fire for under-performing.
Those of us who lobbied hard against Phase 2 as unsafe on Point Grey Road know only too well City engineers’ continued stone-walling of citizens and sham “public consultations.” City engineers assured us that their dramatic, multi-million dollar Recommended Phase 2 Design, with all its Road Safety concerns, was open to change with resident input, but it was presented to Council, approved and implemented unchanged. We have experienced overt false advertising by City engineers when they propagandize redundantly, “We want to hear from you.” Nothing could be further from the truth. At meetings, our questions and concerns about Road Safety were met with silence, blank stares, dismissive and contemptuous attitudes, mistruths and meaningless declarations such as “Well, I am an engineer, so I know what I am doing.” First-hand, resident stakeholder evidence of safety hazards on Point Grey Road (including videos of scores of cyclists illegally riding on the newly-widened sidewalk) and foremost Road Safety expert findings of Phase 2 as likely to cause casualties were ignored by City engineers.
Citizen written correspondence with City engineers often yields no reply, a delayed generic response with all or most questions left unanswered, unprofessional informality, inconsistencies, incorrect information provided, insistence on FOIs to get answers, and passing of the buck, leaving citizens completely unsatisfied and asking more questions.
It is only through reports to Council and questions from Council and the public at public hearings that City engineers have to provide specific answers and address project inquiries in some depth. Moreover, when citizen correspondence with City engineers is carbon-copied to Mayor and Council, there is a remarkable advancement in speed of response, likelihood and accuracy, completeness of answer in some cases, and more professional tone. Without any mandatory reporting to Council, the evidence strongly suggests a deliberate abandonment of transparency by City engineers, which contradicts this Council’s mandate to be more transparent, not less.
Residents on Point Grey Road experienced first-hand what it means to give a little power to City of Vancouver Transportation engineers; we agreed by vast majority to the Phase 1 bike route for the safety of removing high volumes of commuter motorists off a residential road. In return, City engineers ignored our opposition to Phase 2 as unsafe and turned a safe, local, residential road into a concrete inland-seawall parkway with chaotic, multi-mode congestion fraught with safety hazards. We gave City engineers an inch; they took 2 kilometres.
Let that be a lesson to all citizens and all neighbourhoods; by City engineers having to report to Council, residents of Point Grey Road had a heads-up that the betrayal by City engineers and Council was coming.
Give these engineers the power not to have to report to Council, and citizens citywide won’t know what hit them, which is exactly what City engineers want.