News / Vancouver

‘Buck stops here’: Vancouver councillor taken aback by staff request for authority over road use decisions

Proposed bylaw changes would let Vancouver city engineers make changes to roads without seeking council approval.

Vancouver Coun. George Affleck says he's uncomfortable with a proposal to give city staff the power to make changes to road use without City Hall's approval.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

Vancouver Coun. George Affleck says he's uncomfortable with a proposal to give city staff the power to make changes to road use without City Hall's approval.

One Vancouver city councillor is “very uncomfortable” with proposed bylaw changes that would let engineers make changes to roads without approval from council.

A report going to council Tuesday seeks bylaw revisions and expanded delegated authority “to facilitate more efficient delivery of important Complete Street improvements” under the city’s Transportation 2040 plan.

Such changes could include removing traffic lanes or parking spaces to make room for widened sidewalks or cycling infrastructure.

The city’s director of transportation planning, Dale Bracewell, told Metro the existing Street and Traffic Bylaw dates back to 1944, when Vancouver was more “car-centric”, and is in need of modernizing.

If approved, the changes would let crews make small “one-off intersection” and “spot” improvements to local streets without the need for reports to council and approval, he said.

“We’re bringing this to council to present an opportunity to be more efficient in how we’re trying to create more mobility and safe and efficient streets,” Bracewell said.

What he doesn’t want to do, Bracewell said, is to take away council’s decision-making power over large-scale controversial projects, like bike lanes on Commercial Drive or blocking vehicle access to Point Grey Road.

New bike lanes and other changes to Commercial Drive have been met with fierce opposition from some of the neighbourhood's businesses.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

New bike lanes and other changes to Commercial Drive have been met with fierce opposition from some of the neighbourhood's businesses.

“Anytime there’s essentially a project that has a large effect on the transportation network, the expectation is we’re still coming to council on resolution on those,” he said. “We as staff all feel more comfortable when those one are actually made by city council itself.”

But Bracewell admitted the proposed bylaws don’t set any parameters over which kind of project do or don’t need council’s approval before going forward.

Given the intense public backlash over Point Grey Road, Commercial Drive, a proposed bike lane through Kitsilano beach and reduced parking around Vancouver General Hospital, Non-Partisan Association councillor George Affleck told Metro he’s not comfortable with staff making any similar road use changes in the future without city council’s oversight.

“It’s a great way for Vision Vancouver to avoid having to talk about bike lanes ever again. It would make me very uncomfortable,” said Affleck. “In my mind, the buck stops at council. Decisions on major developments, how we build our city, streets ... those kind of decisions should be discussed in public with council oversight. That’s our job and when we start skipping that process, we’re in big trouble.”

Affleck said he voted in favour of the city’s long-term Transportation 2040 plan with the understanding council would be the ones making “decisions on specific details as they move forward.”

“[The bylaw revisions] go against what I believe was the intention of that plan and why I supported it,” he said. “Changing a speed bump is one thing. But if you’re changing and getting rid of a lane or parking for bike lanes, making change that has significant impact not only on the neighbourhood but the city at large, city council should be making a decision on it.”

According to the staff report, the bylaw amendments give the city engineer delegated authority to reallocate public right of ways for different modes and uses, divert general motor traffic from streets and reroute transit routes onto different streets, with the support of TransLink.

Bracewell said the city would still be required to notify people affected by any changes and engage in public consultations, as it currently does.

“Clearly, hopefully, you read in the report that [staff] is absolutely committed to do the consultation,” he said. “I honestly believe that if we were at least writing less council reports, we would even do a little bit more consultation. We would err on the side of doing more.”

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