This Week at Council: Strategic Plan Updated Further, and So Was Transit!

April ended with a very busy trifecta of meetings including a very heavy focus on transit matters. Before that though, council had another workshop to discuss the update to the Strategic Plan for the last time before a finished draft comes back in a few months. As for transit, council made some updates and heard all about those future plans, and other matters of transportation, at a separate workshop.

Workshop Meeting of City Council – April 25

Council aimed to refine their ideals for the next version of the Strategic Plan, and it was kind of all over the place as staff and consultants sought consolidation in advance of the plan coming back to council for final approval in July.

Since last meeting in February, the Strategic Plan has been paired down from five pillars into four; “transportation” and “building” were combined into one topic called “city building”, which has been combined with “environment”, “people and economy” and above all else, “foundations.” Much of the initial discussion focused on how the results of the plan will be measured, but that was beyond the scope of this conversation. The KPIs, the key performance indicators, will be developed after the plan sets the direction that council wants to go.

In terms of specifics there was concern about language like “implement provincial direction” because this is a goal post that’s constantly changing, and outside of city council’s control. There was also some concern about lines like “maximize Guelph’s real estate opportunities to support growth” because the City doesn’t actually build any housing of its own or manage its social housing stock. Despite it’s status as a council priority, completion of the Strategic Plan will have a gap in the area of housing because a report from Wellington County won’t come back to council till June and the Affordable Housing Strategy won’t come back till September.

Other notes: We need to prioritize community interaction on the Race to Zero, we need to find ways to measure how Guelph is a good place to do business since that’s not something that can be exclusively measured by the City, Guelph’s coming bicentennial should get some prominent promotion in the plan too, and so should heritage generally since we’re currently working on two different heritage districts. More than one councillor also made the note that they weren’t sure the document was clear enough on making equity and accessibility a priority, and whether there were proper goals to measure it.

The meeting wrapped with Mayor Cam Guthrie asking if there was any conceivable way that the Strategic Plan could be brought back for approval sooner, but staff want to stick to the timelines so it will still return, as planned, for the July Committee of the Whole meeting.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Regular Meeting of City Council – April 25

It was a rare night at city council as Councillor Cathy Downer took the wheel in Mayor Cam Guthrie’s absence. Despite the change, the meeting took off smoothly with the passage of the majority of Committee of the Whole business, plus the new appointments to various local boards and committees.

The big item of the week was actually an item from Committee of the Whole, the new Transit Fare Strategy. No new information was presented from the staff end, so council went right in to hearing delegations, and the most universal theme of those comments was the sudden 19 per cent increase in the price of the monthly bus pass. Representatives of the Conestoga College student government also noted that the City will need a good comms strategy to ready people with information about the changes.

Steve Petric from the organization Transit Action Alliance of Guelph also added that travel patterns on transit are changing and that staff should be allowing for longer transfer times. On the monthly pass, he added that any increase in transit fares, even when justified by service expansion, ends up with a temporary reduction of transit use that doesn’t recover for one to three years, historically speaking.

In response to some of these critiques, council fiddled with the original staff recommendations starting with an amendment from Councillor Erin Caton to spread out the monthly pass increase over the next two years; the change would mean that the new adult monthly bus pass will cost just short of $90 come September. Councillor Rodrigo Goller tried to up the ante by spreading the increase out over three years, but the amendment failed, and his attempt to cap the increase this year to $85 couldn’t even get a second.

In terms of the original motion, council leaned on affordability to justify the phase in, especially since passholders count as the most loyal transit users. There was some hand wringing about the fact that it was council’s fault for not increasing fares for years, and that cheaper, or free, transit threatens its value. There was a word of caution from CAO Scott Stewart about putting too much off on the 2024-27 multiyear budget but giving a bit of grace in the name of smaller increase won out, and council approved the amended fee increase.

Caton’s second amendment concerned an increase to transfer times from the proposed 60 minutes to a longer 90-minute time frame. Staff were hesitant because there were no complaints about transfer times and because of the possibility of encouraging people to use transfers for anything other than a continuous one-way trip. Caton argued that this is an accessibility matter, and that everyone benefits from more accessibility, especially since some rides on transit are very long, and not all rides are the same for everyone. The second amendment passed unanimously too.

The last item of the night was a motion to support Bill 5, which updates Municipal Codes of Conduct to stop abuse and harassment among local political leaders. Councillor Dominique O’Rourke and Guthrie met with the Bill’s sponsor, Orleans MPP Stephen Blais, at Queen’s Park to talk about it a couple of weeks ago.

The only real question about the motion came from Councillor Phil Allt who wanted some kind of definition for “egregious conduct”, to which O’Rourke remarked that this would be largely left up to the integrity commissioner and those guidelines still have to be worked out in committee. The motions were approved unanimously, and Guelph became the 58th municipality to officially support the bill.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Workshop Meeting of City Council – April 26

In the second workshop of the week, council covered all the complexities of transportation in Guelph, from the Transportation Master Plan to Vision Zero to Guelph Transit. Covering well worn ground, here are some of the highlights.

*There’s a special City of Guelph group that is looking at the equity of availability with cycling infrastructure across the city. Connections in the north and in the west ends are the most lacking.

*There’s a Pedestrian Master Plan in the works, and it will be coming back to council in 2024.

*The environmental assessment about options for the Metrolinx rail crossing at Edinburgh Road is still beginning this year.

*Signal prioritization is still on track to be brought back to council through the 2024-27 multiyear budget later this year. The tech will allow not just transit vehicles to take priority but also emergency vehicles, and City operations vehicles like snow plows.

*Look for pop-up events in areas with the new 40 kph speed limit coming later this year once staff are finished city-wide implementation (meaning the placement of new signs).

*Roundabouts? The City is looking at them, and the first few may roll out at Victoria Road and Stone, and Downey Road and Niska.

*Will there ever be an underpass at Margaret Greene Park for pedestrians? Staff are looking at developing a business case and gathering data about how many people would use such an amenity given the expense.

*New enclosed shelters will be coming to Guelph Central Stations starting in June. The request for proposals for digital signs is presently out and should be awarded soon.

*This is what the new building at GCS will look like. The ground floor will have vending machines, washrooms, and a place where you can buy passes/tickets from self-serve machines. The second floor will be staff facilities like a lunch room and offices.

*Transit will be looking at expanding Sunday service next year with the addition of on-demand service on either side of the 9 am-6 pm conventional service.

*The new #17 GO bus from Hamilton to Kitchener through Guelph? Metrolinx has told City staff that there’s room to expand if there’s enough demand, meaning longer hours and weekend service.

*High demand for mobility service may bring a request for more resources during the budget process later this year.

*The start date for the Clair-Maltby transit terminal is 2031, but Transit GM Robin Gerus said that work could begin sooner depending on the pace of Clair-Maltby development and the increase in use. Also, by 2027 there will be two new spine routes along Victoria and Edinburgh running from Woodlawn to Clair. A Speedvale spine route is also in the works and along with the #99 Mainline, these four runs will form the basis of a new grid model transit network.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

The next meeting of city council is Committee of the Whole on Tuesday May 2 at 2 pm. You can see the Politico preview here.

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