A council debate about sharing municipal services with other communities in the region grew sour last week when councillors brought up the thorny issue of a planned roundabout in St. Davids.
Coun. Sandra O’Connor, who chaired the Tuesday morning meeting, cautioned that the town needs to be considerate of its residents when cutting deals for community services – especially when working with the region.
She cited a “power imbalance” between the two levels of government and said she felt the region had not been considerate of the town’s needs on issues such as the new St. Davids roundabout.
The decision made this year to move forward with the roundabout at the corner of York and Four Mile Creek roads, replacing the current four-way traffic stop, was made by the region, not the town.
In response, Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa said that decision is different from how shared services work.
“The shared-service model will be locally elected people making local decisions using resources that are, perhaps, shared,” he said.
While Coun. Gary Burroughs agreed with Zalepa’s account of shared services, he said “we get into trouble” over regional properties, such as the intersection in St. Davids.
“The residents don’t want it,” Burroughs said.
Zalepa interjected, saying Burroughs was wrong.
O’Connor allowed Burroughs to finish his point, however, because council has sent two letters to the region in opposition to the roundabout after hearing concerns from residents about the project.
This appeared to agitate the lord mayor, who, at that point, briefly stepped out of council chambers.
In an interview after the meeting, Zalepa said Burroughs was wrong.
The lord mayor explained that he talked to hundreds of people about the project on the campaign trail last fall – knocking on “almost every door in St. Davids.”
“I do not feel that that there is massive opposition to an improvement in infrastructure in the intersection,” he said.
“I go through there almost every day. My parents live in St. Davids,” he added.
Repairs and upgrades are “drastically needed,” he said.
Zalepa said he went through every environmental assessment and attended every meeting on the issue in his time as a regional councillor – representing Niagara-on-the-Lake – in the prior term.
From that process, the best option on the table, for all parties, was a roundabout, he said.
“I will stand behind that. I’ve stood firmly behind it each time,” he said.
Frank Tassone, the region’s director of transportation services, offered several reasons for why a roundabout is the best option.
“Roundabouts slow down the speed of traffic and provide safer experiences for all modes of travel,” he said in an email.
He also said it’s the safest option for both road users and pedestrians.
One reason he gave is that pedestrians have shorter distances to cross in a roundabout than at traffic lights – they only have to watch for cars coming from one direction.
“Drivers are more likely to be looking in the direction of pedestrians, instead of up at signals or left while turning right,” he added.
And Zalepa said when accidents do happen in roundabouts, they are, statistically, less severe because people are driving more slowly.
When drivers collide at 60 kilometres an hour, the speed limit on York Road, “people get hurt,” Zalepa said.
Zalepa said he could have been “less dramatic,” but he gets “a little annoyed” when he hears comments like those Burroughs made.
“If you’re going to say something like that, what’s the fact that you have to back it up?” the mayor asked.
One alternative to a roundabout posed by St. Davids residents is a bypass.
Zalepa said a bypass doesn’t solve the safety concerns that exist right now and that even if a bypass was built, the region could not leave the St. Davids intersection as a four-way stop.
He said he had nothing against Burroughs “per se,” just that he was a “irked” by his comment.