Why has City failed to promote the 2022 budget public consultation?

1. The consultation announcement

The following is an excerpt from the City of Charlottetown’s online announcement dated Thursday, December 16:

Residents, stakeholders and local businesses are invited to have their say on the City of Charlottetown’s 2022/2023 Annual Capital Budget. Community members are invited to provide comments on what they would like to see reflected in the upcoming budget. The input will help to inform Council’s deliberation of the proposed budget, ahead of approving the final budget. […] This year, written feedback is being accepted until 12 p.m. (noon) on Friday, January 14.


2. How the City and the media failed the public

The City

The online announcement appeared on that Thursday in “News and Notices” on the City’s Web site. Whoever missed it for the time it was on the main screen would have no knowledge about the call for public input.

What’s more, the budget consultation invitation is not featured on the Home page. Mainly because there is no section on the home page to promote public engagement. A curious citizen could do a search using “Budget 2022”.

It would be hard to guess that the announcement is located under Finance in the Mayor & Council section and reduced to two words: Annual Bugdet.

The striking absence of any action by the City to engage and involve the public prompted a query to the City of Charlottetown Communications Officer on Wednesday, January 5: “Was this announced in the media, either through a press release or a public notice? I have not been able to find anything on The Guardian‘s or CBC’s web sites.”

The same-day reply: “A Public Service Announcement was sent to media and community groups on December 16, 2021. I have attached the link to our City news article that is posted on our website.”

A follow-up question “Will a notice (i.e. ad) be published in The Guardian this Saturday?” was sent Thursday morning, January 6, to which no reply was received. [No municipal notice was found in The Guardian between December 16 and January 10]. A second follow-up e-mail sent Monday mid-day, January 10, remained unanswered by the end of the day.

With its one online announcement on December 16, the City has clearly failed in its duty to adequately inform citizens and raise awareness about the annual budget consultation. The administration also failed in its responsibility to verify that the media published the Public Service Announcement in a timely manner.

“Good practice for good governance in a public sector organization involves actively communicating with internal and external stakeholders, inviting feedback (even complaints).”

Public Sector Governance ‛A Guide to the Principles of Good Practice’,
Office of the Auditor General of British Columbia

Whats more, it appears that the City has no established public consultation/engagement process. Or if it does, it applies it in a rather inconsistent manner.

A comparison of other Canadian cities revealed that they begin their public engagement process with a survey and/or a round (or two) of public feedback on the draft budget. Examples from 2020 and 2021 include Regina, Kamloops, West Kelowna, Ottawa, and Quesnel. Kamloops and Ottawa provide a short explanatory video on how city budgets work, and Ottawa even organizes councillor-led meetings.

Conclusion: the City has clearly no defined or recognized participatory budgeting process that reaches all residents.

Perhaps the next administration would be open to following these three crucial things to consider when planning the next budget consultation:

  • Explain the current budget spending levels in an easily digestible way
  • Ask the community about their budget priorities
  • Explain the impact of increased spending [if any] in real terms

The media

Why did CBC and The Guardian not communicate the City’s public service announcement?

The Canadian Association of Journalists Ethics Guidelines state, under Accountability:

  • We are accountable to the public for the fairness and reliability of our reporting.
  • We serve the public interest, and put the needs of our audience – readers, listeners or viewers – at the forefront of our newsgathering decisions.

3. The province also has a part to play

A search of the Municipal Government Act, which “provides the legislative framework that is necessary for municipal governments in the Province of Prince Edward Island to create and sustain safe, healthy, orderly and viable communities”, contains all of twenty-seven words with respect to a municipality’s obligation to the public:
Section 151. Public meeting
(1) Not less than two weeks before adopting its financial plan, the council shall give public notice and hold a public meeting in respect of the financial plan.

This Act, passed in 2017, has many gaps and ambiguities. It is in dire need of a thorough review and a serious overhaul to bring it in line with good governance best practices. The Municipal Government Act requires a more robust legistative framework if municipalities are to be truly orderly and viable.


