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Your Ride: Edmonton

Jay Smith is a writer who cycles, walks and runs on Edmonton's streets and pathways.

Edmonton transit: Waiting for the city brass to do their part

Edmonton transit buses in this Metro file photo.

Topher Seguin/For Metro

Edmonton transit buses in this Metro file photo.

Try this: Ask someone in Edmonton about public transportation and leadership.

It’s a sobering exercise.

No one will mention city manager Simon Farbrother’s “leadership” in nominating himself responsible for the botched Metro LRT.

No one will mention a transportation department with many car-commuting bureaucrats who live in bedroom communities, yet preside over a transit system they don’t use and, consequently, aren’t as invested in as those who do.

No one will praise decisions to spend more removing nascent bike lanes than what those lanes cost to install.

And you’ll find no one who describes the city’s battle over the interpretation of statistics it provided to cycling activist Conrad Nobert recently about injuries sustained by cyclists and pedestrians on or near Whyte Avenue as noble.

The city does not consider injuries treated on-site by an ambulance or in an ER “serious.” Concussions open wounds stitched closed are actually “minor.” Nobert disagrees — as the cyclists and pedestrians who’ve been injured likely would.

Instead, when you ask about transit and leadership, you hear skepticism about whether our city council has the will to make better outcomes happen. Sad, as the other side has got it right.

Call for something better in Edmonton, and you’ll be told to get involved — because transit, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure won’t change unless government feels pressure “from below.”

So, you’re told to provide feedback to the Queen Elizabeth-106 Street initiative, or join Nobert’s Reboot Whyte campaign, or join myriad other groups pushing for something better.

A cynic could point out, however, that if there was less "us versus them" inside our city’s decision machine, there’d be less “us versus them” on our streets.

Behind the scenes, in the auditor’s report on the Metro Line delays, it’s clear that Edmonton’s bureaucratic culture is going to be changed, and radically. This is a good thing: Better accountability, a greater willingness to explore “crazy” ideas (like safer streets for everyone) are all great.

But will the public ever be confident that we’ll start getting the decisions, actions and leadership we need?

In Toronto, Andy Byford and Jennifer Keesmaat, the CEO of the TTC and chief city planner, respectively, are prominent advocates of transit. But they go one better: They actually take public transit to work. They’re the public face of the system’s accountability. We don’t have that in Edmonton.

And why isn’t there pressure for policy-makers to live their politics? To live in Edmonton (rather than St. Albert), or ride a bike or an LRT? Meanwhile, the progressives in the bureaucracy are either kept under wraps or become frustrated and leave.

How can the push from below help when it’s continually met with a lack of enthusiasm from above? Groups with ideas get messages from bureaucrats, that their proposals won’t work because of bylaw x, or rule y? That’s basically saying, “Lower your expectations. This is Edmonton.”

Perhaps it’s time for more of Edmonton council and administration to live in the city and get onto a street, a bus, a train or a bike and have a look and listen to what’s happening in the city. Edmonton’s grassroots are already doing their part.

Jay Smith is a writer who has cycled, walked and run on Edmonton’s streets and pathways her entire life. 

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