London cycling advisory committee report sparks discussion of effectiveness of advisory committees

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Frustration over the latest report from the cycling advisory committee has sparked a conversation on the effectiveness and efficiency of all of the city’s advisory committees.

At Tuesday’s civic works committee (CWC), members voted to receive the latest report from the cycling advisory committee and to have city staff look at its recommendations and suggestions only when time and resources allowed.

READ MORE: London launches ‘comprehensive’ online survey to promote city cycling

The report included a call for a review of the existing cycling master plan as well as to lower speed limits.

“The speed limit one particularly stuck in my craw last night, because you’re asking staff to spend more time on an issue that council has already decided just a couple of weeks ago,” Lewis said, referencing an Oct. 1 vote that saw council approve plans to decrease the speed limit in residential areas from 50 km/h to 40 km/h.

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“We haven’t even implemented the 40 kilometres yet and you’re not advising us on 30, you’re advocating now for 30. It was one of those things that unfortunately felt like it was sticking some politicking, an omnibus-type approach to ‘we didn’t get what we want, so we’re going to put it in here.’”

However, on Twitter, Councillor Stephen Turner pointed out that the cycling advisory committee’s report had been in the works for months and they likely didn’t expect the matter to already have been dealt with at council.

At Tuesday evening’s meeting, Lewis stated that the advisory committees are there to “advise” and not to direct council. The comment prompted mixed reaction on Twitter, including a rebuke from local accessibility advocate Gerry LaHay who described Lewis’s words as an “unfair comment.”

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“I said this and I stand by it,” Lewis doubled down on Wednesday during an appearance on The Craig Needles Show on 980 CFPL.

“The role of advisory committees is to advise us on the stuff we’re working on. It’s not to reinvent the wheel; it’s not to call to question the decisions we’ve made.”

Lewis also addressed arguments that the advisory committees consist of people who volunteer their time and expertise for the city.

“There is [also] a tremendous amount of staff time and resources that go into these,” he countered.

“The cycling advisory committee one — from what I hear back from staff is that this went over three hours, we had several senior management representatives there, and that’s time that they’re now not spending on the issues and directions that council have tasked them with.”

READ MORE: Accessibility advocate invites Londoners to ‘roll a mile in my wheels’

Coun. Josh Morgan also spoke on The Craig Needles Show on Wednesday, where he brought up work he did in the last term of council alongside then-councillor Virginia Ridley to help implement a workplan model for advisory committees to avoid duplication of work with city staff.

“Either the advisory committee or council could task things into that workplan and then it would be approved by whatever standing committee the advisory committee reports into,” Morgan explained, adding that the purpose of the workplan was to avoid “surprises” by keeping communication open.

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“What I have to look up before council is: are the things that [the cycling advisory committee is] listing, is this on the workplan? Are they following the workplan process, and if not, why has it been abandoned? Because this was meant to kind of correct this stuff.”
Calls for national bike strategy as cities expand plans
Calls for national bike strategy as cities expand plans

Lewis and Morgan are not the only ones to raise concerns about the process advisory committees follow. At Tuesday’s CWC meeting, Coun. Steve Lehman said was concerned that action on the cycling advisory committee’s report could encourage other advisory committees to make recommendations he argued should be left to council.

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Coun. Phil Squire, who chairs the CWC, said the concerns were reasonable.

According to Lewis, clerks are already conducting a review of the city’s advisory committees.

“We have an awful lot of advisory committees. There’s an awful lot of duplication of work. There’s an awful lot of siloing as well,” Lewis said.

“When you have a cycling advisory committee, a transportation advisory committee, and a transit advisory committee, there’s a lot of overlap in those things.”

However, the chair of the cycling advisory committee is taking a wait-and-see approach.

Speaking on The Craig Needles Show on Thursday morning, Craig Linton stressed that not all council members have received the report yet.

“As it sits right now, there is a draft recommendation from the civic works committee to council that basically says the report should be referred to civic administration for consideration or action as appropriate.”

He noted that the report was generated by a sub-committee consisting of members of the cycling advisory committee that are “extremely well-informed, well-educated people” and that it lays out “where we’ll end up” if the current transportation master plan and cycling master plan are followed as is. But Linton, who admitted he is not very active on social media, also took time to call for calm.

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“I have seen some of the discourse surrounding this and I think that we all need to understand that we as an advisory committee — like any other advisory committee — we sit at the pleasure of council and that is something that’s very important to remember.”

The CWC’s recommendations on the cycling advisory report will head to full council for consideration on Oct. 29.