By Darren Lum
Representatives of the Communities in Action (CIA) committee are looking to the Municipality of Dysart et al to follow through with safety recommendations they made during a walking audit of Maple Avenue back in September.
The CIA committee is a coalition of community stakeholders, who strive to promote and plan for active transportation in Haliburton County to create a healthier community.
CIA members, township staff, and council members, including Mayor Andrea Roberts completed a walking audit of Maple Avenue, which revealed several safety concerns related to a non-continuous sidewalk, high speed traffic, the lack of road markings to calm traffic, poor maintenance of walking paths and sidewalks and insufficient safe crossing areas.
The aim of the recommendations outlined in the subsequent Maple Avenue Walk Audit report presented to council at last week’s regular council meeting is to make Maple Avenue a complete street that benefits pedestrians and drivers.
The township’s responsibility to facilitate active transportation is in keeping with some of Dysart’s Official Plan policies, CIA’s committee chairperson Sue Shikaze said.
She said there’s issues for walkers, particularly the new residents of the recently constructed retirement home, the Gardens of Haliburton.
“There’s really no options for someone who wants to walk from the Gardens of Haliburton safely into town. Their choices, so to speak, are to stay on the same side of the road as the Gardens and manage without a sidewalk, including a section around the rock outcropping where they will have to be in the roadway, or cross the road to the sidewalk where they’re exposed to drivers, who may be travelling quite quickly around the curve and may not see them, to get to a sidewalk that’s poorly maintained,” she said.
This scenario becomes even more difficult during the winter when there are snowbanks and a lack of snow clearing on the footpath on the side of Maple Avenue where the residence is located.
Another concern is the potential for more pedestrians, if a proposed new housing development for the northwest corner of Victoria Street and Maple Avenue is realized. It was noted by the CIA that a pedestrian was killed in a collision there.
The CIA recommendations included the re-designation of the area between the Gardens’ residence to Highland Street to become a Community Safety Zone, a special designation under the Highway Traffic Act to reduce the current traffic speed and have fines doubled. They also want to see a sidewalk added on northeast side of Maple Avenue from the Gardens to Victoria Street, installation of a pedestrian crossover at Victoria Street, the addition of street markings and visual cues for drivers to reduce speeds and provide direction, and signage for safe crossing.
CIA committee member Kate Hall said pedestrians are discouraged by the current state of the Maple Avenue section, which has noticeable signs of neglect from vegetation growing along the sidewalk and around light standards to areas of disrepair with broken portions of sidewalk, including potential accessibility concerns with outdated pathway dimensions that have less width compared to contemporary sidewalks.
“It does leave one with the impression again that walking isn’t really important in this area,” she said.
Shikaze said the CIA acknowledges the past efforts of the township over the past 12 years in improving the walking environment of the village. This includes the work on Highland Street and York Avenue.
“These are definitely examples of improvements to walkability within the village. Now there’s an urgent need of the lack of a safe crossing of Maple Avenue and a lack of a separated walking route from the Gardens because these residents are living there and they have the right to be able to safely walk from their homes to services and amenities, especially since many do not drive,” she said. “Enabling them to walk into town maintains independence providing the opportunity to physical activity and social interaction, as well as access to retail and services. And having safe accessible transportation options is the right of all residents regardless of age or ability.”
The CIA, she said, welcome updates about the township’s progress on following through with their recommendations, as outlined in their report.
Mayor Andrea Roberts said the township has and will continue to look to address these concerns, but have encountered more challenges than expected since the recommendations were made.
She said with Maple Avenue also being Highway 118 it means it is known as a “connecting link” and this type of scenario exists throughout the province in rural areas. Although the township has applied for grants and have been unsuccessful, there are also provincial funding opportunities with this connecting link, she adds.
Township staff is working on making that section a Community Safety Zone. However this change is more complicated than what was initially expected. It does more than lower speed limit, but also doubles fines, and enables requests for more OPP enforcement, Roberts said.
She said as a walker and cyclist that lives in the village she understands first-hand the importance of safe accessible routes like what the township was able to do with installing the paved pathway running adjacent to Head Lake from the high school to Head Lake Park.
“We do know we have some work to do,” she said.