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Is it time for a congestion tax in Fredericton?

Posted by on 24 Sep 2012 | Tagged as: fail, Fredericton

Congestion taxes are a trendy new way for cities to collect revenue. Many large cities have them in the form of tolls or extra registration fees on cars.

Fredericton can do it differently by only making the people that cause congestion pay. Much of the congestion is caused by poor driving, such as stopping in merge lanes and blocking intersections. Rather than try to correct that behavior, why not milk it as much as possible?

It can be done in four easy steps:

  1. Create bylaws that make it illegal for cars to stop in merge lanes, block intersections, etc. The difference would be that the ticket would be the responsibility of the car owner (like a parking ticket). That way, the cars won’t have to be pulled over to issue the ticket.
  2. Hire a bylaw officer to take pictures of cars stopping in merge lanes.
  3. Send the tickets in the mail.
  4. Hire someone to count the masses and masses of money that comes in.

This solution will singlehandedly solve the problem of the declining unconditional grants, the pension deficit and frustration caused by rising property tax bills.

How not to spend $100,000

Posted by on 23 Jul 2012 | Tagged as: fail, Fredericton, landuse

How much did it cost the City of Fredericton to tear down that old strip club? They sold the land for $100,000 less than they paid for it, plus they paid to tear down the building. You would think at that price, they would be able to force the buyer to build a nice, high-quality building.

What will we get instead? A squat (presumably) wood-framed building with “horizontal siding” (probably vinyl). Another typical cheapo Fredericton apartment building (will the rent also be cheap? Doubt it.)

Don’t get me wrong, the developers should be free to build as cheaply as they like, but when they get an indirect subsidy from the city, the bar needs to be set higher.

More details about the site are available here at yourfred.com

How hard is it to find out if Fredericton has free parking on Easter Monday?

Posted by on 11 Apr 2012 | Tagged as: fail, Fredericton, opengovernment

Don’t work for the government? Bet you had to go to work on Easter Monday. If you’re a Fredericton Transit user, you’ll have to find your own way in. If you have access to a car, you’ll drive in. Now, the question is, when you get downtown, will you have to put any money in the meter?

A quick check of the city’s website should provide an answer, right?

Well, not quite.

Let’s go and have a look at the city’s homepage:

You don’t see anything about city services on the holiday at all, except for a notice about the garbage being picked up on the holidays. So if the garbage collectors don’t get it off, what about the parking enforcement people? Let’s go check the parking section of their web page:

Information about all kinds of things relating to parking, but nothing about what days are free. Now, let’s use the search box on the top right corner of the page:

What will that bring us?

Oh, how about this?

Hmm, not promising. Maybe this search doesn’t work like Google:

And we get:

That isn’t the most helpful search results page. Instead of the page title, they show the file names. That probably wasn’t intentional, but maybe next time they should go with the second lowest bidder. Still, at least this way we’re warned in advance before we click on a PDF file.

As you can kind of tell, the top results are a series of press releases relating to hours around Christmas. The others are irrelevant. Let’s just try one more search before we give up:

Which gets us:

Some more results. Clicking on each one and reading it fully gives us our answer. Yes, it’s the one that I circled in red. I only found that after clicking through all the other ones. Let’s click on it and see what it says:

There you have it. That’s how “easy” it is to find out information about parking in downtown Fredericton.

Sorry about all the pictures, I hope you weren’t reading this on your phone on a pay-as-you-go data plan.

Where did the Fredericton Transit wi-fi go?

Posted by on 17 Oct 2011 | Tagged as: fail, Fredericton, transit

Where did the wi-fi go?
There was a lot of hype about it, but then, nothing. There are two reasons:

1. It wasn’t cheap. Costs weren’t made public, but I can’t imagine it would have been cheap to equip every bus with it. As Fredericton Transit doesn’t seem to care that much about passenger amenities/comfort, they just decided not to spend the money.

2. It didn’t really work that well. During the test period, they had a live webcam attached to one of the buses. As that was using the same connection as the wifi, the connection could be tested without having to go on that specific bus. If you watched it for any period of time, you’d see that the camera image wouldn’t update if the bus was travelling more than 60km/h. It also had reception issues on some areas on the north side, including Marysville. They may have been able to fix them, but that could have been expensive.

Sadly, that also means that there won’t be any real-time GPS-based updates. That system came with the wi-fi. For the time being, you’ll have to call the transit info line for real-time updates. (Of course, that line is closed for most of the morning and evening rush).

 

Is it time to drop the NB Capital Commission?

