This Week At City Hall: It’s Plazatastic!

At their Wednesday meeting, executive committee will be taking a look at the first phase of the Downtown Transportation Study. In short, it concludes that car traffic should be allowed on the plaza, but only in one direction and not all the way through. You can see the traffic flow pattern in the map at left. (Click to embiggen.)

You’ll recall that this whole schlmozzle with the plaza — the “we’ll open it to traffic, we’ll never open it to traffic, maybe we’ll open it to traffic, maybe not, what do we do? I know, hire a consultant and get them to tell us” back and forth that went down last fall — was precipitated from, among other things, fears that opening the 12th Ave plaza to vehicular traffic would be too confusing for the simpletons who drive downtown.

“Simpletons, Paul? Really?”

Hey, that’s not me talking. That’s your city administration and a few of the folk on council who reckon y’all can’t drive worth a damn and will find a two-way street that has fewer than six lanes too stressful to navigate.

Or, rather, that’s me paraphrasing — liberally — from some of what was said last year. Whatever. Moving on.

Yeah. So they were worried the plaza would be too confusing for drivers. And therefore, naturally, of all the options they had to choose from, city staff and their consultants picked the most confusing option imaginable. They’re not making 12th Ave a one-way street. They’re making it into two one-way streets. It’s a good thing there’s that map graphic above because I have trouble explaining it with words. The city is going to have to hire one hell of a street-sign arrow artist to make sense of this.

And, am I the only one to notice the plastic planter lobby’s fingerprints are all over this plan?

Really, I have to admire the audacity of the consultants. I never would have guessed this is where things would end up. It’s like Solomon came down and saw Regina’s citizens arguing over the plaza and declared that the only way to resolve the quarrel would be to slice the street in twain.

Now personally, if you can’t tell already, I’m not a fan of their judgement. And here’s why: Back during the consultation phase of the downtown plan, we heard over and over again about how one-way streets mean death for a downtown — all they do is hurry traffic through and away from the part of the city where you want them to linger. Plus, they reduce the number of route options for drivers who do want to get around to things downtown. That’s why the very first move in implementing the downtown plan was to change a few streets from one-way to two-way.

And now, if staff has their way, we’ll be bringing one of those one-way streets back. Can you see why I find this recommendation a tad perplexing?

I’m actually kind of hoping that it’ll turn out that this whole report is some kind of test. And if we extend the Solomon analogy, seeing as I’m in favour of opening the plaza to two-way traffic because I don’t want the downtown to die! does that make me the compassionate one and therefore I get to keep the baby? Or the plaza? Or whatever?

Anyway. Now’s the time when we look at funny bits in the report….

The traffic and parking impacts associated with the preferred option are expected to be minimal as the space is not designed to accommodate a high volume of traffic effectively…. (pg 5)

The space isn’t designed to accommodate high volumes of traffic, eh? You know, last fall — mere days before staff made their surprise recommendation to keep the plaza closed — I was interviewing people at city hall and being assured that the plaza could totally handle whatever Regina drivers could throw at it. It was designed to be driven on. But ever since then, the place is sounding more and more fragile by the day.

Really, I think the best thing we can do is cover the whole plaza in that thick, squeaky plastic my Aunt Bessie had on the furniture in her living room. And we definitely shouldn’t let the kids play in there. That way, nothing will get scuffed.*

Keeping much of the City Square plaza as vehicle-free reinforces the message that active modes of transportation are viable and important options in Regina and may assist in influencing people to choose these modes. This, in turn, assists in reducing the City’s carbon footprint. (pg 4)

Except the only active mode of transportation you can use on the plaza is your feet. Skateboards, roller blades and bicycles are prohibited, remember?

As groups using the space become aware of the ability to program the southern area of City Square plaza without restricting traffic, it is also expected to reduce the need for road closures and the costs associated with that process.

Waitwhat? You mean you can program the southern area of the plaza without restricting traffic? But we were told last year that the other reason they wanted to keep the plaza closed to traffic — I mean, other than that Regina drivers are simpletons — is because they needed the space for programming. But if we can just use the southern area for art shows, busker festivals, ice sculpture competitions, mad science conventions, black magic lessons and nosebleed races, then we can have an active, happy plaza and have car traffic on it at the same time. You’d almost think the thing was designed that way.

