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Wednesday, July 24, 2024
Mind Your Meters: Town leaders want data in driver’s seat – residents want changes now
From left, Royston Sparks, his wife Joyce Sparks, Tom King, Carrie Plaskett and Carolyn Van-Helbert could see a rise in traffic volumes on their residential road in the future. EVAN LOREE

Residents are calling for a red light on speeding drivers all across Niagara-on-the-Lake.

However, municipal officials say they can’t take action until they have solid numbers telling them the scope of the issue on the town’s residential roads.

After The Lake Report published a series of articles on traffic and speeding concerns on July 27, residents have continued to raise concerns over safety issues on Niagara-on-the-Lake’s busy streets.

Most recently, Tom King, who lives at the corner of Charlotte and Campbell streets, came forward with worries that Charlotte Street was becoming a “main road” into Old Town, meaning more traffic and more speeding.

While his neighbour Carrie Plaskett, mother of two 12-year-old boys Malcolm and Henry Buffington, said she appreciates that it will take time to solve the problem, she worries it’ll take an accident to get it done. 

“My feeling is that (it) can take a very long time,” she said.

“I don’t want there to be an accident for that process to speed up.”

King told The Lake Report he’d like to see a three-way stop sign put in at the corners of Charlotte and Promenade, near his home, to help slow people down.

“People that work in hotels in town, that’s the shortcut into town,” King said.

Charlotte Street connects Niagara and John streets.

King said he believes commuters come down rural roads like Niagara Street or East and West Line and then cut through Charlotte on their way to work at places like the Pillar and Post. 

Royston Sparks, 92, and wife Joyce Sparks, 84, live across from King Street and worry about crossing because of how the bend in the road decreases sightlines for drivers.

In addition, both of them have decreased mobility due to their age, they said.

“We’re not very quick,” Royston said. 

Despite the concerns of residents, the town’s draft transportation plan may bring additional cars to the neighbourhood when it’s finalized.

The plan recommends Charlotte Street be upgraded to a collector road from a local road. 

According to the plan, local roads have a vehicle capacity of 300 vehicles per lane per hour, and collector roads can accommodate 500. 

Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa, who also lives on Charlotte Street, said there’s no “single silver bullet” for road safety issues.

“I don’t believe in doing a single one-off solution to the road safety issues. I would rather take a whole look at it and apply more global, town-wide solutions,” he said.

Zalepa could not say how many complaints he receives on traffic and speeding issues but said it was a town-wide problem.

While not on board with speed bumps – a traffic-calming tool many residents have advocated for – Zalepa said speed cams, signs and narrowed lanes can do a lot to slow drivers.

He said he was also in favour of expanding community safety zones in areas like St. Davids and Line 2 Road, near Crossroads Public School.

In St. Davids, residents are currently working with the region to create a community safety zone on one of their most dangerous streets, Four Mile Creek Road.

People interested in supporting St. Davids can check out their petition at stdavidsratepayers.ca.

“I don’t believe in dealing with the one percenters on the road by impacting the other 99 per cent,” Zalepa said. 

He added that the problem posed by speedsters was best addressed through “proper road design.”

Speed bumps are one of a couple of suggestions Charlotte Street resident Carolyn Van Helbert pitched, but her neighbours are more interested in crosswalks, posted limits and stop signs.

Rome D’Angelo, the town’s director of operations, said speed bumps have pros and cons.

He described them as “an aggressive option” that could cause problems elsewhere.

When people see speed bumps, they may pick different routes through town, which could inadvertently increase traffic on other streets, D’Angelo said.

They can also damage vehicles that are built lower to the ground.

Decreased speed limits are an option too, but D’Angelo said they don’t always translate to lower speeds.

“You lower the speed limit from 50 kilometres an hour to 40 kilometres an hour, you’re not curbing the driver behaviour,” he said.

“That driver is still going to continue to do what they typically do,” he said.

D’Angelo did not dismiss the option, though. He said the town would have to consult traffic engineers and study the streets to determine if decreases are necessary.

Zalepa pointed out that some streets, like those in Chautauqua, are too narrow for high speeds.

“God, anybody driving 50 on those streets – I don’t know how you would do that,” he said.

Since streets in Chautauqua are as narrow as 13-feet wide, Zalepa said he would be open to rethinking the posted speeds in the neighbourhood.

D’Angelo said town staff would be meeting with Chautauqua residents in the next three weeks to discuss their concerns with residential speeding.

The town is taking speeding concerns seriously, he said.

D’Angelo added that he wants to conduct a town-wide review of rural traffic safety.

The last one was done in 2012 and is out of date, he said.

Residents can expect to see a financial breakdown of the review during the town’s budget talks, which start in September.

D’Angelo said the town’s master transportation plan should be ready in the fall as well, but while it touches on issues of road safety, the report recommends “further review” for specific areas.

He said staff are already reaching out to engineering firms to determine the “magnitude of what this may cost.”

He also said the town is looking to other communities like St. Catharines to get a sense of what solutions have worked elsewhere.

St. Catharines recently implemented a plan to lower speed limits to 40 km/h from 50 km/h on all its residential roads.

D’Angelo would not comment on the viability of such an approach for NOTL without putting it through a road safety review.

Additional studies take time and residents’ patience may not stretch to fit the town’s timeline. 

He acknowledged that, but stressed, “We need to let the engineer do the talking” and let the data drive the decisions.

Coun. Erwin Wiens echoed this point and added that residents won’t always accept the data the town collects, sometimes preferring their own anecdotal experiences.

“I don’t want to be insulting to the people who are concerned about people’s safety. But it’s also important to make sure that we get the facts right,” Wiens added.

Wiens also pointed out that road designs need to be both safe and efficient.

This is complicated further in areas like St. Davids, where one of the most dangerous roads, Four Mile Creek, is a regional one.

Traffic enforcement is the responsibility of the Niagara Regional Police, so the town is limited in its capacity to enforce speed limits, Wiens said.

As a former police officer, he said he wasn’t opposed to increased policing in suburban areas but predicted that nine out of 10 tickets would go to residents.

“If you do enforcement in a subdivision, the people that get the tickets are residents,” he said, recalling his time as a cop. 

Wiens also pointed out that neither the town nor the police could prevent an impaired driver from acting like a “lunatic.”

Zalepa, too, placed the responsibility to drive safely at the feet of the driver.

“The Niagara Regional Police force cannot be everywhere all the time. The reality is drivers need to take some responsibility. They’re getting behind the wheel of a powerful vehicle,” he said.

“Their actions have consequences.”

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