More on this topic:

Watch

  1. City of Ottawa How your city budget works (3 minutes 50 seconds)
  2. City of Kamloops Basic intro to the City and Budgeting (1 minute)

read

  1. Increase participation in local government
  2. Community Engagement in Government
  3. Three crucial things to consider when planning the next budget consultation

For online written submissions, visit charlottetown.ca/budget.


P.E.I. Municipal Elections
Charlottetown Votes
Monday, November 7, 2022

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newcharlottetownproject @ eastlink.ca

Public invited to participate in City of Charlottetown 2022/2023 Pre-Budget Consultations

Posted on the City of Charlottetown’s Web site on Thursday, December 16:

Residents, stakeholders and local businesses are invited to have their say on the City of Charlottetown’s 2022/2023 Annual Capital Budget. Community members are invited to provide comments on what they would like to see reflected in the upcoming budget. The input will help to inform Council’s deliberation of the proposed budget, ahead of approving the final budget.

This year, written feedback is being accepted until 12 p.m. (noon) on Friday, January 14.


What is a capital budget? What is an operating budget?

Capital budget: The capital budget is used for long-term investments like infrastructure and facilities that are paid off over time. It plans for the funds the City needs to build and maintain its hard physical assets, which are intended to benefit citizens across most parts of the city.

Operating budget: The operating budget identifies the funds needed to provide all of the City’s day-to-day programs and services to its citizens. These costs return year after year and include items like staff wages, office supplies and utilities.

The estimates for City Capital Projects in last year’s Capital Budget totalled $31,565,250. The detailed breakdown by department can be a starting point for citizens who wish to submit their input, either to help them identify gaps they feel need to be addressed, or new opportunities that would improve or enhance their neighbourhood, their ward, and/or the city as whole. Another approach could be to suggest efficiencies and ways to reduce spending that still provide long-term benefits.

This is your chance to share what services and spending priorities are most important to you.


The City’s Finance, Audit and Tendering Committee has begun preparations for the annual budget process and will continue to discuss and deliberate the budget in the coming weeks. Following the Committee meetings and public input period, the budget will be brought forward for Council approval at the Special Meeting of Council that is currently scheduled for Monday, January 24, 2022.

For online written submissions, visit charlottetown.ca/budget.


Looking for inspiration? Check out some previous posts:

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A conversation between an engineer and a home-owner – Part 7/7


Eng.: Yes. You are one of the benefitting property owners who will be assessed for the project.
Resident: You must be kidding me. I have a nice quiet neighbourhood street today. My kids play in the yard and it is safe. I can walk across the street to the grocery store, or up the street to the restaurant, and it is safe. To make it safer, you are going to flatten, widen, and straighten the street and add two more lanes of fast-moving cars. This is done because of traffic projections – because we want new growth in the tax subsidy area on the edge of town. And while my neighbourhood crumbles and my home drops in value, you are going to assess me, too.

I felt bad for her. She truly didnʼt get it.

Eng.: Iʼm sorry. But the traffic projections require a four-lane street for safety reasons. We must follow the standard.


This conversation is a composite of many conversations Iʼve participated in during my years of working as a civil engineer and urban planner for cities across Minnesota. The thoughts and words I attribute to myself in this dialogue are all ones Iʼve believed or expressed at one point or another during my career.

For many years, I believed that my education, training, and licence gave me superior insight into how cities work. I believed that I was uniquely positioned to know what was best for society – at least when it came to transportation.

I believed that the optimal approach to city building was reflected in the codes and standards that had been developed by others in my profession and that adhering to them was the only responsible approach an ethical person could take.

I believed that the straighter, flatter, and wider we could make a street, the safer it would become, and that requiring clear zones free of obstacles on each side was a critical component of public safety.

I believed that the speed people drove reflected their own level of responsibility or recklessness, that my designs had no influence on traffic speed, and that the only real way to address speeding was through police enforcement and public awareness campaigns.

I believed that automobile crashes, and the frequent incapacitations and deaths that accompanied them, were random events mostly caused by driver error, that the best thing I could do to reduce human suffering was too strive to continually improve our transportation systems to higher and higher standards.

I believed that I could use models and simulations to predict future traffic flows and that I had an innate sense for how drivers would respond to the designs that I and other engineers put in place.

