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Tuesday 18.02.2020 | Name days: Kintija, Kora

Exclusive | City for people: Riga spends millions on creating problems, not solving them

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Riga uses millions to create new problems, solutions. This is how the current situation in Riga is described in an interview to BNN by City for People association representative Māris Jonovs. Bridges designed based on the principles «we’ll figure something out», planning without knowing actual needs, and investment of money in projects that yield no results – Jonovs points to many problems with planning in Riga.

Flawed design and «we’ll figure something out» approach to work

Riga City Council’s Development Department often asks City for People for help. According to Jonovs, this amounts to «generating paper». What he means by this is projects are designed but are never implemented.

At the same time the city council’s Transport Department, on the other hand, is not as fussy when it comes to cooperation. Most often those are overburdened designers. They are the ones who ask enthusiasts for assistance and advice, Jonovs says.

He has observed that often

infrastructure design tenders from the very beginning contain different problems that make it impossible to do something useful.

As an example he mentioned Deglava Bridge. City for People managed to secure a cycling path there, but Jonovs is certain – because the bridge will not experience any capital repairs in the next 20 years, it will be a major problem for the entire cycling path.

At the same time, the association failed to secure improvements for Zemitāns Bridge project. Jonovs recalls that the city council at the time was prepared to halt the project, but the Transport Department did not respond to the association or the city council’s invitations to improve the project and admission terms. The attitude was – it is necessary to stick to the established approach and later discuss with the winner of the tender to «to design something else, rather than what is detailed in the design objective.»

The city council’s Transport Department announced the construction project for the rights to develop Zemitāns Bridge in May 2019. Results are still unknown. Public information shows that the bridge’s reconstruction is planned to be performed in 2021.

70 year old projects recycled

«We basically reproduce the same 50 to 70 year old projects,» Jonovs says. He says that Riga should be provided specific goals to make designers search for appropriate solutions. Nevertheless, Riga has no data to find out what residents need, Jonovs says.

The Cabinet of Ministers’ approved cycling traffic plan provides for at least 30% of Latvian residents travel at least once a week by 2020. Riga predicts – 20% of residents will travel by bicycle by 2020. However, it is impossible to tell if this is a realistic prediction, because the city does not measure cycling traffic intensity.

In Riga cycling infrastructure’s planning is not performed even on the most basic level – counting residents of outlying territories and dividing the number by 0.2, explains City for People representative.

Jonovs says – if there is no data, there are no modern solutions.

Golden projects during a famine

City for People reminds – for five years now Riga has not established a single new cycling section. Projects are ready, including in Daugavgriva and Ziepniekkalns, but for unexplained reasons they disappear altogether.

Complaints and mountains of letters will not resolve anything – political will is needed. Departments with not supervision and specific political requirements will not resolve anything, Jonovs is certain.

BNN recalls an interview with Riga City Council deputy Vilnis Ķirsis, who said Riga will only be able to repair things in the next five year, not develop. Jonovs adds – cycling paths do not require big investments and a lot can be done without building anything.

It is not like Riga has no money, says the activist. As an example he mentions Ganu and Lenču street project. There are streets nearby in need of investments, because investments from there will return to the budget from this project. «Perhaps someone there had their own interests,» the activist allows.

Jonovs is certain – money needs to be invested to change something and for the city to approach certain goals.

Senču Street, where it was planned to build Skanste tram line, is in good shape. It was restored to the point as it once was, and Brīvības Street is made even worse than it was.

If the 2014 project provided for two public transport lanes, two cycling paths and one lane for cars, Jonovs describes the result as a five-lane highway. «The situation is worse for everyone except drivers, who are now able to get to the next traffic congestion faster.»

Does corruption go hand in hand with poor city planning?

«If the heads of the city council and management of departments and institutions are corrupted, it means the interests of residents are not held seriously by any of those parties. It will always be the main priority for them to secure something for themselves and their relatives, or transfer funds to their foreign bank accounts,» said Jonovs.

Scandals over corruption and poor management have wakened Riga City Council and its institutions for the past several months and even years.

Jonovs says – corruption worsens everything, not just city planning.

«The longer you are in power, the less interest you have for development. You are more interested in staying in power for a while longer. There is also the need to hide loose ends to later retire and life happily ever after,» says City for People representative. «Basically corruption ruins all chances for development and often excludes it as a possibility entirely.»

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