Oh wait. It was.

In fact, the main reason we have that much-malinged half-moon scooped out of Victoria Park is because the plaza needed to have a space for programming and pedestrian plaza-ness even when cars were driving through the north part of it.

In other words, if the plaza had been planned as a pedestrian-only space back before the shovels had been stuck in the ground then there would have been no need to dig up a chunk of the park.

Okay. That’s it. It’s past one in the morning and I’m out of steam and about to pass the 1,000 word mark. And I haven’t gotten to all the other stuff going on this week. And there’s lots. Like a big land sale to Habitat for Humanity that I have issues with. And a really confusing report about potentially purchasing land from the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation. And a bunch of stuff about pesticide use by the city. But that will have to wait because I have to go to sleep. Sorry.

If you want to read ahead, you can check out the city’s much-much-much-improved committee agenda page right here. Nice work city hall website people! (For reals. Not for sarcastics.) I have issues with the way the new pdfs are being put together but those funky search boxes and meeting-type drop-down menus are top notch!

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NOTE:
* After a re-read, I’m thinking that Aidan cracked a version of that “cover the plaza in plastic” joke on the podcast at some point and now it’s springing back into my head like it’s my own invention. If that’s the case, my apologies. No comedy theft intended, Aidan. We should really record another episode this week. E-mail me.

Author: Paul Dechene

Paul Dechene is 5'10'' tall and he was born in a place. He's not there now. He's sitting in front of his computer writing his bio for this blog. He has a song stuck in his head. It's "Girl From Ipanema", thanks for asking. You can follow Paul on Twitter at @pauldechene and get live updates during city council meetings and other city events at @PDcityhall.

37 thoughts on “This Week At City Hall: It’s Plazatastic!”

  1. Well Paul, as usual you are bang on!!!
    Improve traffic flow downtown??? What a joke this area will become. I will take some pictures of the signs, arrows, whatever to send to the Ellen Show for her silly signs segment.

  2. Are that same group of wack jobs that came out about the Silver Sage project on the old Regent Park School grounds coming out about the Habitiat project in their neighbourhood? Or is it ok now because it’s not First Nations people? Truthfully, Habitat should be paying for their land. None of the other non-profit housing providers get free land from the city, why should they?

  3. @ anonymouse: if there’s a keffuffle in that particulat neighbourhood about HFH projects – and without more details, I’m just speculating, here – it would be weird, because there have been numerous HFH builds there already.

  4. anonymouse: About the Habitat land… they aren’t getting it for free. But they are paying below market for it and it isn’t being put up for public bids. And it’s a much bigger chunk of land than they usually get.

  5. Barb – This is a multi-family project. This was one of their objections before. Just one of many objections raised to cover their real objection.
    Paul – Yes, but they are at least paying something for it for a change. I think it’s good that it’s being developed by a non-profit at least, but yes, HFH gets a better deal from the city than any of the other non-profits (Gabriel, Silver Sage, Ehrlo, Namerind – just to name a few)who are providing housing and it’s very frustrating and completely unfair. Also a potentially positive development is that they will apparently doing something other than their standard 1 storey single family home (the least efficient use of land and resources possible imo).

  6. I work on 12th Ave. Drivers are confused already by the right turn only on Scarth that leads into the one-way on 12th. How will they cope with TWO one-ways?

    HFH would like to buy larger parcels of land to build houses side-by-side, rather than blocks apart. I fully support this idea. It’s easier for the organization/volunteers. As well, it’s easier for the homeowners when they don’t have to be concerned about the renters on either side of their property. As it is, Habitat has to consider “the neighbours” when planning landscaping and whether a fence is required in the plan.

  7. Paul:
    1) Will there be working traffic lights at Scarth & 12th?
    2) Will vehicles be able to travel west-bound from Broad St all the way down 12th Ave to Cornwall St?

  8. P.S. Comparing HFH and Gabriel, Silver Sage, Ehrlo, Namerind, etc. is like apples to oranges. HFH promotes homeownership as a means to breaking the cycle of poverty, and its clients are all homeowners responsible for mortgage payments.