I believed that Level of Service and other measurements of traffic efficiency were strongly correlated with economic success and that the potential for increased jobs, growth, and economic development were all directly tied to the free flow of automobile traffic.

I believed that government transportation programs, public debt financing of infrastructure projects, and local tax subsidies for development were all responsible options taken in response to the private marketplace and that government leadership was reinforcing the natural outcomes being expressed in a market-based economic system.

Most of all, I believed that my efforts to plan, design, and engineer transportation systems were a service to society, that I was part of creating a prosperous America that could be shared by everyone, and that the only real impediments to success were a lack of funding and the political courage needed to stand up to naysayers.

In all these beliefs and more, I was wrong. Utterly and shamefully wrong.

What follows here [in the book] is my confession, along with my insights and recommendations for making things better by using a Strong Towns approach to transportation.


More on this topic:

The PEI Public Library Service had ordered a copy of the book and holds can be placed at this time.

TITLE:               Confessions of a Recovering Engineer
AUTHOR:         Charles L. Marohn, Jr.
ISBN:                 978-1-119-69929-3
Published:         September 8, 2021
PAGES:               272
PUBLISHER:    John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

It is also available for purchase as an e-book.

A recent book review on the Urban Cycling Institute site asks and answers the question: “Who might be interested in this book? It is especially enlightening for people that feel frustrated about the design of their own street or the mobility system as a whole.”

A lengthier and more detailed book review in The Bulwark, entitled “All Roads Lead to Roads”, concludes that if you read Confessions, you’ll no longer be able to ignore the professions and systems that Marohn methodically exposes.

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Posted: Dec 16, 2021 7:01 AM AT | Last Updated: December 17, 2021 3:15 PM AT

A conversation between an engineer and a home-owner – Part 6/7


I was out there working on a project being done for the greater good. All of the safety improvements, all of the new growth that would results, all of the jobs that were going to be created – including mine – were a benefit to the entire region.

Here was one person asking how this benefited them. Did she not see the larger picture? Did she not care? Did she not recognize how selfish she sounded? It was clear to me that I needed to end this conversation.

Eng.: You will benefit from the added tax space from the new growth.
Resident: But the new growth is in a tax subsidy district. How much will they contribute to the tax base?
Eng.: Nothing today, but in 10 or 15 years, they will contribute a lot to the tax base.
Resident: Why would we make an investment that will not start to pay back for 10 or 15 years? By then, the grocery store will be turned into a dollar store and there will be a new tax subsidy zone.

There are always people against tax subsidies. Generally, I would be one of them, but I had been in the meetings with investors and developers. I knew that none of this investment was going to happen without the tax subsidies. And if this city didnʼt have new investment, more places would start to look like this blighted neighbourhood.

Eng.: If we do not provide the subsidies and invest in improving streets, the growth will not happen. Without growth, our city will die.
Resident: But if I canʼt walk across the street to the grocery store, it will go out of business. If I canʼt walk up the street to go to the restaurant, it will go out of business. Nobody is going to want to buy my house with a highway outside my front door. Do you care that my neighbourhood is dying?

It was precisely because her neighbourhood was dying that I was out there. This project was the neighbourhoodʼs best hope for revival. If I could get more traffic flowing through here, more people from outside of the neighbourhood passing by, this neighbourhood would have a chance for some investment. Why couldnʼt she see that I am part of the solution?

Eng.: Yes. That is why we are investing in new growth. That is why we are improving the street.

She looked past me, off into the distance, one of those long stares that people do when they are collecting their thoughts. I reminded myself that she had a lot to process here. My patiently exhausting her line of questioning was part of that process. I waited for her to speak.

Resident: So how much will this street improvement cost?

Now we are back on solid ground. I had prepared the cost estimate and knew this answer.

Eng.: The total project cost is nine million dollars.
Resident: Nine million dollars! Our city is broke. We canʼt afford to keep the streetlights on overnight. We have laid off our firefighters and half our police force. Where are we getting nine million dollars?

I understood the sticker shock. This was a large project, especially for this community, but now I had a chance to impress her. All of this new investment, all of these improvements, all of the new growth that would result, and all of the jobs and economic development was going to happen and most of it was being paid by others. As a taxpayer in this city, she was getting a tremendous gift.