Posted by on 14 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: fail, Reviews

Now that the New Brunswick provincial budget consultations are in full swing, one thing that keeps getting picked on is the NB Capital Commission. It doesn’t really have much respect in the public eye for a few reasons:

The most obvious is the small mandate that the commission has. New Brunswickers were expecting a scaled down version of the National Capital Commission. They are in charge of museums, parks, festivals and the official buildings and grounds. In New Brunswick, the NBCC is in charge of a groundhog and a few signs. They are technically in charge of the official grounds but haven’t really done anything to improve them.

Their “crowning achievement” was supposed to be “Oromocto Ollie”, New Brunswick’s own groundhog who predicts the weather on February 2nd. They clearly had their hearts, but not their brains in it as they failed miserably:

  • Instead of acquiring a groundhog from captivity, they found a natural groundhog den on CFB Gagetown. The problem is that wild groundhogs hibernate until March. The master of ceremonies tried to thump on the hole to get him to come out, but Ollie just wanted to sleep in. One major component of a Groundhog Day ceremony is to actually have a groundhog that you can show off to the cameras.
  • If you want your groundhog to get any media play, you need to do the prediction early in the morning, so the rest of Canada will see it in the morning news cycle. Our NBCC ran it at 10am, well after all the other North American groundhogs made their predictions. This meant that it was only seen on the evening news, which by then, was old news.

Anyone driving anywhere near Fredericton will have noticed all the “Provincial Capital Region” signs. In fact, the capital region is so large, it consists of 1/6th of the land mass of the province. Not only is it large, but they placed a sign on every single road that crosses into it. This includes the poorly maintained rural roads. Imagine driving down a rutted, potholed road and seeing a gleaming new “Capital Region” sign while still being a 45 minute drive away from Fredericton. That image alone will cause most people to think it is a waste of money.

Maybe they will improve over time, but many people will just look at their failures and conclude that their yearly budget of $400,000 is an unnecessary expense. If they were able to do their job properly and have something tangible to show for it at the end, it might not get picked on so much.

Fredericton City Council sneaks in transit cut

Posted by on 22 Dec 2010 | Tagged as: fail, Fredericton, transit

Fredericton City Council used a sneaky and underhanded trick to deliver a cut in transit service to the Silverwood area. They snuck it in as a line item in their 2011 budget. This is probably why they didn’t release the budget documents until after the vote. The only way anyone could have found out about it was to have attended the “open” budget meetings. Even that would have been questionable as it may not have been mentioned at those meetings.

Even the transit commission was caught off guard, when asked about it, they replied with this:

Good day, it has not been finalized due to some confusion on councils
part, now would be the time to call your councillor and be very vocal
about not making any cuts to service. Call 460-2127 City Clerk’s Office
to find out who your councillor is and his number. Good luck

Everyone can appreciate that some runs may not have enough ridership to warrant service. This was the case with the Two Nations Crossing route. The big difference with that one was that the cut was pre-announced and fully debated in council.

Most of the budget debate has been about a statue. Not having a statue repaired may annoy some people, but it doesn’t affect peoples lives in the way that a transit cut would. People don’t rely on a statue to get to and from work. People don’t move to a neighbourhood based on the availability of a statue. People won’t have to buy a car if they suddenly lose access to a statue. Transit matters to a lot of people. It’s time that the City of Fredericton starts taking it seriously.

Update: 11:55am: Article edited to clarify the fact that the cuts are only for the Silverwood area.

Failure to engage: Fredericton’s 2011 Budget

Posted by on 20 Dec 2010 | Tagged as: fail, Fredericton, opengovernment

So how was Fredericton’s 2011 budget more open and transparent than the 2010 budget?

They pre-released details of the water & sewer portion of the budget. That’s it. That’s the big difference.

If you look at the minutes of the 2010 budget from last year, you’ll see a very detailed presentation that included line items for each department. Why couldn’t they release this before the vote for 2011?

If city council wants to be open and accountable, they actually need to be open and accountable. Fredericton’s city council has a major perception problem where people believe that it built up a giant wall so they can hide the incompetence of city employees. Whether this is actually true or not, is irrelevant because perception often matters more than truth.

Maybe they’ll get it right next year? It will be an election year after all. (no, I’m not running in 2012, stop asking). It’s time to get serious about openness and transparency

Review of social media use in NB Provinical election 2010

Posted by on 24 Sep 2010 | Tagged as: fail, Reviews

Was the New Brunswick election of 2010 the first election that made good use of social media?

No.