  9. Paul:
    Ignore my question #1 above. I was just on the city site and saw a bigger size map which shows Scarth/12th as being a “signalized intersection.” http://bit.ly/O4aS8s

    For question #2 – I still can’t tell for sure if 12th Ave between Scarth & Hamilton is one or two-way. On the puzzle map, there are 2 green lines but only a one-way-east arrow.

  10. Re: traffic, it’s hard to imagine how much worse this whole situation could have been handled. Which layer of confusion is on the ever-growing stack now?

  11. Me again. I think I figured out answer to my question #2.
    The one-block of 12th Ave between Scarth & Hamilton has to remain one-way east-only. If it’s not, when the plaza is completely closed for an event, there would be no exit for a vehicle travelling west on 12th past Hamilton St — can’t turn south on Scarth as it’s northbound one-way and can’t turn north on Scarth as it’s the mall.
    (Sorry everyone — I know I’m the first person to ever think out loud on a message board.)

  12. Blank – a varirty of approaches are needed and all of these are housing providers. As far as the homeownership model offering a way out of poverty and others not, I would dispute that. Truthfully that is a bias here in Regina, not truly supported by stats. I have the utmost respect for HFH in other cities where they legitimately provide for those in need and are often on the forefront of invovation in their field. The Regina group though just builds the same house over and over. It is a poor design, is easy to pick out driving down the street, is the least energy efficient possible, is a poor use of land, are only built in specifc area of the city which already have ample affordable housing (these should be spread out throughout the city), are disproportionately allocated to recently immigrated families with no care given to whether or not the design is culturally apparopriate. Honestly I’m happy to see them trying something different. I’m sorry, but other groups are doing far more interesting things and deserve to be given the same breaks that HFH has been given here.

  13. With NO traffic allowed in the plaza, a drunk driver STILL managed to plow through and do considerable damage earlier this year. Not to mention motorists who sideswipe the planters along 12th between Scarth and Hamilton, or semi drivers who drive into the fancy new lamp posts. (When you walk by every day, you see how bang-on Paul is in calling drivers “simpletons.”)

  14. I was out for a bit last night between 7:30-9 p.m. and saw three vehicles turn left off of Scarth onto the plaza, then do U-turns by the stage and escape. I did notice there was a fairly big gap between the planters at the Scarth & 12th intersection, which had perhaps been moved at some point to accommodate a vehicle on or near the plaza, then not repositioned to discourage left turns off Scarth.

  15. anonymouse #12: going by media coverage, I would dispute your allegation that there is a “disproportionate” allocation of HFH to recent immigrants. The allocation I’ve observed is closer to 50-50. Also, on what do you base the “culturally [in]appropriate” statement re: house design? Surely you aren’t arguing that Thai immigrants turn their noses up at insulation, double-glazed windows and smoke alarms because these aren’t part of their tradition.
    Please note, too, for future reference that North Central, Regent Park, and Washington Park are different parts of the city. Each of these areas, to differing degrees, could use some revivifying and renewal, and this seems to be part of the reason for HFH’s land purchase choices. As to “ample affordable housing” – what shape is it in?
    It would indeed be nice if HFH housing was spread around Regina more; the same argument has been used about group homes.

  16. If you’re going to make bold statements, please cite your sources. Spreading misinformation does a disservice to everyone.

    I agree that single unit houses are very inefficient (I live in 600 sq. ft), but this is the standard model for Regina. It’s a different story in metropolitan Toronto. The size of the families who are Habitat Regina clients calls for larger homes on standard lots so children can play outside. I volunteered on a house last year for a family of 8. You can’t expect a family of 8 to buy a duplex or apartment-style condo, like you see in the larger centres.

    I agree that it would be nice if other organizations that strive to provide affordable housing received discounts on land. However, it’s not valid to deny HFH a good deal on land because other organizations aren’t offered the same deal (regardless of whether they asked for it).

  17. Barb – There is some regulation in place to provide for spreading group homes around the city. The City is divided into districts adn there is a limit (15) on the number of group care facilities which are permitted in each district. There is no similar regulation for Habitat Homes, and I don’t think there should be. If they were less backwards thinking they would do this of their own accord, but they specifically ask the City for propoerty in the north part of the inner city and only there.

