Coming up at City Council: February 2-6, 2015

It’s Committee week!

Agendas for upcoming City Council meetings are generally released on Thursday afternoons. I like to take a look to see what Council will be discussing, and I figured I should share that here. Below you’ll find links to the meetings taking place next week, as well as links to and thoughts on some agenda items that caught my eye.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Monday, February 2, 2015

Council starts the week with a Community Services Committee Meeting scheduled to take place from 9:30am until 5:30pm. There are three reports on the agenda, all of which require approval by Council.

Accessibility Advisory Committee

This report is for bylaw 17002 which will replace bylaw 13194 and change the name from the Advisory Board on Services for Persons with Disabilities to the Accessibility Advisory Committee (because committees are advisory in nature). Apparently a survey of other municipalities found that 70% use the name “Accessibility Advisory Committee”. It also follows the new standard for establishing bylaws of this nature, and would allow the Chair to participate in the shortlisting process for recruiting new members.

Amendment to the Public Places Bylaw

This bylaw is all about the decision to prohibit smoking in Churchill Square. Bylaw 17004 is ready for three readings and enables the City Manager to designate certain outdoor spaces as no smoking areas. What’s interesting is that Administration through the City Manager will now have the power to designate any area as a no smoking area, not just Churchill Square. If the three readings pass, the bylaw would come into effect on April 15, 2015.

Amendment to the Community Standards Bylaw for Backyard Fire Pit Control

This amendment, bylaw 17031, would prohibit outdoor fires during air quality advisories. The fine for violation will be $250, increasing to $500 for subsequent offences. Less than ten violation tickets were issued in 2014 for outdoor fire offences.

Delayed Reports

Three reports have been rescheduled for future meetings:

  • Fire Pit Enforcement Options – March 23, 2015
  • EPS: Policing Expenditures for Non-Residents – March 23, 2015
  • Options for prohibiting smoking at all outdoor City-owned facilities – April 20, 2015

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Council will hold its next Executive Committee Meeting on Tuesday, scheduled to run from 9:30am until 5:30pm. There are nine reports on the agenda, three of which require Council approval. Here are some agenda items that I was particularly interested in:

Policy on Construction Hoarding Standards

I have been concerned about construction hoarding, especially throughout downtown, for a while now. As a pedestrian, the current approach could be described as lacking, at best. Council has heard the concern and complaints from the community and a new policy on construction hoarding has bee proposed.

“Urban densification and a vibrant public realm are key elements to increasing the livability and sustainability of our city. As the city grows, it is crucial to maintain and improve the walkability and vibrancy of the public realm without hindering development in areas best suited for densification. The City of Edmonton promotes the use of construction hoardings that balance the interests of all parties in order to achieve pedestrian safety, transportation mode equity, vibrant streetscapes and community.”

This is a great step forward. The City will develop a template for hoarding agreements and set of standard clauses. They are reviewing the Safety Codes Permit bylaw and other applicable bylaws and will make recommended amendments as appropriate.

North LRT to NAIT Construction

Most importantly, the importance of the pedestrian appears to have been realized:

“A review of Edmonton’s current hoarding fees revealed that the amount charged for the
occupation of road is nearly four times more per square metre than for sidewalk. This creates an incentive to keep the road clear while occupying the sidewalk. Administration is working to change fees to reflect the importance of sidewalks in high pedestrian areas and acknowledge the City’s commitment to encourage active transportation.”

Incentives for public art are also being explored, which could make hoarding much more attractive. On top of that, improvements for public notification about road and sidewalk closures have been requested and will be considered.

This is really great news!

Direct Control Zoning for the Protection of Historic Character

Back in November, Council asked for a report on areas that may be suitable for DC zoning to protect historic character. The report outlines some definitions for heritage districts and the criteria used to identify heritage properties and character areas. These are typically 50 years or older. Edmonton currently has seven identified heritage character areas:

  • Westmount Architectural Heritage Area (1997)
  • Strathcona Historical Commercial Area (1998)
  • Historic West Ritchie Area (2011)
  • Garneau Special Character Residential Area (1982)
  • Viewpoint Special Character Area (1982)
  • Oliver Special Character Area (1997)
  • The Brickyard at Riverdale (2001)

Additional potential heritage character areas have been identified in McCauley, Alberta Avenue, Westmount, Inglewood, Glenora, Jasper Place, and Beverly Heights.

Edmonton’s heritage program was established in 1981 “in response to the loss of a number of key historic resources in Downtown.”

Building Canada Fund Projects

This report outlines the projects that could be submitted to the federal government under the new Building Canada Fund. The National Infrastructure and the Provincial-Territorial Infrastructure components of the fund provide a combined $14 billion for projects, with a variety of rules and restrictions that much be followed.

Yellowhead Trail
Yellowhead Trail by Brittney Le Blanc

The proposal is for Yellowhead Trail Improvements (Stages 1-5) to be our city’s priority under the National Infrastructure component. Five projects would be designated under the Provincial-Territorial Infrastructure component: LRT Expansion, Key Grade Saparations (50 Street and 75 Street underpasses, Manning/Meridian Interchange), Neighborhood Flood Mitigation Program, Fort Edmonton Park Utility Infrastructure Upgrades, Edmonton Energy and Technology Park.

