Breaking It Down

Published in the Yellowknifer, July 16, 1999.

On Monday. July 12, I attended, along with at least two hundred other Yellowknifers, the city council meeting to air my concerns about the state of fiscal management by our city’s government.

I believe that improvements to public safety are something that must be done when problems are identified if in fact the proposed corrections will make things safer, even if there are serious cost implications. The sidewalks in front of the Adam Dental Clinic and Canadian Tire were widened last summer. There are still some drivers who squeeze through making the road three lanes wide. From this I draw the following conclusions:

1. Engineering staff at the city and engineering consultants for the city looked at their text books and determined that if the street was a certain width then the cars would be forced into two lanes. So the project went ahead for the first couple of blocks at a cost no doubt of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

2. No one from the city, and this includes the Bylaw Department I presume, has bothered to take the time to-see if the reduced lane width has solved the safety problem. It is my personal assessment that they do not. I have been forced into the centre of Franklin Avenue three times over the past year by a car travelling in the space between a parked car and my own vehicle. The roadway is still wide enough to accommodate three vehicles.

3. Because no one from the city or their consultants has bothered to make the effort to study the results of last year’s program of street safety improvement the city is blindly spending over a million dollars of our tax dollars, this year on four more blocks.

4. This expenditure will almost certainly increase the danger, not reduce it. Why? Because when a vehicle squeezes in between a parked car and a vehicle continuing north on Franklin, say in front of the CIBC, the space they are squeezing into will be even narrower. Not so narrow as to prevent them from sneaking in there, but narrow enough to increase the chances of an accident.

A tree grows in Yellownife

This year’s program will include a number of trees to try and dress up the main street. If there was a reasonable prospect of success I would support few trees, as a test project. However, there is, in my opinion, little chance of success for trees to flourish on the main street in the downtown core.

One must ask how much the trees, or what is left of them, along the stretch between the swimming pool and MacDonald’s have really cost us taxpayers.

There is the original,cost of buying and planting them. There is the cost of replacing them and, even with some consideration of ‘warranty, there are lots of costs for city staff to supervise the replacement — the warranty only lasts so long. Then there are the costs of the water system installed to take care of them.

When Yellowknife Education District No, I built their new board office a few years age at the corner of Franklin and 53rd St. they had eight or 10 trees planted. There are two left. This, I am told, is not only because of the exhaust fumes but also because of damage caused in the evening hours by people who have little appreciation for trees such as drunks, street people and skateboarders.

Trees do beautify a city. Our city needs beautification. Dead trees, which is what I predict will be the case to the majority of the trees to be planted as a part of this project, make an eyesore and cost a lot of money along the way.

User-fees shameful

At the council meeting I heard Counsellor Robert Slaven suggest ending a century old tradition in Canada of having a free lending library. He suggested that one way to reduce costs would be to have user fees at the library. What a shameful idea. Many citizens simply enjoy the vast array of literature available even though they have the money to buy their own books or to pay user fees. I fit within that group. Many citizens do not have the money to buy their own books or to pay user fees. Imagine some child who can not afford to pay the user fee to access the library to do the research necessary to do a school project. What does that child do?

If that is the depth of analysis that Mr. Slaven brings to his job as a counsellor_then perhaps he should look to fulfil his desire to do civic duty in come other fashion.

Perhaps he could join the reading program for Grade 1 students at Weledeh School, organized by the Yellowknife Rotary Club, and he might develop an appreciation of the need for improved, not reduced, access to books. In any event Mr. Slaven is just recommending a tax but calling it a user fee.

Counsellor Bob Brooks said that he feels the city should spend money “so we can feel good about where we live.”

I say we should not spend money so we can feel good about where we live. At a time of economic uncertainty we should not be spending $1 million plus on questionable megaprojects.

We should be focusing on what is truly important to the safety of our citizens. The project on the go on Franklin Ave right now does not accomplish that. It is a shameful waste of money..

(Garth Wallbridge is a Yellowknife lawyer and frequent commentator on public affairs.)