Eng.: Seven million dollars is stimulus money coming from the state and federal governments. The other two million dollars will be assessed to the property owners that benefit from the project.
Resident: What does that mean, ‛assessed to the property owners that benefit from the project?ʼ

Cities are limited in the taxes and fees that they can charge property owners. Some of this limitation comes directly from the equal treatment provisions in the US Constitution itself. One exception to treating everyone equally is the assessment process. When assessing, a local government can charge a property owner whatever amount they want to so long as the property value increases by that amount.

If the project increases a properties value by, say, $10,000, the city can charge the property owner up to $10,000 for doing that project. The engineering firm where I was employed did this kind of work all the time. In fact, this neighbourhood had been so neglected, the public infrastructure in such a state of disrepair, that just having new pavement was likely to improve this womanʼs property value.

Nonetheless, I dialed back my enthusiasm, reverting to the classic speak I had heard other engineers use in public hearings on assessments.

Eng.: It means that the property owners who benefit will pay a share of the cost.
Resident: Who is it that benefits from the project?
Eng.: Everyone who is on the street.

The vacant stare evaporated. She looked me straight in the eyes, a combination of frustration and confusion apparent on her face.

Resident: Wait, are you saying that I benefit from this project and will pay an assessment?

I again looked down at my shoes. I tapped the ground with my foot, a reflexive behaviour.

To be continued …

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A conversation between an engineer and a home-owner – Part 5/7


The more growth that we can generate, the better off things are for everyone. Yes, there are some people who are anti-growth. They sometimes come to council meetings with a sentimental attachment to some old building, a concern over an environmental issue, or maybe expressing their concerns with the economic dislocation. There are generally a few speaking out against each project, but they usually arenʼt taken very seriously. What are we supposed to do? Stop growing? That would be a disaster.

Resident: Where is all of this growth happening?
Eng.: New growth is being created in the tax subsidy zone.
Resident: Where is the tax subsidy zone?
Eng.: The tax subsidy zone is on the edge of town.

In a recent planning process with the City, my colleagues and I identified many sites where infrastructure could be extended. These are places primed for growth, where public spending can be a catalyst for quick private investment. All of the major developers and business leaders were at these meetings, and they were enthusiastic for that kind of public support. That makes sense because they know what it takes to create growth.

To their credit, the City leadership followed through. They took on a lot of debt to invest in additional capacity. They applied for economic development grants from the federal and state governments. They waived fees and other development charges, and they streamlined the approval processes. Even more proactively, they established some tax subsidy areas, a move that had paid off with an initial round of development proposals. It was all very exciting.

Resident: What kind of new growth is going to occur in the tax subsidy zone?
Eng.: On the edge of town, there is a proposal for a grocery store as well as a drive-through restaurant and a gas station.
Resident: Okay. But I go to the neighbourhood grocery store across the street, I eat at the restaurant up the block, and I donʼt drive much, so I donʼt need another gas station.

I had heard this kind of thing before, but what she referred to as a ‛grocery storeʼ was just a small neighbourhood grocery. You couldnʼt get much there, nothing like the big box store that my family bought groceries from, not to mention all of the fmilies I knew.

The same thing with the restaurant. I knew the family that owned it from way back. They didnʼt really invest in their own place and, economically, they were being left behind. It was obvious. The whole neighbourhood had been officially listed as blighted. It had seen better days, for sure.

Even so, if we were to get growth going out on the edge and get a good, high-capacity street running through here, there was a chance that someone would buy up these old buildings, tear them down, and build something new. Thatʼs about the only hope I saw for this neighbourhood. The zoning code wouldnʼt allow this old stuff to be rebuilt here again anyway. And for good reason.

Eng.: Yes, we know. That is why we have planned for a pedestrian overpass on this block.
Resident: What is it a pedestrian overpass?
Eng.: It is a bridge that will allow you to get from one side of the street to the other safely.
Resident: But I can walk across the street safely right now. My kids can walk across the street safely right now. Why will I need a pedestrian overpass?

