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Illustrated design of new Interim Downtown Paris Pedestrian Safety Plan

October was a busy month with some controversial topics that have been building in the community over time being decided on.

I would like to explore the pedestrian safety issues that have been complained about in Downtown Paris for as long as I have lived here. Speed, walkability, volume, traffic backing up and safety have been some I have heard about for over 10 years though I have only been on council for 2.

The things about traffic and walkability options that I have come to realize in this role I say as just an honest observation. In so many other realms of public discussion people generally want us to use evidence and experts to make our decisions – except traffic.

When it comes to traffic we all have different ideals about what is the end goal. That creates part of this issue. Some want a car utopia where we are rarely impeded or slowed. Some want to be able to walk wherever, whenever. And while the majority of folks are very reasonable and apprehension about change is understandable the goal of traffic planning can not be to try to balance the desire of speeders to speed and jaywalkers to jaywalk. I say it in stark terms partly in jest but there is some truth to that tension in terms of what some people say they desire.

I have some personal experience with this. When running for council in 2018 I heard from many how “stupid” and “idiotic” the lights on Dundas St were to deal with the issue of the narrow roadway allowance under the train bridge. We all agreed folks walking under the bridge during high traffic times did not seem safe but why couldn’t we just make small walkable tunnels under the bridge.

I joined in on that thinking. Commiserating with residents and criticizing the previous council. Then about 6 months later as people got used to it and we saw it working it started to seem like a smarter idea. I now happily use those lights to walk when I drop my vehicle off for repairs and see its actually an elegant solution to a previous problem.

Getting on council and having access to traffic and public work experts I then also learn of all the limitations to what I and many previously thought of as the “obvious” and amazing solution around tunnels under the train bridge. There are issues around cost, safety, accessibility rules, ownership etc that I just wasn’t aware of before getting on to council.

Similarly, I live in condo in town and as such the common road is private and not restricted by the Ministry of Transportation guidelines. This year the condo put in multiple speed bumps. Based on the calls I get every week on public streets wanting speed bumps and accusing me and council of not caring about children or the elderly when we do a study and find we don’t have the data to “warrant” putting them in I assumed the reaction to speed bumps from my fellow condo dwellers would be positive.

It generally was not. It’s still a very hot button topic in my neighbourhood with about half the residents appreciating them and the other half hating them. Commonly heard are complaints about where they are located, them being put in without everyone being aware, thoughts that there was not a speed or safety issue to begin with, worries about pavement cracking from them being installed, the noise they cause when delivery trucks and other vehicles go over them (which is more common with many at home and shopping via delivery) and on and on.

My condo is just a microcosm of our community. Many different ideas about what we should be actually aiming for, many opposing views about what is and is not a problem and a lot of discussion about how we should use our resources.

I’m beginning to ramble but the lessons I have learned from the above are:

  1. That change and responses to change are varied;
  2. We don’t as a community always agree on the problem statement let alone the proposed solutions;
  3. That we should give any changes some time to see how they work once we are used to them and have some time to observe how they work in action, and;
  4. That there may be we may be restrictions or complexities that limit why we come to solution x (which folks might think is the obvious choice) instead of solution y.

That last one no one likes to hear in the momement but I have also come to realize that in the long run people appreciate being informed and being told the truth instead of a political rep saying simply what they think folks want to hear.

This council inherited 5400 new homes approved before we were even sworn in. The reasons for this are varied and a lot of it has to do with higher (provincial) levels of government and systems they have created (not just one party or another) slanted heavily in the favour of developers and towards development. I hope folks make this a front-and-centre issue in the next provincial election. Currently too many think the ultimate decision on this rests municipally. It doesn’t. Most of the complaints I receive are actually rooted in provincial policy and this is the largest complaint of the community and it needs to be addressed by any provincial government.

I have been on council for a relatively short period of time (just this term) and I am aware of at least 44 recent times the County of Brant has fought development in whole or in part at the provincial tribunal level and that information is available here:

This is in addition to this current council tapping the breaks on new applications to develop, creating a new official plan to make growth smarter, appealing for our provincially mandated growth target dates to be moved back to help us stage growth and catch up with infrastructure etc.