The City’s portion of those projects would be funded using tax-support debt. Land acquisition is not eligible for funding under the Building Canada Fund, and that is expected to make up more than $200 million of the Yellowhead Trail project costs, so that’s a concern.

TOD on the Coliseum LRT Station and Northlands Site

This report is an update on plans for transit oriented development around Coliseum LRT Station. The high level update is that plans are on hold until the Northlands Arena Strategy Committee (which I am a member of) makes it recommendation on the future of Rexall Place and until the Northlands Board of Directors completes its Strategic Planning Process. The City is meeting regularly with Northlands and have agreed to “evolve a partnership relationship and to enhance communication and collaboration.”

Other

Delayed Reports

Two reports have been rescheduled for future meetings:

  • Possible Amendments to Procedures & Committees Bylaw 12300 – February 24, 2015
  • Public Hearing Process (Henderson/McKeen) – April 21, 2015

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The final meeting of the week will be the Transportation Committee Meeting on Wednesday from 9:30am until 5:30pm. Here are the four reports that will be discussed:

Raising Awareness for High Collision Areas

This report follows on from a request made back in November to explore how to raise awareness of high collision locations. It summarizes six measures that may increase driver awareness of those locations:

  • Static Roadside Signs
  • Dynamic Roadside Signs
  • Pavement Markings
  • Intersection Safety Devices (cameras)
  • Improve Signal Visible Measures
  • Public Engagement and Communications

The report says that static roadside signs “have been shown to have minimal effectiveness on collision reduction.” The City is proposing to update the signs to include more information on what action needs to be taken (slow down, exert caution when merging, etc.). Dynamic roadside signs are like digital message boards or signs that show a driver’s speed. The report says that for speed limit compliance, “Driver Feedback Signs are effective as a speed management tool.”

high collision sign

Pavement markings can be effective, but less so in Edmonton where the roads are covered in snow for so much of the year. Apparently cameras at intersections “showed significant reductions” in collision severities and types. The report says the best way to improve signal visibility is to put it overhead, a measure which “can reduce collisions by 30 to 35 percent.” Finally, the report says public engagement campaigns can be effective, such as a program that resulted in a 15 percent reduction of red-light running vehicles.

Expropriation of Lands for the Valley Line LRT

Council approval is required to begin the expropriation process, so I expect the Committee to make that recommendation as a result of this item. By starting the process, the City will be able to negotiate with property owners to reach a settlement or a Section 30 Agreement (which allows the Land Compensation Board to determine the compensation when a settlement between the two parties cannot be reached).

The required expropriations and temporary and permanent construction easements for this stage are all the land around Mill Woods Town Centre (Lot 3, Block 6, Plan 0022000).

Open Tenders of $20 million or greater

Bylaw 12005 requires that open tenders greater than $20 million require Committee approval. This report highlights one tender, number 927871, which is for “Dust-free Mechanical Street Sweeping and Related Services”. The value of the project is between $30 million and $50 million.

Eliminating Railway Whistling at Public Crossings

Back in November, Councillor Esslinger asked for information about how to eliminate railway whistling at public crossings in the densely populated areas of north Edmonton, particularly late at night. The report says that train whistling is required under Transport Canada’s operating rules, but that an exemption could be sought if the City and CN worked together to apply for one. It would require a “whistling cessation study” to be completed at an approximate cost of $50,000 per location. Depending on the outcome of the study, crossing upgrades would likely be added on top of that cost. There is currently no budget allocated for any of this.

Delayed Reports

Eight reports have been rescheduled for future meetings:

  • Escalators at LRT Stations (Walters/Iveson) – February 25, 2015
  • Traffic Noise from the Anthony Henday (Oshry) – February 25, 2015
  • Low Income Transit Pass Pilot – April 22, 2015
  • Public Involvement Plan – Barriers to Participation – May 6, 2015
  • Community Traffic Management Plan Pilot (Prince Charles & Pleasantview) – May 6, 2015
  • Community Traffic Management Process Possible Changes – May 6, 2015
  • Opportunities for Commercial Development in Future LRT/Transit Infrastructure – June 17, 2015
  • Bike Lane Removal (Nickel) – June 17, 2015

Wrap-up

It’s not up yet, but I expect an overview of everything that happened this week to be on the Mayor’s Week in Review Blog soon.

You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online.

