Coming up at City Council: August 17-21, 2015

The Fringe is underway and Council is back to work on Monday which means summer in Edmonton is winding down. Next week we’ll hopefully learn more about the Metro Line LRT, now slated to open with modified service in time for the start of the school year. Council will also be discussing some other contentious topics like Park & Ride at Century Park and the Traffic Shortcutting trials currently underway in Prince Charles and Pleasantview.

Below are links to the meeting agendas for the week as well as some highlighted items and notes.

Meetings this week

You can always see the latest City Council meetings on ShareEdmonton.

Metro Line LRT

Council is slated to receive an update on the Metro Line LRT project on Monday afternoon (it’s a verbal update on the agenda, so no report to look at). It follows news today that the Metro Line LRT will open to public service on September 6:

“Testing a modified approach to Metro Line operations has already begun and ETS training starts Monday,” said Transportation Services General Manager Dorian Wandzura. “We are confident the Metro Line will be carrying passengers for the start of the 2015 school year.”

The line will open with modified service: “line of sight” operation, a 25 km/h speed restriction, headways of 15 minutes between Churchill Station and NAIT Station, and a decrease in capacity along the existing Capital Line. Instead of getting from Churchill Station to NAIT in 7 minutes, it’ll take 14 minutes.

Dorian Wandzura
Transportation Services General Manager Dorian Wandzura

Shortly after the news conference this afternoon, Mayor Iveson cautioned that interim service is “no cause for celebration”:

This news should make Monday’s meeting more productive, in that Council can focus on what went wrong and how to get the line to full operation rather than spending a bunch of time expressing disappointment that the line still won’t be open. At least I hope that’s the case.

On July 31, the City announced that it had initiated an independent safety audit of the Metro Line signalling system. The audit, to be conducted by Rail Safety Consulting, is supposed to provide confidence in the safety of the system as well as certification in order to open the line. The City is still blaming Thales, saying that “Thales has failed to provide some essential documentation required for the City to accept Thales’ safety certification.”

There has been a lot of concern about the quality of the infrastructure and workmanship of the Metro Line LRT, but the City has said issues are just part of doing business and are dealt with during the warranty period. A separate report on warranty periods for transportation contributed assets says “a warranty period of two years is applied to both City and developer-constructed transportation infrastructure to ensure the construction material utilized and the associated workmanship are performing in accordance with City standards and expectations.”

On a somewhat related note, the City is currently running a survey on “how to make Edmonton’s transit system greater in the future.” You can fill it out online, or look for the street team at events around the city (like the Fringe).

Recreation Centre Security

This report comes to us in response to an inquiry made by Councillor Nickel back in April. He wanted to know more about crime in relation to our large recreation centres. Here’s what the report says:

  • “In general, calls for service to major Community Recreation Centre facilities have been relatively stable year-to-year since 2011, with predictable increases corresponding to the opening of new facilities.”
  • The situation is a bit worse this year, however. “Calls for police response to recreation facilities have more than doubled in 2015.”
  • Why? “The increase in calls for service for 2015 is driven almost entirely by calls to Clareview Recreation Centre.”
  • City staff have also reported an increase in security incidents this year, but say that “these increases can be attributed to the opening of Clareview and the Meadows Recreation Centres and the increased attendance.”
  • The report says that we’ve seen this before, with the Terwillegar Community Crecreation Centre in 2011: “there was a similar surge of incidents, followed by declining incident rates in 2013 and 2014, as facility staff implemented changes to improve facility security.”
  • Which begs the question – are the security incidents taking place at the new centres all different than the ones we saw at Terwillegar?
  • So what’s being done about this? As you might expect, “a strategic planning exercise is currently underway to improve facility security and public safety.”
  • An external security audit for the Clareview Community Recreation Centre has also been initiated.

It doesn’t seem like there’s cause for concern here, just growing pains associated with running such large facilities.

Options & Incentives for Preserving Trees on Private Residential Properties

Mature trees are critical for environmental quality and biodiversity and, as the City says, they “contribute to the livability of our neighbourhoods.” But sometimes they need to be removed, such as “when they conflict with the location of utilities or are unhealthy (diseased/dying).” The question is, can we do anything to preserve them?

“There is no requirement to plant trees or shrubs for low density residential development, thus there is no incentive to retain existing vegetation on site,” the report says.

Mature Residential Trees
Mature Residential Trees, photo by City of Edmonton

There are three options put forward by the City to try to address this:

  1. Create a Minimum Planting Requirement for All Low Density Residential Zones
  2. Develop Planting Ratios and Require Mandatory Landscape Plans
  3. Include Tree Protection in the Zoning Bylaw

Those three are roughly in order of complexity and impact. Option 2 would go beyond the minimum requirements outlined in Option 1, while Option 3 offers the greatest certainty about existing mature trees. The removal of any tree over a certain size would require a development permit, under Option 3.

The City recommends Option 1, “as these changes can be implemented quickly and are supported by stakeholders.” The suggestion is to have landscaping requirements similar to the RF4 and RPL zones, which is one tree and two shrubs per dwelling. “This would allow development officers to encourage the retention of existing vegetation as a way to meet the minimum landscaping requirements.” It would not prevent the removal of existing trees, however.