At the same time the province even just this year created rules stopping some employment space development but allowing residential development to continue at an even quicker pace – including overuling our municipal noise bylaw to allow residential homes to begin being worked on from 6 am – 10 pm on weekdays.

But between the previously approved growth both here and in communities around us that commute through our area as well as unprecedented day-trip tourism due to Covid we have to deal with the cards as they have been dealt and not how we wish they had been.

It makes for tough decisions and us asking staff to try and create solutions within limitations imposed. And the complaints if we do nothing are strong – just like the complaints when we do something.

The irony with traffic related issues is that so many of them wouldn’t be as severe as they are now if we as people were just generally more thoughtful towards one another. The best solution to traffic issues would be for folks who speed to not do so, folks who modify their vehicles to be as loud as possible to not do so or at least lay off in populated areas, if people stopped distracted or impaired driving that would help, if folks didn’t get road rage because someone dared cross the street making their commute 30 seconds longer, and yes if pedestrians were also more aware and followed the crossing rules we would be in better shape.

Sadly for many that sort of personal responsibility is lost on them. Though, to be fair it is apparent with many too.

Because of the first group of folks we instead have to rely on education (multiple Brant Safe Streets campaigns), engineering (design work) and enforcement (stay tuned for positive news about this soon).

The pedestrian safety plan for downtown comes after years of complaints and observation of many nearly being clipped walking downtown because of speeding (therefore raised crossovers to slow traffic and to have pedestrians more visible), bump outs on the sidewalks (to limit the distance a pedestrian has to cross from sidewalk-to-sidewalk), new painting of these crossovers to make them more visible as well as bollards on the sidewalk to enhance safety and visibility (which are coming soon weather permitting), and a more secure Barnes Dance or Scramble intersection on William and Grand River, which should create more breaks in traffic throughout the troublesome corridor and help with traffic flow too as the pedestrian walk will only be by request and when cars are going they wont be stopped by pedestrians which creates a backlog. By the same token pedestrians are able to cross in all directions when it is their turn without worry of cars not watching out for them.

But the tougher one is the crosswalk lights. This is understandably the big difficulty many have with this new set up. I’m hoping people keep an open mind for the next few months as we get used to it. I believe it will work but if not (based on stats not on opinion) we will look at other options.

The previous lights were a liability. Cheap and ineffective even for the time they were put in. Low brightness, set too high for many sight-lines, missed by folks daily and giving walkers a false sense of security because of their ineffectiveness to actually stop traffic. I’ve been in touch with multiple people who have told me they were hit or almost hit by cars despite using those lights properly. I’ve seen it myself – repeatedly.

To keep the lights or to get rid of them was discussed in public session. Conversation about the entire plan begins at 1h 40min mark and goes to 2h 02min mark. My portion begins at about 1h 55min mark and I ask our General Manager of Operations a number of my own questions but also ones crowd-sourced from discussion on my various social media threads with community members:

I ask specifically about the lights before making my vote. I also note this is an interim plan as we are enacting a Downtown Master Plan in the near future when we also have to replace pipes and do a more fulsome redesign of the downtown.

If we were to put in new lights now at both crossovers just to take them out and spend that six figure cost again in about 2-3 years many would be very upset about that. This interim plan cost $55 k instead and many features of it can be reused after the Master Plan is initiated and at that time the next council may very well decide to get excellent and proper permanent crosswalk lights installed at the mid-point with the William and Mechanic areas also as known quantities (Barnes Dance and mini-roundabout with pinched road, respectively).

This is a long blog. Apologies. If you have read this far thank you for your interest in our community as we try to adapt to growth. There are a lot of very terse (to be polite) comments about this online currently and if anything I hope this provides some context and insight as well as knowledge that whether you agree or disagree with the decisions made they were not done without research, professional analysis, thought and care.