Regretting ever getting involved, council ends sidewalk debate
Yellowknife city councillors ended their months-long debate over a single residential road's configuration with a vote on Monday to leave the initial decision unchanged.
In March, approval had been given for construction work to pave Calder Crescent – off Finlayson Drive, behind NJ Macpherson School.
The work involved paving the street to allow two-way traffic with parking on both sides but no sidewalk, as the roadway is not considered big enough to accommodate one.
Though councillors heard a majority of residents had favoured this configuration during a public consultation, a number of people living on the street objected to the lack of a sidewalk in the plan.
A petition launched online, with 270 signatures as of this week, called for council to reconsider.
'No safe options'
"The street is regularly used by pedestrians as a pathway between Finlayson Drive and Williams Avenue, and many school-aged children use the route to walk to NJ Macpherson and École St Joseph’s School," the petition read.
"When walking on Calder, pedestrians – including very young children, persons with disabilities, and seniors – have no safe pathway options and must utilize the road."
Having received similar feedback, councillors opted to revisit their March decision and embarked on a series of debates over several months.
However, at Monday's council meeting, councillors ultimately voted to leave the construction plan exactly as initially proposed – to applause from gathered residents, many of whom preferred parking and a two-way street to alternative solutions involving a sidewalk.
During a 40-minute discussion, councillors were both cheered and heckled. Some expressed a view the Calder Crescent sidewalk issue should never have reached this point.
"I’ve never felt so stuck on a decision since the day I was elected. This is ridiculous. This is the lesson that we are learning," said Councillor Julian Morse, who voted along with Mayor Mark Heyck (who passed the chair to Adrian Bell), Linda Bussey, and Shauna Morgan to end any prospect of changing the configuration.
Niels Konge, Rebecca Alty, and Rommel Silverio had been prepared to continue exploring other options involving the addition of a sidewalk. Steve Payne was not present at the meeting.
"I want to apologize to residents. What they’ve gone through is councillors having a policy-level decision about their street, and perhaps that wasn’t the most advisable thing for us to do," added Morse.
Referring to the initial plan for Calder Crescent's construction, Mayor Heyck said: "A proposal was put forward for the status quo. Most of the residents in the neighbourhood seemed to be happy with that. There are a lot of residents with small children on Calder Crescent who don’t have a problem not having a sidewalk.
"To me, this comes down to roles and responsibilities. This opens up a can of worms I’m pretty sure council doesn’t want to deal with in terms of every capital project.
"It’s been two months since this motion passed and we’re still here talking about it. It’s absolute folly in my mind. We’re just throwing out options now. That’s not how legislative decisions should be made and, in my view, this is an operational decision."
Morgan said: "It’s not our job, as a council, to be designing roadways in this manner."
Bell, discussing the issue before chairing the final vote at Heyck's request, was heckled from the floor as he said an option combining a sidewalk with parking on one side of the street was "the option I have been yelled at the least about."
A member of the public shouted out a sentence involving the phrase "listen to the taxpayers" as Bell spoke.
Heyck, by contrast, earned applause as he said: "Go back to what was originally proposed, and let’s get on with construction season and get this project done."
The debate over Calder Crescent's sidewalk exposed a marked divide between residents who preferred more parking and did not like an alternative option involving a one-way system – many of whom appeared to be in attendance on Monday – and residents who felt including a sidewalk was the bare minimum for any road project in the year 2018.
"I find it challenging to understand how a council that only a week ago publicly recognized the importance of accessible streets would vote against this principle, against public safety, and against their own vision of safe walkable cities," said Charles Kalnay-Watson, a resident of Calder Crescent, in a message to Cabin Radio.
"While I am of course deeply disappointed in the decision I hope that something positive will come from this, and hope that council will direct administration to develop standards for residential development in Yellowknife."
City staff say Calder Crescent's roadway is not wide enough, at 11 metres, to accommodate parking on both sides of the street and a sidewalk. Widening the roadway, while possible, would be costly and there is not the time remaining in this year's construction season to get that work done.
The original plan, featuring parking and a two-way street but no sidewalk, now goes ahead with no more discussion.
"We're done with this conversation. Happy construction season, folks," said Bell, to further applause, as Monday's debate concluded.