Unlit Walkways

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I’ve been working hard to raise an awareness of public safety concerns in the community for many years, without a whole lot of recognition. It’s a constant fight to keep frustration from turning into cynicism and apathy.

Although it is only part of the larger “public safety” issue, the danger of unlit walkways is something that I’ve been very concerned about for several years. That’s why it didn’t take me long after moving into my current neighbourhood, to start lobbying for improvements to the local walkway.

Those efforts finally resulted in a 2005/07/21 City Hall meeting with Councillor White, Jay Stanford and Shane Maguire, and their promise that lighting would be installed “before the Fall.”

During that meeting, I made it clear that my concern was city-wide, and not simply my immediate neighbourhood. When it was revealed that only $80,000 YTD had been spent lighting walkways, I expressed my personal opinion that the Corporation of the City of London was in a position of legal liability, knowing about the risk that unlit walkways pose to vulnerable citizens, yet taking a casual approach to addressing the issue.

I also expressed the opinion that, should anyone else be victim to an attack and injury on an unlit walkway, and especially given the city’s woefully inadequate record of addressing the problem, that it would be unable to use a defence of “plausible deniability.”

I am proud to have been instrumental in getting lights installed in the walkway which connects Eagle Crescent and King Edward Avenue, and for pressuring politicians to treat the city-wide situation more seriously.

It seems unconscionable to me that a city which spends millions of dollars annually to expand and upkeep it’s roads, only spends a comparative pittance to install lighting in walkways that pose a danger to women and other vulnerable citizens.

Looking back, perhaps I was too naive. I assumed that, having brought forward my concerns about an ongoing serious public safety issue, that those concerns and the information that was presented during our meeting, would automatically be communicated to City Council, either directly or via the appropriate committees.

Had that happened, and had the anticipated further discussion taken place, the probability is that the issue would have been reflected in the media. And if that had happened, who knows? Perhaps the subsequent attack upon the woman in Byron might not have taken place.

Following that attack, Jonathan Sher attributed comments to Councillor MacDonald to the effect that he had been “shocked” to learn that so little of the money budgeted for walkway lighting had actually been spent last year. That infuriated me, and caused me to start asking more questions.

Specifically, I wanted to know whether or not any of the Council members had any right to claim that they didn’t know any better.

Although I’ve had some response, it’s been a bit of a typical struggle to get the answers that I want. I’ve been told of some action that was directed following my meeting, but not specifically whether or not other Council members were informed.

I’m not sure how fair it is for me to point fingers at specific individuals. Am I blameless, given the fact that I did not pursue the matter more than what I did? I can tell you that I’ve had some sleepless nights.

I haven’t had any response from any of the politicians, and staff appear to have been “talking around” the information that I’ve asked for. So, here’s some of the relevant communication to-date:

2006/01/03 to Jeff Fielding (London’s Chief Administrative Officer):
“Having met in the Fall of last year with Councillor White and city staff members in order to express my concern about walkway lighting, I was subsequently surprised to read comments attributed to Councillor MacDonald which purported that he had been surprised to learn that the full allocated budget for that program was not being spent. I therefore inquired of Councillor White (and copied that inquiry to Councillor’s Eagle and Baechler) whether the details of that meeting would not have been automatically communicated to CAPs or to CSCP.”

2006/01/06 from Janet Rice-Gascon (Committee Support Clerk, City Clerk’s Office):
We only have the information that is reported on at the Standing Committee meetings which in turn the report goes onto Council for final decisions and direction.”

2006/01/06 to Ms Rice-Gascon:
“Is there a reason that you can’t speak to Mr. Stanford and Mr. Maguire and provide me with an official response from the perspective of the City Clerk office with respect to how this matter was handled?”

2006/01/09 from Betty Mercier (Committee Support Clerk, City Clerk’s Office):
With respect to your meeting with Jay Stanford and Shane Maguire the following was resolved. Jay directed the City’s Operations staff to clean up the weeds, trim the trees and to keep an eye on the snow conditions on the walkway to Eagle Court and had the pot holes filled last summer. Shane directed the energizing of the lights on the walkway on December 14th.”

2006/01/09 to Betty Mercier:
“Further to the Walkway Lighting inquiry, and your response with respect to the actions taken by Mr. Stanford and Mr. Maguire. In addition to those actions which you described, and as I’ve asked about previously, was my meeting (and more importantly, the information which was discussed in it) which gave rise to those actions, communicated to Council directly, or via any of the standing committees? And if not, why not?”

2006/01/09 from Betty Mercier:
If you had submitted a communication with respect to this matter, it would have been placed on the ETC agenda for the committee to respond to, in all likelihood the committee would have referred it to staff to respond – as was the turnout from your meeting with Jay and Shane. So, no Council would not have been communicated directly because it did not go through the ETC.”

[But I didn’t submit a communication, I had a face-to-face meeting with staff. That’s the circumstance which I’ve been asking about, and those are the questions that they’re ducking.]

2006/01/09 to Betty Mercier:
“Given the likelihood that this is about to get very public, it is extremely important that I not misinterpret what you’ve just told me. You’re saying that because I met with Councillor White, Mr. Stanford and Mr. Maguire instead of writing a letter, that a matter of concern for public safety such as this was not communicated to other members of City Council? You’re saying that there’s no policy in place which directs that matters of such seriousness be referred to the appropriate committees, regardless of how or by whom they’re received?”

2006/01/10 to Councillor Sandy White:
“Please also review my recent correspondence in the “Unlit Walkways” archive with respect to our 2005/07/21 meeting. I am obviously very interested in hearing what you have to say about the failure to communicate the issues which I raised and the information which was disclosed about the Walkway program by staff, to other Council members.

I cannot forget the woman who was attacked in Byron. And I cannot help but wonder what might have been, if the issue of walkway lighting had been discussed at committee or Council and reflected in the media.”

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