17 reasons why City Council deserves the 3.8% raise

City Council will receive a 3.81% salary increase in 2015, which would make the mayor’s salary $176,145 and the councillors’ salary $99,994. That’s an increase over their 2014 salaries of $6,464 and $3,671, respectively. As one third of that is tax exempt, the fully taxable equivalent salary is $213,272 for the mayor and $118,824 for the councillors. At the end of the day, we’re talking about another $50,516 per year to pay for all the increases. It’s not a large amount, and I think it’s fair.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Here are 17 reasons why Council deserves the proposed raise, in no particular order:

  1. Under our current twelve ward system, Councillors represent between 60,000 and 95,000 Edmontonians each. And our city is one of the fastest growing in the country, so that number is only going up!
  2. Council’s compensation is calculated in an open and transparent way using the percentage change in the 12 month average of the Alberta Weekly Earnings values as reported by Statistics Canada.
  3. Just counting Council & Committee meetings and public hearings, Council met 115 times in 2014. Those meetings included a combined 3,825 agenda items. Many of those included multi-page reports. That’s a lot of reading!
  4. Unlike other levels of government, Councillors do not vote on their own pay raises. It’s done automatically through an independent system that was established in 2011 by bylaw 15969.
  5. An increase of 3.8% is nothing compared with historical increases! Before the current system was implemented, aldermen awarded themselves large increases. In 1972 aldermen gave themselves a 26% increase, and in 1977, immediately after the election, aldermen tried to increase their salaries by 60%! In 1989, aldermen approved a 51% increase over three years.
  6. Supported by Council, our mayor stood up in front of a room full of business people and said that while attempting to eliminate poverty is a complex challenge, he is is unafraid to tackle it. This Council believes in the importance of representing and improving the lives of all Edmontonians.
  7. Councillors work long hours, way more than 40 per week in most instances. Just look at the last week – they had a marathon discussion about Uber and taxis that went to nearly 10pm, and they extended the January 26 Public Hearing twice in order to give everything the time it deserved. On top of that they regularly attend community events throughout the week and on weekends. A busy week could easily exceed 60 hours.
  8. Councillor Gibbons estimated back in 2012 that the proposed 5.35% increase that year worked out to an extra $2 per hour based on the number of hours he puts in.
  9. Many members of Council choose to direct portions of their salary or their eligible increases to worthy causes. For instance, in 2011, 2012, and 2013 Councillor Iveson donated $2,505 of his salary to the Donate-a-Ride program. Sometimes members of Council simply decline an increase. For instance, Mayor Mandel froze his salary for three years until his final year in office.
  10. They are working hard to develop a “true partnership” with the Province that will result in the long-term sustainability of our city. They are renewing neighbourhoods now and building up a fund to pay for maintenance in the future. They’re concerned with Edmonton’s future, not just its present.
  11. A study on the perception of Council’s compensation in 2012 (pdf) found that the annual salaries for comparable positions for the mayor and councillors align well with the actual salaries they receive.
  12. One comparison to another leader in our community: outgoing University of Alberta president Indira Samarasekera earned a salary of $544,000 last year. Another comparison: more than 3,100 Alberta government employees earned over $100,000 a year in 2012 and 2013.
  13. Unpopular as the idea may sound, research suggests that higher wages attract better quality politicians and improve political performance. This was the argument made in Boston recently too when Councillors there debated giving themselves a 29% raise.
  14. Council is committed to building our city’s infrastructure, and they’re getting results, securing funding for the Valley Line LRT extension as an example.
  15. If rising costs are your concern, there are far more expensive things to be concerned about. Here are 99 stupid things the government spent your money on. At #53: “The City of Edmonton spent $500,000 on licences for software that an auditor said hardly any employees ever use.” Back in 2008, the City spent $92 million on consultants.
  16. After taking into account the difference in tax exemptions, our mayor and councillors make roughly the same amount as their counterparts in Calgary.
  17. Every year, no matter what they do, Councillors have to deal with hundreds if not thousands of complaints about snow removal, potholes, and other hot topics. Not to mention hearing constant NIMBYism and receiving all kinds of criticism as they try to make positive change for now and the future. It really is a thankless job at times.

I’m sure you can think of many other reasons – what are yours?

Yes, improvements could be made. I’d like to see the salaries stated in terms of the fully taxable equivalent for instance, rather than having to explain that 1/3 is tax exempt. Still, I think it’s crazy how upset some citizens get whenever the topic of salary increases for City Council comes up. There’s no shortage of other more important issues to discuss.

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #139

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

  • Congratulations to Dave Cournoyer who has been blogging at Daveberta for 10 years! I remember being a little starstruck when I first met Dave in line for a show at the Varscona Theatre. I was a big fan (I still am) and meeting people in person that you followed online was still a little strange at the time. He was totally cool about it though, and I’m fortunate to have gotten to know him better over the years since. Here’s to another 10 years Dave!
  • Here’s the oldest cache of Dave’s blog that exists at the Internet Archive, from December 23, 2005.

Stephen Mandel's Campaign Office
Dave with Michael Walters & Stephen Mandel in 2010

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for 1/25/2015

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Agreement targets new Municipal Government Act in 2016
Mayors Iveson & Nenshi talk with Premier Prentice

Upcoming Events

All Eyes on the Big Build!!
All Eyes on the Big Build! by Jeff Wallace

Coming up at City Council: January 26-30, 2015

For an overview of everything that happened this week, check out the Mayor’s Week in Review Blog.

