City Council Highlights
Below are some of the highlights from the Council and Committee meetings in May. The full reports can be found at saskatoon.ca/meeting.
Strategy on Provincial Infrastructure Funding
The provincial government recently announced stimulus funding for Saskatchewan’s economy as part of the plan to address the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through this stimulus, the City of Saskatoon will be receiving approximately $35.5M for infrastructure investments. More information on the principles of this program can be found in the City’s report.
I am grateful to the Province for recognizing that in order to get through this pandemic, cities need to be supported to be the engines of the economy that we are. This funding creates an important opportunity for the City to keep moving forward, keep creating jobs, keep providing services, and not have to pull back on investments in our infrastructure in order to make up for funding shortfalls created due to the pandemic.
In June, City staff will present Council with specific projects and options for how to spend the money, now that the overall strategy and principles have been approved. Ultimately, the investment will balance investment in new infrastructure opportunities to get more people working, address backlogs in work, and help ensure that we can proceed with planned projects in 2021 that could have otherwise been affected by revenue shortfalls.
City Centre Recreation Facility
For many years and with lots of community discussion, the City has been interested in exploring a new recreation centre in the City’s core. The White Buffalo Youth Lodge—a collaboration between the City, the Saskatoon Tribal Council, the Central Urban Metis Federation, and the Health Authority—has been facing increased demand, and the need for a larger facility is apparent.
Recently, the Saskatoon Public School Division’s request for a new elementary school to replace three in the area was approved. The school division approached the City to see if it might be possible to combine these two projects, so the City—along with the other partners of White Buffalo—is in the early exploratory phases of this.
Although we are only exploring our options right now, it’s quite exciting and it’s great to see such a collaborative effort. This will help to create a stronger project, and it opens up more potential funding opportunities. Next steps will be to work on a communications and engagement plan, and more information on this project can be viewed in this report.
I recognize that this announcement by the school division and Province for a new Princess Alexandra School also hinges on the closure of the historic King George and Pleasant Hill Schools. This is a decision made by the school division, and I recognize the uncertainty it creates for these neighbourhoods. It is very important that there be a very active process to work with King George and Pleasant Hill to ensure that these buildings continue to be places that meet the needs of these important neighbourhoods, and that the school boards and provincial government work with these neighbourhoods to determine their future. We will continue to work to support such a process, but this is not something the City has direct jurisdiction over.
Vehicle noise is an issue that has been growing in Saskatoon, and it is affecting many people’s quality of life. These concerns are more apparent near Eighth Street and Spadina/Whiteswan, but they can happen anywhere in Saskatoon. Modified mufflers and stunting can disrupt many people in a neighbourhood, and unfortunately these disruptions are getting more frequent, with increased complaints made and more and more tickets being issued. Our current ways of dealing with this are not enough.
City Council moved forward with measures to address this, but this isn’t an issue that falls neatly to any one level of government or agency to manage. The SPS has a role in enforcement, the City can help with education and engineering solutions, SGI plays a role in setting ticket fines, and the provincial government sets general laws regulating vehicle usage and modifications. We need a collaborative approach on this, so City Council requested to work with the Province and with SGI.
City Council also moved forward with creating a study to look at the most effective ways of managing vehicle noise to ensure that we are having the largest impact possible. More information on this can be found in the City’s report.
McOrmond Drive Speed Limits
City Council voted in favour of increasing some of the speed limits on roadways adjacent to and through the Northeast Swale.
I voted in favour of raising the speed limit of McOrmond Drive south of the swale. This was found to be appropriate from an engineering and safety perspective, it helps to create greater consistency, and it is more in line with what drivers experience on similar stretches of roadway in Saskatoon.
However, I voted against speed limit increases through the swale itself. Planning and conservation work for the swale dates back many years through my time on Council, with development guidelines being created and approved in 2012 that dictated the design of these roadways. Increasing speed limits through the swale only decreases travel time by a few seconds, and for me this is not enough of a benefit to sacrifice previous work to conserve this valuable ecological corridor.
Pay Parking and Parking Enforcement
Effective this past Monday, the parking restrictions that were temporarily suspended were reinstated. This means that residential parking permit zones, the 72-hour neighbourhood parking rule, and parking pay stations are back in effect.
Although it may seem counterintuitive to reinstate pay parking when businesses are just starting to reopen and are wanting to attract customers, this decision was made in response the requests of Business Improvement Districts, especially Downtown Saskatoon. They identified that without parking restrictions much of the on-street parking in these areas was being filled up with people parking all day long as employees of different business, not creating the turnover needed for people to find parking to shop or get to appointments. Parking regulations help to create parking turnover, and this makes the area more accessible to potential customers and clients.
More information on this and help with questions you might have can be found on the City’s website.
Updates to Saskatoon Transit
Starting on June 8 to align with Phase 3 of the provincial government’s Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan, Saskatoon Transit will resume taking fares and will resume loading at the front doors.
Regular bus capacity is 60 passengers, but right now it is only 10. A protective vinyl covering will be installed near the driver, and this means that additional seats near the front of the bus will become available. Buses are only getting about 10-20% of their regular ridership, but this has been increasing as provincial restrictions are relaxed. The City has also been encouraging Transit use only for essential trips, but there have been instances where this is not the case. Reinstating fares will be a way of managing these concerns.
These changes are supported by the Amalgamated Transit Union 615 to help increase safety, and it is the trend in transit that is happening across the country. The City is also encouraging that passengers wear masks when taking the bus, to increase the safety of everyone else. More information on these changes can be found in the City’s news release.