Century Park Site Park & Ride Options

The current lease agreement between the City and Procura Development (which owns the Century Park Park & Ride site) expires in 2020, so the City needs to decide if its wants to build its own park & ride facility or extend the lease on the existing Century Park site. The original lease with Procura was for five years from 2010 to 2015, with an option for an additional five, one-year renewal terms. The proposed park & ride facility would be located at Ellerslie Road and 127 Street and would be operational by the fall of 2019. It is known as the Heritage Valley Park & Ride.

  • The current site has 1,300 parking stalls, 1,000 of which are leased from Procura.
  • One third of the funding needed for the Heritage Valley Park & Ride was approved in the 2015-2018 Capital Budget.
  • Discussions are underway with the Province to secure land for the site that may fall within the Transportation Utility Corridor.
  • City Policy C554 on Park and Ride states such facilities should be “located primarily at sites where more intensive development is not possible or feasible such as the Transportation Utility Corridor or other major utility rights of way or where such development is not expected to occur in the immediate future.” Since we want to make Century Park a TOD site, having a park and ride site there is inconsistent with this policy.
  • Procura is apparently not interested in extending the current lease, but has been open to discussing various options with the City.
  • The Century Park lot “gets 98% full on weekday mornings” with approximately 1,500 people parking there between 6am and 9am to get on the LRT. It gets to 85% capacity by 7am! Those passengers make up 29% of the total passengers who board the LRT during the morning peak period.
  • Looking at all eight park & ride locations in Edmonton, “the average utilization of park and ride sites on a typical weekday is 97% at LRT stations and 60-70% at Transit Centres.”
  • The proposed Heritage Valley Park & Ride would require a shuttle bus service, which would cost $2.1 million annually after five articulated buses are purchased for $4 million.
  • The City also anticipates an increase in bus usage if the Century Park Park & Ride were to go away, which would require another $1 million annually plus the purchase of ten new 40-foot buses for $6 million.
  • The City does own some land at Century Park where a parking structure could be built but an assessment found that “the high cost of construction would require unreasonably high parking fees or significant subsidies from the City in order to recover the high capital and operating cost.”
  • A position paper developed by the City found that “over 50% of park and ride users come from within 8 km of a site” and are “only willing to back track up to 3 km to a park and ride facility.”

Century Park Station & Park and Ride
Century Park, photo by City of Edmonton

The report does not make a recommendation on what to do. Moving the park & ride from Century Park to Heritage Valley is aligned with the City’s existing policies and future direction, but the question is how to pay for it. The remaining funding required for the Heritage Valley Park & Ride is assumed to come from other sources, but the City says Green TRIP is not an option.

Other interesting items

  • The Edmonton Heritage Council’s 2014 Annual Report is available and talks about the City Museum project. The Heritage Council has focused on “building an audience” rather than acquiring a building thus far, but “anticipates a full business case going forward in 2018 in consideration of the 2019-2022 City of Edmonton capital cycle.”
  • The City recommends that $1.8 million be approved to fund the Fort Edmonton Park Catering Kitchen Project.
  • Utility work on Phase 1 of the new Louise McKinney Riverfront Park project is expected to begin this summer, with construction completed by the end of 2016. Phase 1 includes a new accessible pathway and staircase, while phase 2 consists of a full service restaurant and upgrades to existing facilities, coinciding with completion of the Valley Line LRT.
  • The next priority of Edmonton’s Infill Roadmap is “to conduct the review of the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay.” The City also anticipates updating Residential Infill Guidelines when the new MDP is updated in 2018.
  • The City is recommending that Edmonton’s Energy Transition Strategy and Policy, which I wrote about back in March, be approved, that an Energy Transition Advisory Committee be established, and that the Mayor write a letter to the Province to “explore issues through an enhanced Provincial/City working relationship.”
  • PCL Construction Management Inc. is the construction manager for Rogers Place, and the City is recommending that Council approve consolidating previously approved adjacent construction projects under the same agreement to “provide efficiencies” and “coordination and scheduling of the work.”
  • There’s a report on the Feasibility of Re-Establishing a Natural Channel between Mill Creek and the North Saskatchewan River. Basically in order to build freeways in the 1960s we destroyed many streams and creeks resulting in “water pollution, flooding, erosion, and loss of ecological services.” Now we are looking to mitigate these impacts through a practice called “daylighting”.
  • The overall reliability of escalators in LRT stations in 2014 was 85%. ETS has set a goal of 90% by 2016, with at least 87.5% to be achieved for 2015. As of June 30, 2015, the City says overall year-to-date escalator reliability in LRT stations was 89.3%.
  • An update on traffic shortcutting issues, and in particular the trials underway in Prince Charles and Pleasantview, says that a City Policy for Community Traffic Management will be considered in June 2016. The City says that “the short turnaround time anticipated with this new Traffic Shortcutting pilot project will constrain typical public engagement strategies in favour of faster implementation of traffic management measures to better respond to concerns voiced by the communities.” The next report on the trials is expected to go to Transportation Committee on October 7.

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. You can read my previous coverage of the 2013-2017 City Council here.