Agendas for upcoming City Council meetings are generally released on Thursday afternoons. I like to take a look to see what Council will be discussing, and I figured I should share that here. Below you’ll find links to the meetings taking place next week, as well as links to and thoughts on some agenda items that caught my eye.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Monday, January 26, 2015

Council starts the week with a Public Hearing scheduled to take place from 1:30pm until 9:30pm. There are 27 bylaws listed on the agenda – here are a few that caught my eye:

Bylaw 16733 – Text Amendment to the Zoning Bylaw

This bylaw is ready for three readings after the public hearing has been held and its purpose is to change the terminology for height regulations in the zoning bylaw. Specifically it’ll remove “storeys” as a definition for maximum height.

“The current regulations in Zoning Bylaw 12800 manage height through a numerical distance and a description of building form, but this often creates a contradiction between opportunities. For example, a building could meet the numerical height requirement but not meet the storey requirement.”

This bylaw increases the maximum height in all affected zones from 14 metres to 16 metres in response to advances in building construction methods. “For example, the (RA7) Low Rise Apartment Zone allows a four storey building in 14 metres, but it is not possible to fit a four storey building within this allowance using standard grade calculation methods and typical building designs.” The bylaw also clarifies when a wind study or sun shadow study should be requested, and adds basic evaluation criteria for both.

Bylaw 17011 – Adoption of The Decoteau Area Structure Plan

This bylaw is ready for first and second reading only, which means it’ll be back to Council at least one more time. It deals with the Area Structure Plan (ASP) for the area known as Decoteau, which is south of Anthony Henday Drive, east of 50 Street SW, west of Meridian Street SW, and north of 41 Avenue SW. Really far in the southeast, basically.

Decoteau ASP

This is one of the Urban Growth Areas defined in The Way We Grow, and this ASP is the final one to be prepared and advanced to Council. An ASP describes the land uses and their general locations. The proposed Decoteau ASP is approximately 1,960 hectares and proposes a population of nearly 68,000 living in five neighbourhoods. Here’s the vision for the Decoteau ASP:

“Decoteau embraces its unique landscape to provide residents with a remarkable ecological and recreational network comprised of interconnected wetlands, parks and open spaces. It integrates residential development with retail/commercial nodes, the ecological/recreational network, a significant business employment area, and a dynamic mixed use town centre to create walkable, complete communities for all seasons. The result is a group of diverse neighbourhoods that are connected to surrounding communities yet grounded in the local landscape.”

That was developed by a stakeholder advisory group of land owners, residents, developers, the City, and special interest groups. The area is intended to develop over the next 35-40 years.

The ASP discusses revenue and expenditure expectations over a 50 year time span. It’s a projection, based on build-out in approximately 39 years with a total population of 67,816 people.

decoteau costs

As you can see, cumulative costs exceed cumulative revenues. “So as the City grows this and other residential areas, it must also grow its non-residential areas to maintain balanced growth.” It’s another neighbourhood that can only be supported in the long-run by acquiring more non-residential land, which requires more residential areas, etc. “In other words, for the City as a whole to maintain the current ratio, there needs to be approximately $5 billion of non-residential assessment for every $20 billion in residential assessment growth.”

Horse Hill ASP, NSP, and Meridian Street/Manning Drive Interchange

Bylaw 17021 includes an amendment to the Horse Hill ASP that reconfigures some of the proposed elements and would result in an increase in the net residential density from 31 to 33.4 units per net residential hectare. Bylaw 17022 is the Neighbourhood Structure Plan (NSP) for the proposed Horse Hill Neighbourhood 2, which is bounded by 195 Avenue NW to the north, the North Saskatchewan River to the east, Horsehills Creek to the south, and Manning Drive to the west. The NSP will accommodate 25,800 people in approximately 10,800 dwelling units, resulting in a density of 38.1 units per net residential hectare. Bylaw 17030 is being considered along those two, and amends the boundary of the North Saskatchewan River Valley ARP.

Bylaw 17032 is an amendment to the Arterial Roads for Development bylaw that proposes the transportation levy for Horse Hill include a contribution of funds to the interchange at Meridian Street and Manning Drive. The land is under provincial jurisdiction, but “the Province has indicated that it will not construct the interchange.”

Oliver ARP & mixed used building up to 14 storeys

Bylaw 17040 and Bylaw 17041 together proposed to amend the Oliver ARP to allow for the development of medium to high rise mixed-use development on the north side of Jasper Avenue between 121 Street and 122 Street. Currently on that site is the 121 Jasper Liquor Store, Planet Organic, and some empty lots. The second bylaw would rezone from DC1 and CB1 to CB3 which would allow for mixed-use developments up to 14 storeys in height.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

On Tuesday Council will be holding a regular Council meeting. Here is an overview of the agenda:

Reports

There are three new reports to be discussed:

Bylaws

There are 14 bylaws that Council will consider, including:

  • Bylaw 17091 – making the name change of the Chinatown Business Revitalization Zone official
  • Bylaw 17092 – to amend the Quarters CRL bylaw to increase borrowing authorization by $44.345 million
  • Bylaw 17075 – this one is like bylaw inception, amending bylaw 15156 as amended by bylaw 15978 – bottom line: it’s to increase borrowing authorization for the Great Neighbourhoods Initiative by $60 million
  • Bylaw 17076 & Bylaw 17077 – to undertake, construct, and finance the new Northwest Police Campus and Dispatch and Emergency Operations Centre
  • Bylaw 17053 – to authorize the City to lend up to $1.2 million to Waste RE-solutions Edmonton

Six of the other bylaws are to undertake, construct, and finance various Waste Management projects.