I felt like the answer was obvious here and that, once again, she was almost deliberately trying not to understand. She had just told me that she wanted to cross the street. With all of the additional cars speeding through here, how did she think that was going to happen?

Eng.: With four lanes for traffic, you will not be able to walk across the street without slowing down the cars. Slowing down the cars would not be safe.
Resident: But I am not going to be able to haul my baby stroller up a pedestrian overpass every time I want to cross the street to buy milk. How does this benefit to me?

To be continued …

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A conversation between an engineer and a home-owner – Part 4/7


One of the frequent justifications for making the roadway improvements is a tragic incident, especially a death. While those cases often seem random, they form a powerful justification for doing an improvement project, especially where you can tap into available federal or state funding. Multiple incidents can even create a sense of urgency. Since there is a seemingly endless list of roads that need improvement, prioritizing by death rate or accident rate can almost seem natural.

That wasnʼt the case here. We were proactively making the improvements to this street to make it safer – to bring it up to an acceptable standard in a way that would ultimately save lives. We werenʼt waiting for the accident rate to rise; we were getting out in front of that. It gave me a feeling of satisfaction in my work.

Eng.: This street is not safe because it does not meet the standard.
Resident: So, today cars drive slowly and it is safe, but you want to flatten the street, straighten the street, widen the street, and remove all of the trees so that cars can drive fast? Only afterwards will you post a speed limit so that cars will slow down? And you say this is safer?

It was a clever recitation, but while the woman with whom I was speaking was clearly sharp-witted, she lacked the background knowledge and understanding that allowed her to grasp the situation fully. I would try one last time to enlighten her.

Eng.: Yes, it will meet the standard. And please understand that there are high traffic projections for this street.
Resident: What do you mean by a high traffic projection?
Eng.: We project that a lot of cars will use this street in the coming years.

Weʼve all been on roads that lack capacity, where the traffic was at a standstill. From the perspective of the traffic engineer, this is an absolute failure. We even give it a grade of F.

Traffic engineers use a scale to measure “level of service” that runs from A, for “free flow condition” where all the traffic is moving unhindered, to F, where the flow of traffic breaks down and travel times are unpredictable.

Cities spend a great deal of time and resources analyzing and projecting traffic patterns. For this project, our models suggested a large increase in traffic, something that would create congestion and reduce traffic flow to Level of Service D – or potentially worse. All of the improvements underway were a proactive attempt to avoid bottlenecks and keep traffic flowing. We were being proactive with this project and I was proud of that.

Resident: Why would a lot of cars drive down this street? It is a small narrow street where you have to drive slow.

Now we were getting somewhere. Now she was asking the right questions – the ones that explains exactly why this project was so important. And I could surely sympathize with her not understanding what was coming. She hadnʼt seen the models my colleagues and I had put together. She wasnʼt the expert working on this every day. I felt a renewed sense of optimism. We were making progress.

Eng.: That is why we have to improve the street – to meet the standard.
Resident: Wonʼt thatʼs just encourage more people to drive?
Eng.: We have anticipated that, and we are adding two more lanes to handle the additional cars.

That insight was not received in the way that I anticipated. There was an uncomfortable period of silence – the kind where the person expected to speak is too startled to do so. Her eyes widened and she stared at me, not blinking.

Resident: You are adding two more lanes?
Eng.: Yes.
Resident: For cars?
Eng.: Yes. An additional two lanes will allow the street to meet the standard.

I looked down at my feet. I wasnʼt sure how to react to this conversation. It was clear that the woman with whom I was speaking was upset, but certainly she didnʼt want traffic congestion in front of her home. I bet sheʼd be the first one calling City Hall if she was stuck in traffic every day at a Level of Service F.

I just needed to help her understand what was already so clear to me. Yes, she might have to give up some trees and a little bit of her front yard, but she didnʼt want things to be safe? Didnʼt she want the road to work for everyone? She spoken next.

Resident: Let me see if I understand. You are projecting a high volume of traffic where there is none today and then building a street to handle this traffic. Arenʼt you just encouraging more people to drive?
Eng.: No. We are anticipating a lot of growth and need to make this improvement to handle the growth.

