The decision to deploy sound-emitting devices to keep people from under Winnipeg bridges was made by bureaucrats, and not vetted by city council, says the director of the city’s public works department.
The machines, which cost $1,700 a piece, were placed under three bridges — Esplanade Riel and the Midtown and Maryland bridges. A fourth had yet to be deployed, when the city announced Wednesday evening it was ending the pilot project.
A device has been in place at the pedestrian underpass on Fermor Avenue for over seven years.
Public works director Jim Berezowsky told reporters Thursday the pilot project was initiated after fires broke out under three city bridges last fall.
“In my position as director of public works [I] approved the go-ahead for the trial project,” Berezowksy said. “We often do a number of pilot projects that are within our budget responsibility.”
He says the decision was not shared with politicians.
Berezowsky says the aim of the experiment was to protect the city’s infrastructure by deterring anyone from going under the bridge, and was not intended to target homeless people.
“This was done for everyone.… There wasn’t a target for a specific group on this,” Berezowsky said.
He also says there was no public disclosure of the testing in order not to interfere with the results.
The devices prompted criticism from politicians and advocates for the homeless.
Mayor Brian Bowman says he learned of the program late Wednesday and “was pretty deeply troubled by the news.”
“It offended the sensitivities of many Winnipeggers, including myself,” Bowman told reporters Thursday afternoon.
He says he believes the devices are inhumane and is concerned the use of this technology “missed the mark.”
Bowman says Berezowsky has been directed to make himself available for questions from city councillors.