Committee Recommendations

The following recommendations have been referred to Council for a vote:

Motions Pending

There are two motions pending, both from Councillor Henderson:

Private and Verbal Reports

There are six private or verbal reports listed on the agenda, which means they’re subject to FOIPP and are not made public due to sensitive information that could diminish the City’s negotiating position or ability to compete:

  • Settlement of an Expropriation Claim – Fort Road Widening
  • Settlement of an Expropriation Claim – Fort Road Old Town Redevelopment
  • Bargaining Update (verbal report)
  • City of Edmonton Nominee – Utilities Consumer Advocate Advisory Board
  • Municipal Development Corporation – Possible City Properties
  • Event Update No. 4 – Commonwealth Games (verbal report)

Wrap-up

You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online.

We Got Married!

Sharon and I got married in Edmonton on September 27, 2014. We had the most wonderful day. But, as anyone who has planned a wedding can tell you, the number of people and goods involved can be complex. We wanted to sum up our day, which would also pay homage to the great vendors we worked with along the way.

Sharon: The most common question leading up to the wedding was whether or not it was stressful planning it. To be honest, the wedding was one of the most fun occasions I’ve ever organized – it was a chance for Mack and I celebrate with our loved ones, and through the process, work with vendors we respect. Any stress leading up to it was related to the fact that the wedding was the last of four “events” we were producing in the seven weeks leading up to the end of September, followed by our honeymoon departure two days after. But we made the bed, so although it was hectic, it was entirely by choice.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Mack: I was thrilled with the way our wedding day went and it was all thanks to Sharon. I certainly tried to help, but it probably won’t surprise you to learn that she was the one that truly made it happen. Maybe it was because we’ve attended a bunch of our friends’ weddings over the last few years, but she just knew what to do, from start to finish. As usual, I’d have been completely lost without her. I appreciate that she included me in the planning process and always asked for my opinion, even if sometimes she had already made up her mind!

Mack & Sharon Wedding

What We Wore

Sharon: I have always loved the look of Audrey Hepburn’s wedding dress in the final scene of Funny Face – elegant, chic, and tea-length. Although conventional wedding dresses are typically to the floor or beyond, I knew something less fussy and easier to wear would suit me better.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

A few years ago, while visiting Amanda in Toronto, we were riding the streetcar on Queen West, when I caught a glance of a storefront window featuring cocktail-length wedding dresses. The shop I was admiring turned out to be Cabaret, a respected vintage retailer which, in recent years, had also developed an in-house collection of vintage-inspired wedding dresses. The Cabaret staff were fabulous to work with, and I loved that the garments were handmade in Toronto. In May, I ordered “The Bijou”, one of the dresses I had seen in the window all those years ago. They shipped it out to me free of charge, and it fit perfectly, requiring no alterations. I couldn’t have imagined getting married in anything else.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Sharon: For my sisters’ bridesmaids dresses, we were hoping to continue that vintage look. Our colour palate was cranberry and charcoal. After shopping around, we couldn’t shake the appeal of Alfred Sung’s line of dresses. We found a great selection at Bridal Debut in Sherwood Park.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

I also wanted to mention the two lovely ladies who did our hair and make-up that day. It’s an understatement to say I rarely dabble in beauty products, so I entrusted Jenn Chivers and Jenise Wong to help me. Jenn was efficient, professional, and was able to create art from an image. Jenise, a friend of Felicia’s, knew my apprehension about not looking or feeling like myself, so made sure I was comfortable with the make-up. I think she did a fabulous job!

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Mack: Honestly, I had never really considered what I would wear on my wedding day. There’s no “That Suit is a Beaut” or “Say Perfecto to the Tuxedo” show on TLC for guys. I guess I always figured my bride would guide me. Fortunately, she did. At Sharon’s suggestion, I decided I liked the lighter grey color with some red to pop. I wanted to look good, but I certainly didn’t want anything that would take attention away from Sharon and her dress. So with that in mind, service became the most important criteria for choosing where to get my tux.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

After checking out a couple of options, we made our way to Moore’s on Calgary Trail, where we met an awesome sales associate named Agnus. She was helpful right from the start, and made great suggestions such as getting an off-white shirt because Sharon’s dress wasn’t pure white (and could look yellow in photos if my shirt was). I ended up renting a BLACK by Vera Wang tuxedo, and was very happy with it. Again, the service at Moore’s was fantastic.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Sharon: Although we were impressed by the sample arrangements at Wild Orchid, our deciding factor to book with them was their proximity to our condo. Being one block away, we negated delivery charges, and a member of our wedding party simply walked over the morning of to grab the bouquets. Sticking to vendors close to home definitely had its advantages!