While Iʼm an engineer, Iʼm really into growth business. All of us who work for the City are in the growth business in one way or another. New growth is how we get the money we need to fix the streets, pay for police officers and firefighters, keep the library open, and all of the other things that taxpayers say they want. Growth is how people get jobs. Itʼs the unifying focus that we more or less all seem to agree on.

To be continued …

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A conversation between an engineer and a home-owner – Part 3/7


Most people seem to want to progress. They show up at public meetings and demand all of the conveniences that come with driving. They want it, that is, until it impacts them directly. Then progress must be stopped. Then they all turn into environmentalists. Iʼve seen it many times. She seemed to fit the profile, especially with her next question.

Resident: So, you are going to remove the trees from the clear zone to improve safety?
Eng.: Yes. Exactly.
Resident: How big is the clear zone?

I took a deep breath and looked down.

Eng.: The clear zone is 25 feet on each side of the street.
Resident: Twenty-five feet! That is my entire front yard!

I wasnʼt going to compromise on safety. I had a code of ethics demanding that I put the welfare of the general public ahead of concerns like this. I had worked years to get my licence, and I wasnʼt about to risk it by not following the design standard.

Plus, the firm that I work for high professional liability insurance, which I knew was expensive. We live in a litigious society. There was no way that I was going to be bullied into doing something irresponsible – something that threatened my client or my firm, let alone the people who would drive along this road.

Eng.: Iʼm sorry, but the standard requires that for the road to be safe, all obstacles must be removed from the clear zone.
Resident: Do you understand that my children play in this clear zone?
Eng.: I would not recommend that. It would not be safe.
Resident: But it is safe today. I thought you were doing this project to improve safety. How is the street safer if my children canʼt go outside?

I was having a conversation with this woman at the request of the mayor. She was one of his constituents. I knew that my job was to listen her and answer her questions, but it was also to demonstrate that the city had performed due diligence on the project. If she showed up at a future council meeting complaining about her kids not being able to go outside to play, she was less likely to be taken seriously if everyone knew that I had personally met with her, answered her questions, and seen her property firsthand. Iʼm the professional and, after being on site and meeting with her, I can confidently say that nothing unique is happening with her property, regardless of what she might suggest at a public hearing.

Eng.: Building the street to meet the standard will enhance safety by allowing cars to flow more smoothly.
Resident: More smoothly. The cars will just drive faster, will they not?

By statute in my state, the city is not able to enforce any speed limit lower than thirty 30 mph (50 k/hr). There are exceptions, but those require extensive studies and proof that there is some unique circumstance justifying the lower speed limit. We werenʼt going through that effort here. The city didnʼt have the budget for such a study and, even if they did, there were no special circumstances that would justify doing so.

Once the street was built, if there was a reason to believe that 30 mph (50 k/hr) was the wrong speed, I could do a speed study and make that determination. Such a study would involve monitoring the speed that traffic was naturally flowing, which my experience suggested was unlikely to be less than 30 mph (50 k/hr). She should be careful what she wishes because a speed study is more likely to result in a higher speed limit than a lower one.

Eng.: We will post a speed limit after we do a speed study and determine the same speed for the street.
Resident: But cars drive slow now. Slow is the safe speed through my neighbourhood where my children are playing in my yard. How does it improve safety to have a drag strip out my front door?
Eng.: It will increase safety because traffic will flow more smoothly. That is the standard.

At this point, the two of us had cycled through all of the typical objections that people bring up to oppose such projects. We had started with a friendly line of inquiry and eventually proceeded all the way to unresolvable acrimony. I had done everything that had been asked of me, and I was thinking it was time to move on.

She was not ready to let things go, however, and I started to sense this conversation would get very emotional before we were done. Her next words reinforced my uneasiness.

Resident: I am not aware of anyone being killed in an accident on the street, and I have lived here for thirty years. Are you aware of anyone being killed?
Eng.: No, Iʼm not.

I tried not to roll my eyes or sound like the teenager I was just a few years earlier.

Resident: I am not even aware of any accidents that have occurred on this street. Are you aware of any accidents?
Eng.: No, Iʼm not.
Resident: Then why do you say that the street is not safe today?

