Azilda community members pushed for a sidewalk and Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland made the case for paved shoulders during a community meeting in Azilda on Thursday night.
His arguments have implications for communities throughout the municipality because paved shoulders are the go-to solution and are considered “best practice for active transportation.”
The lack of sidewalks along the eastern leg of Notre Dame Street up to the Tim Hortons was the No. 1 thing McCausland said he heard at doorsteps while campaigning a few years ago.
“This was a focus of mine during this term of council,” he told those who gathered for Thursday night’s Azilda Community Action Network meeting at the Lionel E. Lalonde Centre.
“How can we create that active transportation link so we can fix that, because it should have been there 10, 20 years ago.”
The long-standing push for a sidewalk was made official last year, when McCausland presented a 672-name petition to city administration to that effect, which was spearheaded by the network.
Sudbury.com visited Azilda’s Notre Dame Street last autumn, where residents appeared unanimous in urging the city to improve pedestrian accessibility to the area.
The road’s uneven gravel shoulders are bad enough during the summer months, but in the winter it becomes downright “treacherous,” area resident Mark Steklasa told Sudbury.com at the time.
It’s a significant stretch of road frequented by motorists and pedestrians alike, stretches through residential neighbourhood and links to a popular Tim Hortons restaurant at its southeastern end.
This stretch of road is due for renewal within the next few years at a cost of approximately $3.5 million, which includes the addition of two-meter wide paved shoulders on both sides.
The installation of sidewalks instead of paved shoulders would add another $2.5 million to the project, according to the city, although McCausland clarified during this week’s network meeting that while it is a consideration, the decision is “absolutely not about money.”
“If it was way safer, way better, I’d say we need to do what’s right and pay what it costs.”
He pointed to a study by the U.S. Department of Transportation that revealed little difference in crash statistics between roads with paved sidewalks (4) versus paved shoulders (7), but a more significant number of incidents on roads with neither (36).
Paved shoulders provide additional support for the road’s platform, city traffic and asset management supervisor Joe Rocca explained during an operations committee meeting last month, which extends the life of the road. They are also plowed throughout the winter alongside the balance of the road, which also cuts down on costs because a separate machine would have to be deployed to clear sidewalks.
Further, McCausland noted during Thursday night’s network meeting that Notre Dame Street is salted throughout the winter, so its shoulders would remain clear to pavement throughout the year. Although sidewalks are sanded, they are not salted.
If the city were to build sidewalks, they would also have to build storm sewers, he said, which would streamline the transportation of road salt directly into Whitewater Lake. Paved shoulders would maintain ditches, which better absorb road salts while water flows toward the lake.
“The best thing you can have for lake health is ditches,” McCausland said, adding that he understands the community’s apprehension, as “it’s not that classic subdivision look … but it’s really good for the health of the lake.”
Whereas paved shoulders would automatically be installed with the next road renewal, expected to take place within the next few years, McCausland cautioned that it could be a decade or longer before sidewalks are constructed.
This is due to the storm sewer requirement, which the city would dig in conjunction with the renewal of water and wastewater pipes in order to be more cost effective with the big dig.
“I don’t like the idea of having to wait until we have a safe way to travel down Notre Dame for pedestrians and cyclists.”
On the cyclists front, he noted that bicycles are not allowed on sidewalks but are allowed on paved shoulders, meaning that if the city installed sidewalks, cyclists would still be on the street.
In the counterargument to paved shoulders, former city councillor and anticipated mayoral candidate Evelyn Dutrisac spoke on behalf of both herself and resident Reina Bélanger, who was unable to attend Thursday’s meeting. Dutrisac read a letter by Bélanger.
“If accidents occur on MR 35, the traffic including heavy trucks is rerouted to Notre Dame Street, thus increasing safety issues,” Dutrisac said, arguing that paved shoulders aren’t as safe as sidewalks, which the community petition of 672 names has advocated for.
A second petition arguing for sidewalks is currently in the works.
“Now is the time to do the right thing from the get-go,” Dutrisac said. “Safe, accessible and well-maintained sidewalks are a fundamental and necessary investment for cities and have been found to enhance general public health and maximize social capital.”
It doesn’t hurt to try paved shoulders, McCausland said near the end of his remarks, adding that additional safety measures can be added in the event the public still doesn’t feel at ease with the option. Rumble strips can be added, and the shoulders could even be coloured differently than the balance of the street.
Notre Dame Street might also be a candidate for the city’s traffic-calming bollards project, he said, which are flexible posts placed at the sides and centre of affected roads as a means of narrowing them and reducing the speed of vehicles.
In the event the community ends up dissatisfied with the paved shoulders option, McCausland said they might again petition for sidewalks, which wouldn’t be built for a decade or so anyway.
By the end of the meeting, those in attendance appeared conflicted on the issue, with some expressing support for sidewalks and others support for paved shoulders. Azilda Community Action Network chair Cathy Costanza favoured the paved shoulders option.
Another community meeting is being scheduled by the Azilda Community Action Network to allow more people the opportunity to learn more about their options for active transportation on Notre Dame Street.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.