Taking Care of Business

Sharon: I liked the idea of a first look – not only would it take the pressure off waiting until the start of the ceremony to see each other in our wedding attire, but it also meant we could be more economical about our time that day.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

We squeezed in an extra location for our wedding party shoot in the time leading up to the ceremony, taking advantage of having the City Market right outside our front door. It was important to us to incorporate as many of our favourite Edmonton activities into our day as possible – sure, our wedding was primarily to celebrate our love of each other, but why not celebrate our love of Edmonton, too?

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Mack: Though I was happy for Sharon to take the lead on figuring out what our day would like, I knew for sure that I wanted a tea ceremony to be part of it. The modern tea ceremony is a nod to Chinese culture and tradition and is a great way to show respect to our parents. There are variations on the procedure, but in general it consists of the bride and groom serving tea to their parents (and sometimes other elders like aunts, uncles, and grandparents). In exchange, they are presented with a small gift to wish the couple good luck.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

In our case, we served our parents tea. We also included Sharon’s sisters, and they served us tea in exchange for a red pocket (as we’re their elders). It was a fun way to include a little bit of Sharon’s familial heritage into our day.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Saying “We Do!”

Mack: Because we have decided to live in the core, Sharon and I walk whenever possible – we walk to work, to the market, and to activities. So it was important to us that we be able to walk on our wedding day too. That meant a venue downtown, and though we initially had our sights set on the Citadel’s Tucker Amphitheatre, we ultimately settled on the historic McKay Avenue School. Located a few short blocks from home, we knew it would make the logistics on the day much easier for us, and we hoped that being centrally located would mean easier access for our guests too. The third floor assembly hall was where we held our ceremony, a beautiful space with old wooden beams and floors, and a skylight too. We are thrilled that City Council has recently decided to proceed with designating the building as a Municipal Historic Resource, so that other Edmontonians can enjoy its history and character for years to come.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Sharon: Mack and I had elected to use an internet-based system to manage our guest list instead of issuing paper-based invites. And though we had some functionality challenges with Appy Couple, it was still the right choice for us. It also allowed us to invest more of our budget into the paper program, which we treated as the primary souvenir from the ceremony. Erica Leong, a close family friend, is a designer based out of Vancouver, and she did a fantastic job translating our vision for a whimsical representation of a few of our favourite places in Edmonton. The program text itself was adapted from an online template.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Sharon: After moving to 104 Street, I started associating City Market mornings with the sound of Martin Kerr’s voice. Windows open, his acoustic songs would float up into our condo, and over breakfast, we’d be able to enjoy his renditions of everything from Oasis to Jack Johnson. Knowing he also performed at weddings, we booked him early on in the planning process – while we didn’t get a chance to shop at the market that morning, we did have a piece of the market at our ceremony that day.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Mack: Friends of ours had Fat Franks at their wedding a few years ago and we thought it was a fun, unique way to offer guests something to eat after the ceremony. Plus, with our penchant for food trucks, we knew we wanted to incorporate them into our day in some form! We decided to ask Eva Sweet to serve the waffles we have enjoyed so regularly at the City Market downtown. They were also one of the very first participants at What the Truck?! Back in 2011.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

What We Ate

Mack: Whenever Sharon and I are feeling gluttonous and don’t want to cook, we make a trip over to Route 99. We have been eating there since our first trip together in 2007 and I guess you could say that over the years it has become “our place”. We love the easy-going atmosphere, the quick service, and the non-traditional but extremely tasty poutine.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

It was important to Sharon that we plan lunch for the wedding party into the schedule of the day as this is often overlooked and just makes everyone hungry and grumpy until the reception. That’s how we found ourselves at Route 99 for lunch in our fancy wedding clothes! It was a great way to relax slightly after the stress of the ceremony, to take a look at the social media posts that had gone up, and to go over our plans for the remainder of the day.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Sharon: We’ve always loved Chef Blair Lebsack’s food. Since his tenure at Madison’s Grill, to his outdoor farm dinners, and now, his celebrated establishment RGE RD, Blair has been an integral part in our journey of understanding the possibilities of locally-sourced ingredients. That said, we knew hosting our reception at RGE RD would require a very select guest list, as the restaurant only has the capacity of forty. We didn’t regret our decision – an intimate group meant we were able to spend more time with our friends and family, and the absolutely gracious staff made us feel right at home.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Mack & Sharon Wedding

We were able to customize a menu with Blair (to the point of requesting specific dishes we’d enjoyed in the past), while Caitlin designed the drink pairings. Mack and I especially appreciated Blair’s willingness to introduce each dish – the guided tasting elevated the experience, which was a first for many of our guests. And of course, the food – I will never forget the tempura-fried, ricotta-stuffed tomato, the incredibly flavourful potage, the wood-fired roasted chicken and the panna cotta that everyone couldn’t stop talking about. It was a beautiful end to a wonderful day, and I’m so grateful to the staff that made it happen.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Mack: Photography is of course an important part of any wedding, and truth be told we’ve known for a while who wanted to help us capture the day. We first met Bruce and Sarah Clarke of Moments in Digital a few years ago at one of the tweetups we hosted, and we were immediately impressed with not only the quality of their work but also how great they were to work with.

