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Edmonton's Freezeway freeze-out isn't isolated

And here's why we need to fix that for a better city

Matt Gibbs stands among the lights at Edmonton's former Freezeway that he helped install on his own volunteer time.

Metro file

Matt Gibbs stands among the lights at Edmonton's former Freezeway that he helped install on his own volunteer time.

Mayor Don Iveson has called for a deep discussion about how the city engages with its volunteer citizens offering ideas.

The reason is the Freezeway, but there are many others. 

Still, let's begin there. 

Matt Gibbs, Freezeway inventor, is upset that the city has shut him out. 

He envisioned an 11-kilometre multi-use trail; that turned into a 400 metre skating rink in Victoria Park last year. But this year, in his version of events, he says the city dropped him completely.

“It was not even, ‘Thank you for your effort,’ it was, ‘Thank you, please leave,’” Gibbs told Metro.

The city has renamed the Freezeway the IceWay, and Iveson’s proposed chat is in response to the controversy. 

But Gibbs’ feelings aren't isolated. 

Take Edmonton’s cycling community.

In a freedom of information request Metro submitted about the suicide barriers along the High Level Bridge, the paper found troubling attitudes about cyclists. 

Metro inquired if administration discussed the intense cyclist usage of the bridge before installing the barriers. 

The answer is not really.

Back in summer 2016, a 'confidential' memo between city communications staff Metro obtained saw unnamed officials explain the cycling community wasn't consulted because, "the project team did not want to draw attention to the High Level Bridge as a suicide hot spot …" 

Chris Chan, head of the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters Society, says he works to maintain a positive relationship with the city, but finds the comments here show a lack of trust. 

It's tough to take, given the bridge affects thousands of cyclists.  

"That really frustrated me, a lot," he says. "We've been in plenty of stakeholder meetings with the city where they asked us not to share information with the public, and we did not share information with the public." 

There are other examples related to the bridge, too.

As the city prepared to speak to media about the new barriers, cyclist concerns with them were exploding

In June, one cyclist — Tim Bulger — emailed the city about a press conference at the bridge, asking if it could be moved so cyclists could attend and ask questions. 

The response was not shared with Bulger, but did show up in Metro’s freedom of information package. 

"We're not in the habit of arranging our media events for spectators to attend, so I find it interesting that they would request this and think we'd cave to their demands," wrote Dale Shekooley, a city spokesperson, in a June 15 email. 

Metro shared that with Bulger. 

"It is especially concerning that there would [be] bristling at the public participating in an event — on public property hosted by public servants," he says, adding that he wanted to ask basic questions the city had left unanswered.

But still, not all is bad.

Julie Kusiek, who helped found QA crossroads, which seeks to make the area of 106 Street and 76 Avenue more pedestrian and bike friendly, says the city did great work with her group and that citizens have to engage to make Edmonton a better city. 

Still, she's had barriers, too. “It took us nine months of trying to convince the city [to work with our group]," she says. "One person in a decision making role snorted at our proposal.” 

But Kusiek sees this as more of an issue with bureaucracies themselves rather than individuals. 

One can only hope there are more positive feelings from Edmonton's citizen groups. The city's lucky to have them.

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