Nanaimo city council voted to allocate $505,000 on pedestrian infrastructure projects, plus another $550,000 that was over and above staff’s recommendation.
Council, at its meeting Monday night, directed $505,000 of money already earmarked for pedestrian infrastructure improvements to eight intersections and one new stretch of sidewalk. Immediately after that vote, Coun. Erin Hemmens motioned for another $554,000 to be taken from reserves to fast-track a separate sidewalk project on Haliburton Street, mentioned in a staff report but not a staff recommendation.
“In terms of really advocating walkability and mobility in the south end, that 700 block of Haliburton is a really key piece,” Hemmens said, adding that the section of Haliburton between Woodhouse and Robins streets is a “missing link” in completing a pedestrian route the entire length of Haliburton.
The 700 block of Haliburton is close to Hemmens’s house on Gillespie Street.
A majority of council supported Hemmens’s motion to draw from the special initiatives reserve to accelerate the sidewalk’s construction to 2022. The project was already in the city’s work plan for 2025.
“It’s been an identified need for a long time and it’s an important piece of connectivity,” said Coun. Ben Geselbracht. “It’s been sort of a missing tooth in a beautiful smile.”
Staff’s report had presented four sidewalk projects for consideration, recommending a $150,000 project on Needham Street and also providing cost estimates for sidewalks on sections of Departure Bay Road, Sixth Steet and Haliburton.
Bill Sims, the city’s general manager of engineering and public works, told council that “it might be prudent” to allow staff some time to confirm more details about underground infrastructure along Haliburton, though he assured council the city won’t build a sidewalk it has to tear up soon after.
Mayor Leonard Krog motioned to defer the spending decision and wait for a staff report, but his motion failed.
Coun. Tyler Brown was among those who voted against deferral, calling the spending decision responsible because it was being based on the report that was in front of council that night. Coun. Ian Thorpe disagreed that the decision-making was responsible and said council’s process didn’t reflect good governance.
Krog said he didn’t hear any councillors give compelling reasons why the vote needed to happen Monday night.
“If there were some rush tonight and the good people of Haliburton were burning torches outside with pitchforks, I might be more compelled,” the mayor said.
He said the Haliburton sidewalk “will have incredible popular appeal for the folks living nearby,” but mentioned that residents in the Departure Bay Road and Sixth Street areas couldn’t have anticipated that council would be voting on other sidewalk projects at Monday’s meeting, and might have wanted to provide input.
“They’re not going to get that opportunity when we foreclose them tonight,” Krog said.
Council voted 5-4 against Krog’s motion to defer and wait for a staff report, with councillors Hemmens, Don Bonner, Brown, Geselbracht and Zeni Maartman opposed. Council voted 5-4 in favour of Hemmens’s motion to spend $554,000 on the Haliburton sidewalk, with Krog and councillors Jim Turley, Thorpe and Sheryl Armstrong opposed.
Hemmens told the News Bulletin her motion was not a conflict of interest. She said bringing up where she lived during the debate would have implied a conflict of interest where there was none.
“We all live in the community, right? And there’s improvements happening all over the city all the time, and if there’s a conflict of interest, then that’s up to the councillor to declare,” she said.
The $505,000 allocated to staff’s recommended pedestrian infrastructure projects will add a sidewalk on Needham between Haliburton and Irwin streets and improve crosswalks at Bruce Avenue at Sixth Street, Hammond Bay Road at Tiki Way and Shores Drive, Dufferin Crescent at Seafield Crescent, Labieux Road at Shenton Road, Bruce Avenue at Albion Street, East Wellington Road at Westwood Road, Uplands Drive at Mexicana Road, and improve the crosswalk on Departure Bay Road at Departure Bay Eco-School.
“I think last night was a big move forward for active transportation in the city overall,” Hemmens said.