To be continued …

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A conversation between an engineer and a home-owner – Part 2/7


If there was one single thing motivating me on this project, it was the desire to make this street safer.

Eng.: It means the grade and alignment of the street do not meet the standard, and so we are going to fix that.
Resident: What is the standard?

My understanding of safety in this situation comes from accepted industry practice. Engineers have books of codes and standards that outline all aspects of safe design, from how wide to make a street to where to put the signs. I not only had access to these texts, I had been trained in how to interpret them properly.

I recognized that my role in this interaction was to simplify all of the complicated factors that go into designing a street – all of the institutional knowledge of my profession – into something that a layperson could understand.

Eng.: Basically, the streets must be relatively flat and straight.
Resident: So youʼre going to make the street flat and straight?
Eng.: Yes.
Resident: How does that improve safety?

My ability to stay friendly and professional here was important. The woman to whom I was speaking hadnʼt sat through the traffic engineering courses that I had taken – the ones that taught me the history of roadway design. She didnʼt know the horrible death rates of the early automobile era — the time before engineers established modern best practices.

She didnʼt have the training and the background that I had, including access to all of the code books and standards that my profession has developed over decades. She hadnʼt done the continuing education, sat around the table with my fellow engineers hearing details about how bad decisions lead to bad outcomes, and sometimes even death. I forced a half smile and went on.

Eng.: It will allow cars to navigate more smoothly, which makes it safer.
Resident: I donʼt understand.

In traffic engineering, randomness is the enemy of safety. The more variables that we can remove, the more the driver can predict what is going to happen and the safer things become. For the driver, a road that is straight is safer than one with a lot of curves. A road that is flat is safer than one with a lot of hills.

It was difficult for me to explain something so self-evident, so I tried to expand the conversation to an aspect of design that would hopefully be easier to grasp – someplace where we could develop a common understanding and build to more complicated concepts.

Eng.: Along with fixing deficiencies with the grade and the alignment, we will be widening the driving lanes.
Resident: What will that do?
Eng.: It will improve safety.
Resident: How does widening the lanes improve safety?

Okay, this was getting frustrating. It is a little too obvious that wide lanes are safer than narrow lanes. Anyone who has tried to drive down a narrow street, having been forced to slow way down to avoid hitting things, knows that having more space gives the driver a higher safety margin. This was Road Design 101 – the most basic of concepts. I was starting to think that this woman, despite her friendliness, just didnʼt want to get it.

Eng.: Along with fixing the deficiencies in the grade and the alignment, it will allow traffic to flow more smoothly.
Resident: What do you mean by allowing the traffic to flow more smoothly? How does that improve safety?
Eng.: Cars will be able to move without worrying about hitting things, so it will be safer. That is why we are also expanding the clear zone.

Resident: What do you mean by expanding the clear zone?

Having a clear zone on each side of the roadway is another one of these basic design concepts universally understood to improve safety. If a car goes careening off the road surface, all that kinetic energy needs to be dissipated. We donʼt want the car to be brought to an abrupt stop by hitting an obstacle; we want the process of slowing down to happen more gradually.

All traffic engineers have heard the story of a driver losing control, the car going off the road and hitting an obstacle that should never have been there, with tragedy being the predictable result. Establishing an area on each side of the road that is clear of obstacles increases the chance that people will walk away from such an incident. I was taught to insist on it. No compromises with safety.

Eng.: We will be removing obstacles from the clear zone to improve safety.
Resident: What is the clear zone?
Eng.: It is the area on each side of the street that we need to keep clear of obstacles in case cars go off the road.
Resident: What kind of obstacles?
Eng.: Mostly trees
.

I steadied myself because I have been in this situation before and knew what was coming. We were standing in a yard full of trees, many of which were going to be cut down. I knew she wasnʼt going to like that. It seemed a selfish reaction to me.

To be continued …

Report an error, or send a question or comment by e-mail to:
newcharlottetownproject @ eastlink.ca

A conversation between an engineer and a home-owner – Part 1/7

The book Confessions of a Recovering Engineer by Charles L. Marohn, Jr., is about streets, roads, and transportation.

Because the PEI Public Library Service does not yet have a copy of the book available (it is on order), and not everyone will buy it, the Introduction: Conversation with an Engineer is being replicated here in instalments.