    No I do not mean insulation and glazing on the windows. What a ridiculous comment as those things are climate related rather than anything to do with culture, smoke detectors are a buildign safety issue, again not cultural. What I mean is that different cultures use the space in their homes differently (a very common one is how they use their kitchens and how this relates to the layout of their homes) and that things like extended family living under one roof is more common in some immigrant cultures than in ours. People who are offered a habitat house are likely going to take it even if it’s not quite right for them, especially in the current market, but honestly there is all sorts of research and information out there that could make their homes work better for them. I don’t care which applicants they are going chose, there are plenty of people in Regina who need housing, but if they are going to chose a fairly large proportion of immigrant families (and 50% of successful applicants is a large proportion, especially in a mostly white community, where the largest visible minority group as far as I can tell is First Nations) then they should at least THINK about how their needs may differ from those who have lived in Canada their whole lives. Yes, much of the housing availalbe in those areas is run down and honestly, it’s only affordable in comparison to other areas of the city, not by any actual measure of affordability.

    Regent Park, North Central and Washington Park are all seperate communities, but are located in the same area of the city (and the site in question is technically in Coronation Park), which as far as I can tell, is the only part of the city which HFH builds anything. I don’t think building dozens of the same house which you could drive by at 100kmp and be able to identify as a Habitat House is really helping with revitalization efforts, but yes something is needed in all those communities.

    AND the problem again is that HFH should NOT be only non-profit housing provider who is receiveing free land. Either make it available for free to all of them through a proposal process or charge them all at market rates (or a below market rate which is the same for all of them). I see no reason why HFH should get special treatment.

  18. @ blank #16, I’ll assume you aren’t addressing me, as you and I seem to be on the same side.
    @anonymouse, please cite the source for the regulation of number of group homes in a district; that would be interesting to know.
    I think your argument about culturally appropriate design is a bit of a red herring. Your difficulty seems to be – and your second paragraph implies it very strongly – the number of recent immigrants in HFH housing as compared to First Nations/Metis. Would you like to see a quota system based on ethnic population proportion? That seems to be what you’re suggesting; please correct me if I’m wrong.

  19. Paul for Mayor. Unfortunately the race is already crowded this time around, even if we discount potential candidates wanting to sell “Saylor Juice”.

  20. This discussion has gone completely sideways. What is Anonymouse referring to when you talk about how immigrant families use their kitchens? They use it for cooking and eating. Sure, newly immigrated families sometimes need instruction on using appliances – support provided by RODS and Regina Home Economics for Living Project Inc. (H.E.L.P) – but kitchens have the same function in every part of the world. I did a Habitat build in Central America last year. Guess what? They use the kitchen for cooking and eating!

    Racially profiling Habitat candidates? It’s 2012. Get your head on straight. Poverty doesn’t discriminate. However, Habitat does recognize the special needs of the aboriginal community and has an aboriginal housing program to address the community’s special circumstances.

    I suggest you visit some of the delapidated rental units owned by the organizations you feel have been shortchanged by the City in terms of land sales. Some (not all) seem to have issues with the upkeep and maintenance of their current properties. Giving a sweet deal on land prices will just make the conditions worse for their tenants.

  21. Very well put, blank for anonymous.
    And I can concur from personal observation in re: upkeep and maintenance issues for one such non-profit.

  22. Agent w….
    re ‘our’ Paul for Mayor..
    I’ll 2nd that !!!!
    the best idea I have heard all week. or month. or year

  23. Woah!

    The topic of Paul’s post is on the stupid idea of having automobile traffic & @ the same time, 0 bicycles allowed, on the Plasmatic Plaza.

    If vehicles have “special event” permits to drive on the PP, fine.

    F… why are cars still allowed on Scarth, between Victoria & 12th avenue anyway? An extension of the Scarth St. mall,( from 12th to Vic ), should have been done in the 1st place.

