City cycling plan deserves context

300 million dollars is a lot of money. When discussing the public purse, such a sum rightly raises eyebrows. Because without any sort of context, $300 million has eight zeroes, four more than the overwhelming majority of people will make in a year. Perhaps, then, it is no surprise Transcona’s Don Homer, Councillor Russ Wyatt, has balked at the City of Winnipeg’s active transportation strategy, which comes with an estimated price tag of $334 million — roughly one third of the City’s $994 million annual operating budget for 2015. Obviously, those bicycles are costing us a fortune!

Except they’re not. Because the estimated cost of the City’s active transportation strategy is based on a twenty-year amortization. Put another way, the bikes would only cost the City roughly $16.5 million per year, a paltry 1.7 percent of the City’s total operating budget for 2015. In contrast, the City has budgeted $442.3 million for police, fire and paramedic services in 2015, 44.5 percent of the City’s entire operating budget. And over the next twenty years, it is entirely possible the the City will spend at least $8.5 billion on those services alone. $8.5 billion: enough money to pay for Russ’ lunches at the Keg for the next two million years, or 14oz prime rib dinners for over 274 million people. (Russ would likely prefer the former to the latter.)

Of course, Russ Wyatt isn’t talking about cops. Or spending your money on his meals. No, he’s all about roads and sidewalks. And when he talks, it sounds like the City is doing absolutely nothing to renew and improve our aging transportation infrastructure; that no other spending priority matters (except when it does because it directly affects his ward). No, in Russ’ world, he won’t rest until he spends your money to fill every pothole and repave every thoroughfare. Gallantry, thy name is Councillor Wyatt.

In what might come as a surprise to those denizens who have taken to parroting Wyatt’s protestations in letters to newspaper editors and, when asked by intrepid local “journalists” their learned opinions of Winnipeg’s budget priorities, the City is actually already spending money on those things … to the tune $103.3 million in 2015, and a total of $640.1 million over the next six years. Moreover, the City has also budgeted an additional $816.7 million in capital expenditures related to roads and bridges through 2021. That’s an additional $136 million per year in additional capital investments above and beyond regular operating expenditures on roads and bridges and sidewalks and potholes. Nearly $1.5 billion over the next six years.

Not enough, says Wyatt! He wants more! And he intends on getting it by slashing the active transportation strategy’s estimated twenty-year budget by $279 million, leaving just $55 million (roughly $2.75 million per year, 0.03 percent of the City’s 2015 operating budget) for the kinds of improvements to our cycling network that might, just might, put Winnipeg in the vanguard of North American cities.

For context, Wyatt’s plan to redirect these “savings” towards roads-for-cars instead would mean, in actual terms, an increase of 5.5 percent to the City’s roads and bridges budget for the next six years. So, forgo an entirely affordable twenty-year plan to make desperately needed improvements to the City’s active transportation network all to spend an additional 5.5 percent above the already-budgeted $1.5 billion on roads and bridges over the same period.

When the history of Russ Wyatt’s political tenure is written, it is unlikely to be heralded as an especially visionary or valuable one. But those roads will be smooth and with any luck there won’t be a bicycle in sight.

***

Originally published on Spectator Tribune.

 

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