Mack & Sharon Wedding

We knew that Bruce and Sarah would make us feel comfortable and that the result would be a series of beautiful images that we’d be able to enjoy for years to come. They were incredibly helpful right from the start, and played a big role in helping us to organize and plan the day. We’re very happy with how the photos turned out and hope you enjoy them too!

Mack & Sharon Wedding

Sharon: No wedding can happen without the help and support of family and friends, and ours was no exception. From our parents to our wedding party, and our friends who lent, manned or otherwise ensured things were done before or on the day, Mack and I are in your debt.

Metro Line LRT delayed again until Spring 2015, maybe, hopefully

The City held a press conference late this afternoon to provide an update on the Metro Line LRT extension to NAIT. They should have waited until February 2, because once again we learned that the opening of the new line has been delayed. The new target date is May 2015, more than a full year after the extension was originally slated to open.

2014-12-07 McEwan Station
MacEwan LRT Station in December 2014, photo by Darren Kirby

Today’s news release thanked Edmontonians for their patience and used much more careful language than previous delay announcements:

“Based on the most recent testing schedule provided by Thales Rail Signalling Solutions Inc., the City of Edmonton is cautiously optimistic the Metro Line LRT will open to public service in spring 2015.”

Cautiously optimistic is a long way from confident. The reason for the delay is the same thing we’ve heard since the project was first delayed – the contractor is having problems with the signaling system:

“Thales appreciates the patience of everyone in Edmonton as we work to complete the signaling system for the Metro Line,” says Thales Vice President Mario Peloquin. “We understand how important this essential transportation infrastructure is for the people of Edmonton, and we remain committed to delivering an outstanding product that is safe, efficient and reliable, and that will serve the city for generations to come.”

The signaling system is responsible for controlling train traffic. It tracks train movements and keeps them on schedule. Part of the challenge is that with the Metro Line, the City is changing the signaling system from a traditional fixed block system to a more modern communications-based train control system, or CBTC. It’s this new signaling system that will enable trains on the Metro and Capital lines to share the same tracks.

Even though construction completed on time and $90 million under budget, the Metro Line still isn’t open. The project has been delayed numerous times over the last year or so:

  • In September 2013, everything seemed on track for an April 2014 opening.
  • In December 2013, the opening was delayed a few months until Spring 2014.
  • In the Spring of 2014, the opening was further delayed until the end of the year. That schedule was reaffirmed over the summer.
  • In October 2014, the opening was delayed again, with February 2015 identified as the earliest possible date.
  • Now, in January 2015, the opening has been delayed until May 2015.

Needless to say, there’s very little confidence in the latest target date.

New Edmonton Arena Construction
MacEwan LRT Station next to the new downtown arena, September 2014

It was in October 2014 that Mayor Iveson called the delays “unacceptable” and asked the City Auditor to review how the project had been managed. Since then, the City has held back $20 million from the $55 million contract with Thales, and the auditor has been investigating.

Now the City says that the latest schedule from Thales would have the handover of the signaling system take place by March 23, 2015. If by some miracle Thales is actually able to meet that date, the City would need approximately 6 weeks to evaluate the system and complete staff training.

“We are very concerned with the ongoing delay of the Metro Line and will continue doing everything we can to hold Thales to their new schedule. Our goal remains the same: to open the Metro Line for safe, reliable public service as quickly as possible.”

On the Metro Line LRT site, the City has made available a slide deck and an FAQ, both in PDF.

metro line delayed

The FAQ tries to explain what has happened and attempts to provide some confidence that the City is providing “increased” project oversight to ensure it gets done. After the number of delays this project has experienced, you have to wonder if sticking with Thales is the right approach, but that’s what the City is doing:

“At present, our best option is to continue supporting Thales to deliver the signaling system. Our expectation is that Thales will meet its commitments. The City has strict project oversight to ensure they do so. If they fail to meet a milestone or if testing does not proceed according to schedule, the City will hold Thales to account.”

Let’s hope the sunk cost fallacy isn’t at play here.

The City says they are “tracking milestones on a daily basis” and have increased resources on the project. “We’re working diligently to help Thales deliver the signaling system by March 23, 2015.” The FAQ even says the City has explored the option of using people to manage train movements in an effort to get the new line open more quickly, but they ultimately decided that approach did not meet requirements for cost, safety, reliability, or efficiency.