Eng.: Hello, Iʼm the project engineer. I heard you have a concern about the street improvements we have planned for your neighbourhood.

I was feeling nervous about going out to speak with her, so I had no reason to believe that this would go poorly. I extended a hand as she stepped out of her door and into the front yard. We had a firm but friendly handshake, and she gave me a smile.

I was the project engineer, and this was my job. I needed to be able to speak with the public, if I was going to advance in my chosen profession. I have been on many such visits with other more senior engineers, watching and learning from how they handled sensitive interactions like this. Now it was my turn. I waited for her to speak next.

Resident: Yes, I heard that you are planning to improve my street. What will this mean for my neighbourhood?

Perfect. I had anticipated this question, of course, and I knew exactly how to answer it. This is the reason why I was here. My confidence growing, I responded.

Eng.: We plan to correct deficiencies in the grade as well as deficiencies in the curvature of the existing alignment. We also plan to enhance the clear zone in order to bring the street up to an acceptable and safe standard.

She gave me an odd look, like I was speaking a foreign language.

Resident: So, you are going to make the street safer?
Eng.: Yes, of course.
Resident: How are you going to make the street safer?

Civil engineering is a four-year program, although most of my peers took five to earn their degree. The four-year pace is rigorous, while the coursework is deeply technical. Upon graduation, an engineer wishing to be licenced will take a grueling eight-hour test called the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam (FEE), after which they become an Engineer in Training (EIT).

The path to licensure requires the EIT to work for four years in an apprentice capacity under the direct supervision of a licenced engineer. This is a time to go beyond the theory and become knowledgeable in the standards and practices of the profession. After four years of gaining wisdom through working, and only with the support of another licenced engineer, an EIT becomes eligible to take the licencing exam and become a Professional Engineer (PE).

I attained my degree in four years. I passed the FEE on my first try. I had done my four years working as an EIT for some distinguished engineers, and I passed my licencing exam on my first attempt.

I stood in this yard, adjacent to a street I have been asked to design, as a licenced PE – the proud steward of wisdom that, in some respects, dated all the way back to the ancient Romans, Greeks, and beyond. This might be my first solo project, but I was confident because I knew what I was talking about.

Eng.: Well, first we are going to correct deficiencies in the grade and in the alignment.
Resident: What does that mean?

Safety is the primary responsibility of any licenced engineer. There really isnʼt a close second. Itʼs written in our code of ethics. Itʼs embedded into our design processes. Safety is the reason why this state requires a licence to practice engineering. Itʼs why the city hired my firm for this job. Itʼs why I was standing there.

To be continued …

Report an error, or send a question or comment by e-mail to:
newcharlottetownproject @ eastlink.ca

BOOK: Confessions of a Recovering Engineer

Confessions of a Recovering Engineer by Charles L. Marohn, Jr., is about streets, roads, and transportation.

The book’s Web site home-page briefly introduces the author:

Drawing on his decades of experience as a professional engineer and planner, he explains why the conventional approach to traffic engineering is making people less safe, bankrupting towns and cities, destroying the fabric of communities, and actually worsening the problems (like congestion) engineers set out to solve.

He also talks about how transportation can be fixed—and why fixing it will involve not just engineers, but local residents and officials who have become effective and empowered advocates, connected with others to make real change.

Even though the author focuses primarily on laws and examples from the United States, virtually every chapter is equally relevant to Canadian cities, large and small.

The bookʼs introduction

Because the PEI Public Library Service does not yet have a copy of the book available (it is on order), and not everyone will buy it, the Introduction: Conversation with an Engineer is being replicated here in instalments.

Throughout the entire book, the author uses clear, descriptive, and expressive language that makes it easy and interesting to read.

In the introduction, he cleverly illustrates — through a composite conversation with a home-owner —how the underlying values of our transportation system are not human values, but values unique to a profession.


This is how it starts:

Eng.: Hello, Iʼm the project engineer. I heard you have a concern about the street improvements we have planned for your neighbourhood.

To be continued …

Report an error, or send a question or comment by e-mail to:
newcharlottetownproject @ eastlink.ca

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