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Niagara Falls
Thursday, February 29, 2024
Community group demands action on excessive speeding
John Scott, Weston Miller, Brian Crow and Shaun Devlin, shown in the middle of Niagara Boulevard in Chautauqua, finally got their wish for reduced speed limits in their neighbourhood. KEVIN MACLEAN

The leaders of a community group that’s been working quietly behind the scenes for three years to prompt Niagara-on-the-Lake to take action about excessive speeding on town streets say they have run out of patience.

Being refused the opportunity to speak to council this week — after earlier being urged by town staff to prepare a presentation — was the final straw.

The Friends of Ryerson Park, with support from the Chautauqua Residents Association, are focused on excessive speeding along the Chautauqua neighbourhood’s narrow streets, but emphasized that speeding is a problem in many areas of NOTL.

And they are upset that the town has yet to take any action.

Brian Crow, one of the spokespersons for the group, noted that in a Lake Report story last April Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa stated that speeding concerns are “widespread” and not limited to Chautauqua.

Zalepa also said at the time he had asked town staff to investigate the situation.

“We’ll get some actual hard numbers on that. We’ll have some recommendations, including various measures, which could include adjusting speed limits,” he said.

It’s unclear what happened with that request.

But, as Crow noted, nothing concrete has happened.

He acknowledges that town employees are busy – and some departments may be understaffed – so after discussions with some councillors and staff, the Friends group was encouraged to pull together information and details on the speeding problem.

As part of that, the group researched what other municipalities have done and they unearthed a motherlode of information and have shared it with the town.

Rome D’Angelo, the town’s director of operations, said as part of the 2024 budget his department is proposing to do a “comprehensive” rural and urban road safety study.

“This study aims to investigate the intricacies of road safety, analyzing various factors that contribute to accidents and hazards,” he said in response to questions from The Lake Report.

If it is approved by council, “staff will accelerate the road safety review and submit recommendations to council in a timely manner in 2024,” he said.

“Although information from other municipalities is helpful, the town wishes to commence its own studies to ensure that data is accurate and reflects the specific community needs in Niagara-on-the-Lake,” D’Angelo said.

The Friends of Ryerson Park questions the necessity of another study.

As the group told town clerk Grant Bivol last week via email when he suggested they present to council in January or February, “Our work has been carefully researched, explained and discussed at length with senior operations staff in the past few months in accordance with the proper procedure for an approach to the town.”

Senior staff “have known for some time of our intentions to present to council in December” but the group was told six days before the Dec. 12 meeting that “council has a number of items that must be addressed before the holidays.”

So the Friends were bumped.

They were urged three years ago by a councillor to “have patience” but now they are looking for action.

Weston Miller, president of the residents association, said the group has done everything right.

“You’ve got a neighbourhood that has been vocal about a safety issue. We, as a group and a neighbourhood, have not just sat back and barked at the town, saying, ‘We want them to do something we want them to do something,’ ” he said.

Instead, they took it upon themselves “to actually do the work, to make their job easier and be respectful of the process.”

The mayor and others have said it’s a widespread issue, Miller noted, “Then what the hell is being done if it’s a widespread issue? You’re still not doing anything about any of it.”

The Friends say studying and writing reports is not necessary because they have compiled information from municipalities around Ontario showing what easily can be done.

International studies over the past 20 years have shown that lowering the speed limit by even 10 km/h substantially reduces fatalities and injuries, said Shaun Devlin, another leader of the Friends.

“There is a 9 in 10 rate of survival for a person hit by a vehicle travelling at 30 km/h or lower. At 50 km/h, the survival rate drops to 1.5 in 10,” the group says in its presentation for council.

The Friends compiled information from St. Catharines, Lincoln, Hamilton, Burlington, Waterloo, Kitchener, Guelph, Mississauga, Cambridge and Toronto – “all of whom have done extensive surveys and presented them to their councils to support the reductions in the speed limits,” said Devlin.

The group’s leaders said they’re happy to use Chautauqua as a pilot project but are urging the town to shift the speed on the area’s streets to 35 km/h and install other traffic-calming measures.

There are no sidewalks or paved shoulders in the neighbourhood, where some streets are only 13 feet wide. Typical residential streets are 20 feet or wider.

“Vehicles should not be travelling in this area at 50 km/h,” the group’s report says.

“Several municipalities have taken an approach that the industry studies showing speed reductions reduce fatalities and severe injuries justify a general reduction of speed limits on their residential streets to 30 or 40 km/hour,” the presentation says.

In some cases this was done right across the municipality, while in others it was implemented in specific neighbourhoods, it says.

Summarizing their plea for action in NOTL, Crow and Devlin noted that when excessive speeding worries were brought up at a May 9, 2023, Niagara Falls city council meeting, councillors spent exactly two minutes and 41 seconds on the issue – ordering staff to delve into it and report back.

While they feel their group has already done that footwork for the town, they’re hoping town council will agree to act quickly on it and reduce speeds before next summer.

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