    Off topic ; If city property is available for purchace, isn’t there some sort of auction ?
    Build apartment stuctures 5-6 stories high,with 40-60 spaces.They should have x amount of solar power & solar collectors as well.
    A normally built home is not a reduction of any “carbon footprint”.

  24. shit : 5 posts since I started typiing my last post, ( it was at 18 ),

    Write in % vote Paul & Barb.

    Slayer 4 Maylor

    Paul for official position of “firing of consultants”.

  25. “Saylor for Mayor” has a very strident voice about all sorts of urban ideas (and perhaps claims some trademarks on the very concepts), but apparently has no intentions to run as a candidate.

    Paul For Mayor, I say.

  26. Oops, make that “Saylor for Maylor” (wouldn’t want to infringe on previous Trademarked discussions).

    But it’s Paul For Mayor, I say!

  27. I’ll run for Maylor if Paul runs for Mayor. And that’s confident and assertive,not strident. Thesauruses for Christmas.

  28. Nice assertive literary wit, Saylor!

    Now please let’s see whether we can get Paul to run for Mayor, and then you could reuse some collective campaign ideas (in time for Christmas).

    (Meanwhile I think we should get back to the Plaza topic.)

  29. Me run for office? I’m waaaaaaayyyy too lazy and scatterbrained for that.

    But I’m just the right amount of lazy and scatterbrained to write for prairie dog.

  30. Hmm, seems I have been thrust by Saylor into the place of commenting on Paul-for-Mayor vs. say anyone else.

    “But I’m just the right amount of lazy and scatterbrained.”

    Yes: seems to be a candidate statement at least as good as we have seen thus far — and we have his writing (not hair) to prove it.

  31. Barb – you are absolutely incorrect. I have no problem with immigrant families receiving homes, they along with First Nations and Metis face many difficulties finding housing in this city in addition to the difficulties being experienced by pretty much everybody who didn’t buy a house here prior to 2008. Again, I just feel that they need to consider how this is done. You trying to imply what you are is ridiculous and beyond insulting. I am fairly certain that I know a great deal more about this particular topic than you ever will.

    Blank – yes culturally appropriate housing design is a real thing, Although honestly it’s probably the most minor of my objections to how HFH builds in Regina, but Barb seems determined to latch on to it because implying that different cultures have different living arrangements apparently gives her liscense to call me a racist. As far as large families not living in apartments or townouses I would disagree, but truthfully even building a second story on these houses would improve their efficiency.

    Barb – see:
    http://www.regina.ca/opencms/export/sites/regina.ca/residents/urban-planning/.media/pdf/group-care-facility-form.pdf

    They unfortunately do not seem to have a map of the districts attached, but if I recall the city is divided into 30 something districts.

    Incidentally, regarding the main topic of the post (this was in there too, so no we are not entirely off topic), yes, this particular plan seems designed to confuse people. Also, the plaza was originally designed to withstand heavy trafic, so I have no idea why they are back tracking on this. For the amount of programming taking place there they need to continue to use it for traffic as well. They may know something we don’t? Like maybe they didn’t end up building it to spec? Or maybe they really do think people who live here are idiots who can’t tell when it’s open or closed? Or maybe this latest design is intended to confuse people more so that accidents will happen and they can say “see it’s not safe to have this open to vehicle traffic”? I have no idea. It seems insane.

  32. Blank – I’m not sure which information you are looking for sources on. If it is that there are benefits to affordable housing in general not jsut ownership there are many sources a good starting point is the CMHC report – “Affordable Housing for Families: Assessing the Outcomes”. Not sure if this is what you were asking for information on or not though. Happy to provide links or information on sources for anything.

  33. I dunno what y’all are talking about but this plan is stupid. Turning off or from Cornwall??? Can you imagine the brutal backlog of lefthand turns at Cornwall from 11th?? and left turns onto 11th from Cornwall. God.

  34. City “planners” made it through their 90 day union BS. So is Incompentance, not a union/ public assesment. not enough reason to get rid of you?

  35. This traffic flow is ridiculous!!! The narrowing of all the entrance points makes the space less flexible, not more flexible, as the idea was to be….. The inflexible concrete stage is rather small…..

    BUT! does this diagram mean that the alleys now have access to the ‘plaza’?

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