Curiously, the final question in the FAQ is, “are you feeling badly about the delay, City of Edmonton?” Here’s the answer:

“Everyone involved with the Metro Line project regrets the delay of this exciting transportation project. We ask for your patience and hope you’ll continue to bear with us as we work towards bringing the Metro Line into service in spring 2015.”

So we’ll have to wait until late March before we can be sure the Spring 2015 opening is actually going to happen. In the meantime, we’d better make sure the same problems aren’t going to plague the Valley Line LRT extension.

City Council opens the door for Uber to operate legally in Edmonton

After a marathon meeting that lasted until nearly 10pm, Council eventually decided to look at new regulations that could make Uber legal while enforcing the existing bylaws in the meantime. The motion put forward by Councillor Knack also seeks additional data on the taxi industry and directs Administration to look at issuing additional taxi plates. “The world has evolved and people want choice,” he said.

Here’s the motion that Council passed unanimously this evening:

  1. That Administration work with the Transportation Network Companies and other stakeholders to provide a report, before the end of the third quarter, to include a draft bylaw that would establish public safety rules and regulations for the operation of Transportation Network Companies.
  2. That, in parallel with the work in part 1, Administration work with the Taxi Industry to provide a report, before the end of the third quarter, with a draft bylaw to amend the Vehicle for Hire Bylaw 14700 to provide for improved taxi service standards, and with recommendations for issuance of additional taxi plates.
  3. That, in the meantime, Administration request that UBER temporarily suspend operations in the Edmonton market and if they refuse, Administration take all steps necessary to apply for an injunction against UBER to prevent its unlawful operation in Edmonton until such time as UBER complies with the applicable City of Edmonton bylaws.
  4. That Administration work with the taxi brokers to obtain data from dispatch systems on number of taxis dispatched at given times, wait times for taxis, and other information relevant to allow for determination of appropriate customer service standards and expectations.

With bullet #1, the motion seeks to create rules that would allow companies like Uber to operate legally in Edmonton. With bullet #2, it seeks to address the shortcomings that currently exist in Edmonton’s taxi industry.

“I think this approach makes sense because it leaves the City’s options open,” said Mayor Don Iveson before the motion was voted on. He also reiterated the need to have more data in order to make better decisions in the future. The mayor said it makes sense to ask companies like Uber to abide by the regulations that are in place while the City works to align them with the market.

Uber is currently operating illegally in Edmonton. It launched its service back in December and the City declared that any Uber car caught operating would be considered a “bandit taxi” and face a $1,000 fine. Uber has argued consistently that its technology and business model are fundamentally different and are therefore not explicitly covered by provincial or municipal regulations. Sometimes called a ridesharing app, a more general term for Uber is transportation network company.

Yellow Cab
Photo by Dave Sutherland

The discussion centered around the Vehicle for Hire Bylaw 14700, which “regulates taxi brokers, drivers, and vehicles, but does not regulate passengers.” From the report:

“The number of allowable taxi plates within the city was frozen in 1995 to facilitate a financially viable taxi industry. The taxi rates are controlled by the City of Edmonton to ensure consumer price protection.”

Edmonton caps the number of taxi permits or plates at 1,319. It has increased the number of plates allowed a few times over the years, but the City recognizes there are still too few plates to meet demand. A report from 2007 suggests that Edmonton is 177 plates short. Council mentioned repeatedly that they have heard from constituents that there aren’t enough taxis and that wait times are too long.

At one point, Councillor Scott McKeen asked Edmonton Taxi Group president Phil Strong if the industry has been lobbying for more plates to be issued, but of course they haven’t been. “I wouldn’t know where to go,” he claimed. The issue is that by making more plates available, the value of each declines.

“Almost everybody agrees the status quo doesn’t work,” the mayor said.

There was quite a bit of discussion about the idea that the City create its own app for taxi services. The problem with that in my opinion is that what makes Uber attractive is that it works in hundreds of cities. That’s great for Edmontonians travelling elsewhere, and for visitors to our city too. A local-only app would not benefit from the economies of scale that Uber provides.

There was also a lot of discussion about driver’s licenses and insurance. Most of us have Class 5 licenses, but in order to transport passengers for profit, you need to carry a Class 4 license. You can learn more in the Commercial Drivers Guide PDF. On the topic of insurance, there was some confusion about whether or not Uber’s policy, which only kicks in if a driver’s personal insurance fails to cover an accident, was sufficient. It has not yet been tested in Canada.

Most of the speakers present at the meeting today were from the taxi industry, either drivers or representatives of the brokers. Uber’s sole representative was Chris Schafer, the Public Policy Manager for Uber in Canada. It was a packed house for most of the meeting.

The reports that the motion seeks will include a draft bylaw, so don’t expect them to return to Council until sometime in the fall. In the meantime you can try to take Uber, but know that they are operating illegally.

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #138

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for 1/18/2015

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

2015-01-17 Winter Garden
The Winter Garden under construction, photo by Darren Kirby

Upcoming Events

Edmonton Economic Development Luncheon
Premier Prentice at EEDC’s Impact Luncheon 2015, photo by Chris Schwarz