With a very long process beginning before this term of council the Grand River Street North Environmental Assessment final report was presented to council this past month. I share here a post about the process and the issues surrounding it from my colleague and fellow Ward 2 Councillor Steve Howes and after his piece I provide some additional comment.
From Steve Howes:
I have had some people ask me about my opinion on the Grand River Street North plan that Council supported at last week’s meeting.
The short answer can be seen on video during the Council meeting where we voted on it. Here was my response: While many people are not in love with the whole idea, I believe that doing nothing or starting over will be worse. During this term of Council I have heard lots of citizens say “ Why didn’t Council build a second bridge over the Grand River 25 years ago when they had the chance?” The GRSN plan is our chance to be proactive. (And unfortunately, No, a second bridge today is not an option that can help us in the next ten to twenty years)
The longer answer is that I understand completely how people dislike parts of the plan and I empathize with people who hate the idea of roundabouts in our small Town. I don’t blame anyone who is frustrated. At the same time, while running the risk of not being popular, I believe Council’s job sometimes is to determine what we need, rather than what we like. What is perceived as occasional traffic problems on GRSN now will be small potatoes compared to what we will face in five years.
The Town is growing, despite the desire that we all share to keep us at our current population forever. In my first month on Council, over a year ago, we received a report from our Planning Department that detailed how there were already over 5,000 new dwellings in the pipeline at various stages of approval or appeal. That’s a big number when it took us 175 years to build just over 5,000 dwellings.
We already have a significant number of new homes in North Paris and whether we like it or not (we don’t) there are more on the way. We have tapped the brakes on new applications going into that pipeline, but the pipeline was already very full.
I attended every GRSN Environmental Assessment meeting from the start. The first one was “café” format, on a snowy night at the Fairgrounds almost three years ago. I wasn’t a Councillor yet, but I knew this was an important topic and I wanted to observe the process right from the start.
As the next EA meetings unfolded, I saw the passion shared by lots of people who did not like many aspects of the plan. I also watched as several significant elements of the plan were modified based on community feedback. I’m no fan of roundabouts, particularly in high pedestrian areas but I believe the experts when they say that they keep traffic moving and I have gone and observed roundabout usage in other communities to confirm that they do indeed result in keeping traffic moving. I was one of many people who stood firm on keeping Silver Street/GRSN a traditional intersection (due to pedestrian traffic) and that was one of the significant changes that the community was able to influence. That intersection may someday be a roundabout but only if and when warranted and it will be a traditional intersection for many years.
Bottom line, I understand the frustrations, and I agree with anybody that feels roundabouts are not an element desired in a “small town”. And while it will take some getting used to (and while the construction element of this plan will certainly be a pain in the butt), I am confident that this unpopular decision will ultimately help improve the traffic situation in the future, and we will be glad that we took the opportunity to do something BEFORE we start to have even bigger traffic problems.
As noted in the image attached to this post, there is a final 30 day public review process that starts August 27th. Please take the opportunity to review it in detail.
Thanks for taking the time to hear my rationale. I stand by my vote on this topic, and you are welcome, as always, to share this post.
Marc’s Additional Notes:
I read this post from Steve as I was beginning to write my own but he captured so much in his that it would just be replication so I decided to share his and add a few brief notes:
1) That there are a number of needed walkability/active transportation improvements in this plan and that walkability and active transportation need to be at the forefront of all planning in our county.
2) That I’ve heard repeatedly from folks on all sides of this that however folks feel about the GRSN EA there were numerous community-led improvements from the original plan to now and that speaks to process. Thank you everyone for being involved. I don’t know if there has ever been a more engaged in project in the history of the county.
3) An interesting process especially being one that also started in a previous term and ended in another term once there had been a lot of turn-over on council (especially in Paris). I’ll have lots of insights on that for new councillors in the future or for our next EA process.
4) Though many would have preferred the bypass study had happened BEFORE this EA that wasn’t something in my control as a newbie councillor. I’m glad that THAT process is starting before the end of the year and that is something I’m happy to say I campaigned on and will be followed through on. If we can’t build a time machine we can/should/must start that process as soon as is possible and with the GRSN EA wrapping now we can.
A highlight of some council/community activities I was able to participate with in the month of August:
- Chairing Paramedic Services Committee
- Special Council Meeting re: Planning
- Regular Council Meetings
- Special Meeting Re: County Libraries re-opening policies
- Several meetings with constituents
- Visits to Paris Legion x 2
- Piece written for Neigbours of Paris on the Grand