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Calgary cycling, walking coordinator removal not a victory: Farrell

While Calgary cycling and walking priorities remain the same, transportation folks recognize they’re going to have to do more with less. Still, there could be a silver lining.

On the heels of Monday’s city council decision to aid city businesses through a combination of reserve fund cash and $60 million in budget cuts, city departments are bracing for a period of uncertainty as they await decisions on how they may be pared back.

One of the flash points prior to Monday’s debate was in the city’s posting of walking, cycling and liveable streets coordinator jobs.

RELATED: Calgary budget cuts: You make the call

City of Calgary transportation spokesman, Sean Somers, told LiveWire Calgary the walking and cycling positions won’t be filled. He said it doesn’t mean those areas aren’t still a priority.

“We are not in the transit department. We are not in the cycling department. We’re not in the walking department. We’re not in the driving department. We’re the transportation department,” he said.

“We have an obligation to provide mobility choices for all Calgarians. Our job is to provide those options so that people can choose how they want to get around.”

Somers said it’s all important work in their department and they’re going to continue to execute the plans as best they can for all of the transportation areas.

“But I would say I think it’s probably naïve for anybody at the City of Calgary to think things are going to be the same as they are today.”

Calgary cycling, walking position removal not a victory, said Farrell

Ward 7 councillor Druh Farrell said opponents of active transportation shouldn’t see positions’ removal as a victory. Administration pulled down the job postings because they had a heads-up cuts were coming, she said.

“That doesn’t mean we’re not committed to fulfilling our policy,” Farrell said.

“A policy is a policy until it’s revoked.”

Somers said the benefits of having the Calgary cycling and walking coordinator positions there was a specialized professional focusing resources on the planning and implementation of these projects. Also, to advocate for their inclusion in the overarching transportation plan. Similar to the way the roads unit has traffic engineers focused on their projects.

“So, what happens now, for a lack of a better term, is those same engineers are going to work as generalists,” he said, tackling cycling, pedestrians, transit and roads activities.

This, Somers said, isn’t a bad thing. He points to a familiar “modal fight” – the battle between cyclists, drivers and pedestrians – that could be avoided with a more integrated approach.

“That maybe a silver lining for us is that as a department we’re looking at things more holistically and it’s not so siloed,” he said.

“Maybe, in the end, it results in a better sort of holistic transportation system.”

They’re all transportation engineers; these have an active modes specialty

Farrell said the error might be in how the jobs were posted. She said these are transportation engineers – like ones with a specialization in roads – that have a better understanding of how active modes are incorporated into city planning.

“Perhaps the titles undermined the importance of the role and the expertise required.”

“Our administration is extremely skilled at designing for driving. The new designs around active modes are, perhaps, less second nature,” Farrell said.

Ultimately, Farrell said it’s up to the general managers in each department, including transportation, to make sure the city’s mandate and policies are appropriately carried out. That includes the city’s pedestrian and cycling strategies.

While these two high-profile positions became the poster child for city misspending, Farrell said citizens need to know that potential cuts won’t end in this department.

“I think it’s unfortunate those two positions are highlighted, when there will be many, many positions we’ll pull back from,” Farrell said.

“The expectation though, is that we continue to implement our policy. And I fully expect all our goals will experience a bit of a slow down.”