April 10, 2020

Winnipeg
-3° C, Clear

Full Forecast

Winnipeg Free Press

ABOVE THE FOLD

Help us deliver reliable news during this pandemic.

We are working tirelessly to bring you trusted information about COVID-19. Support our efforts by subscribing today.

No Thanks Subscribe

Flashing amber stuck at red, awaiting green light

Businessman hopes to begin installing gift of solar-powered school-zone warning lights as soon as city finishes testing

Businessman Chuck Lewis is hoping to begin installing the flashing amber lights he wants to buy for city school zones by Christmas.

Lewis said he provided one of the beacons to the city earlier this month, which is undergoing a two-stage testing process.

"They’re the same beacons that have been installed all across Toronto, so I can’t see there being any problems because I’m sure Toronto tested them too before they installed them," Lewis said.

Gift will be gradual

Chuck Lewis challenged the city to place flashing lights in school zones in a protest on Harrow Street in June 2017. (Ryan Thorpe / Free Press files)

Chuck Lewis challenged the city to place flashing lights in school zones in a protest on Harrow Street in June 2017. (Ryan Thorpe / Free Press files)

It could take up to 10 years before a local businessman’s offer to purchase and install flashing lights complete at all schools in the city with reduced-speed zones.

Chuck Lewis said with a minimum price tag exceeding $1.5 million, he can’t afford to undertake the initiative any quicker.

“It’s big money – but we’re not rolling them all out at one time,” he said. “The intent is to do a couple of schools per month. I never said I’d buy every school their lights in one year…. No one in their right mind would do that because of the cost.”

It could take up to 10 years before a local businessman’s offer to purchase and install flashing lights complete at all schools in the city with reduced-speed zones.

Chuck Lewis said with a minimum price tag exceeding $1.5 million, he can’t afford to undertake the initiative any quicker.

“It’s big money – but we’re not rolling them all out at one time,” he said. “The intent is to do a couple of schools per month. I never said I’d buy every school their lights in one year…. No one in their right mind would do that because of the cost.”

The solar-powered flashing amber lights Lewis plans to purchase are identical to those installed by the City of Toronto and cost $3,500 each. The city says there are 225 schools with reduced-speed zones, which would require two lights for each street adjacent to the school; some schools have more than one adjacent street with a reduced-speed zone.

At a minimum of one street per school, the cost to install two lights for all 225 would be $1.575 million.

Lewis, the general manager of Expert Electric, said his company would pay for the lights and absorb the cost of installation, which would be done by his own crews.

Lewis said he’s had no discussion with civic officials about the number of lights required and how quickly they would be installed.

However, he said he envisioned the installations would occur in conjunction with a safety-awareness program at schools, initially targeting locations with high traffic volume and speeding violations.

“We’re going to have a safety program with the schools to make the students aware of how to proceed,” he said. “Just because there is a light, doesn’t mean it’s safe to cross the street.

“We’ll do a couple of schools a month and however long it take, it takes,” he said. “I can afford to spend $100,000, $150,000, $200,000 a year until it’s done. It’s not a big deal.”

The time frame may be long, he said, but it’s better than the alternative.

“Even if it takes me five, 10 years, it’s still better than what Winnipeg is doing now, which is nothing,” he said.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Lewis, general manager of Expert Electric, has offered to purchase and install solar-powered flashing amber lights for all reduced-speed school zones across the city.

A civic spokeswoman said there are 225 schools across the city that have reduced-speed zones.

Each light costs about $3,500; with two lights per zone — one for each traffic direction on an adjacent street — the minimum cost would be $1.575 million. Some schools have more than one adjacent reduced-speed street, adding more lights and higher costs to the equation.

Surprisingly, for a gift with such a large price tag, the city has acted cautiously.

Lewis first approached the city with the idea four years ago but was rejected by officials, who claimed the province wouldn’t allow him to do it.

Coun. Kevin Klein heard of Lewis’ original offer shortly after taking office following the 2018 election and in early July brought it to the Assiniboia community committee, which endorsed it and recommended the offer to the property and development committee, which deals with offers of gifts to the city.

The committee also supported the offer and instructed the administration to investigate.

The administration prepared a report for the committee’s Sept. 4 meeting endorsing the offer and said a formal legal agreement would be drafted and brought back to the committee.

Chuck Lewis first approached the city with the idea four years ago but was rejected by officials, who claimed the province wouldn’t allow him to do it. (Phil Hossack / Free Press files)

Chuck Lewis first approached the city with the idea four years ago but was rejected by officials, who claimed the province wouldn’t allow him to do it. (Phil Hossack / Free Press files)

What the public service didn’t tell the committee, however, was that public works department wanted testing done on the lights before an agreement would be drafted and signed.

Lewis said testing the lights before the city agreed to accept the offer made sense.

"There’s no point in me giving them several hundred beacons only to learn they won’t stand up to our conditions, but I don’t see how they won’t."

Lewis said he was surprised to learn that even with the committee’s direction in September, civic officials were hesitant to buy the one light needed for testing.

"They said they didn’t want me to provide a light that they might possibly wreck during the testing phase but they said no one at city hall was willing to sign off on the purchase of the one light they needed for the test," Lewis said. "Can you believe it? It only cost about $3,500 to buy but no one was willing to approve the purchase. I said, ‘What the heck, I’ll buy it.’ I’m going to buy them all, anyway."

“They said they didn’t want me to provide a light that they might possibly wreck during the testing phase but they said no one at city hall was willing to sign off on the purchase of the one light they needed for the test. Can you believe it? It only cost about $3,500 to buy but no one was willing to approve the purchase. I said, ‘What the heck, I’ll buy it.’ I’m going to buy them all, anyway.” – Chuck Lewis

Once approved, the lights will be installed on the same posts that the reduced-speed signs are posted on. They’ll be programmed to flash only during the time period stipulated in the bylaw and posted on the signs: 7 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., Monday to Friday, from September to June.

Coun. Brian Mayes, chairman of the property and development committee, said councillors will get an update on the initiative at a meeting Monday.

Lewis said the city set up the beacon at one of its works yards about two weeks ago for a month-long testing period, adding that will be followed by second month-long test in a school zone.

David Patman, the city’s manager of transportation, told the committee at its Sept. 4 meeting the testing is necessary to ensure it meets regulatory standards and the city is not exposed to any future liabilities.

Lewis remains convinced the testing is only a formality.

"They said after one month, if it passes all their tests, it will be put at a school for a month, then after that it’s a go," he said. "They seemed happy with it the last time I talked to them about it. There were no concerns."

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

The Free Press would like to thank our readers for their patience while comments were not available on our site. We're continuing to work with our commenting software provider on issues with the platform. In the meantime, if you're not able to see comments after logging in to our site, please try refreshing the page.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.