Social media (mainly Twitter and Facebook) were used, but they didn’t meet the expectations of the average voter who wanted to engage the candidates. The average voter wishes to be educated about the issues and interact with candidates by having them answer specific questions about the policies they are proposing. The technology to do this is here right now, we just aren’t using it properly. Some candidates did a great job at responding to questions on Twitter, however, most just used it as another broadcast medium.

One other problem with Twitter is the sheer amount of noise generated with the #nbvotes hashtag. Mostly partisan hackery, the noise made it difficult for people to follow active debates. Similar to a vuvuzela, each individual tweet wasn’t significant, but with hundreds of people tweeting and re-tweeting insignificant things, it became hard to hear the real conversation.

Some people could dismiss Twitter as a debating platform by claiming that 140 characters just isn’t enough for a proper debate, however, a candidate can provide a long-winded answer on a blog and reply to that user with the URL of the blog in the tweet.

The fact of the matter is that most of the candidates and parties have no interest in using social media properly. They prefer to do politics the old-fashioned way, with negative ads on TV and going door-to-door.

Review of Fredericton’s Queen St. modifications

Posted by on 30 Aug 2010 | Tagged as: fail, Fredericton

As of this morning, construction has begun on the redirection of Queen St. The City posted their plans online so they can be reviewed by people like me. The idea is to make access in and out of the new parking garage easier. Unfortunately, this has some drawbacks and will cause complications in other situations.

Just a reminder that I’m not claiming to be a traffic engineer, nor am I blaming the employees of the city as they are only doing what they’ve been told. I also can’t draw very well.

The first issue is where it goes from 2-way to 1 way. Unlike Queen St. at Northumberland, there will be no concrete barrier or curb to stop traffic from continuing the wrong way. There will just be signs. We all know that with today’s distracted drivers, we’ll get a few of them heading up the wrong way.

The other big issue relates to the new left-turn lane on Regent St. for traffic heading South. To allow for this, the right-turn lane will be now shared with the only straight-ahead lane. The problem is that the straight-ahead traffic will be blocked by right-turning traffic waiting for pedestrians. This will cause drivers to swerve into the left-turn lane in order to go around the cars waiting to turn right and will probably cause accidents. During the morning rush-hour, there are quite a few pedestrians at that crosswalk. The new parking garage will probably increase the number of them.

Another problem are the double-parked delivery trucks on Queen St. that service the restaurants on that block. Will they block the new lane, or will the drivers have to cross a lane of traffic to deliver their goods?

The biggest problem is that all of this new traffic is purely speculation. They are going ahead and spending $1.2 million without any hard data to support it. I’m not going to be closed minded to making these changes in the future, as long as there is sufficient data to show they are warranted.

Traffic Study Fail

Posted by on 28 Jun 2010 | Tagged as: fail, Fredericton

The City of Fredericton just spent $150,000 on a traffic study.  Was it money well spent? It’s hard to say, there are definitely several things wrong with it:

The biggest problem is that most of the calculations were done using simulators only. The report notes: “the simulation model was not calibrated to existing conditions to replicate local driver behaviour” (page 29).  Many of the intersections that were studied actually function much worse because of driver behaviour. Blocking intersections and stopping at merge lanes is probably one of the greatest causes of congestion in Fredericton.  While much of this could be cured with enforcement and education, it still should be factored into the planning process.

To keep this blog post short, I’ll only go over a few specific examples:

Beaverbrook Street/Forest Hill Road/Lincoln Road/Waterloo Row: They ran it through the simulator and decided to ignore it without giving any reason. If you ask any citizen as to which intersection they hate the most, you’ll get this one at the top of the list.  This would be a prime location for a traffic circle, yet that option wasn’t even explored.  The confusing layout wasn’t even examined either.  It also isn’t really a single intersection, it’s five intersections really close together; perhaps that skewed some of the statistics. (Page 29)

At Regent and Prospect, they completely ignored the existing proposal of a College Hill to Vanier Highway overpass.  They also ignored the fact that since you can’t turn left from Regent onto Vanier, you have to do a significant amount of driving around, which causes higher traffic on other streets.  In the end, they will spend $7.5 million just to get some double-left turn lanes, which doesn’t seem to have a lot of value. (page 78)

There is a lack of supporting data for the Queen St. redirection in front of the convention centre.  “The impact” of that development is mentioned several times in the report, but not shown.  This omission still doesn’t answer the question of whether it is really necessary to spend $1.2 million to widen Queen St. (page 70)

In conclusion, they are planning to spend millions using decisions based on questionable simulator data.  Perhaps it would be a wise investment to spend some more money and do a more thorough analysis before spending millions on road improvements that may not work out.

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