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COLUMN: Sidewalk removal puts vehicles before people

'Pedestrian safety in Barrie, it would seem, must be sacrificed in the name of SUVs, garbage bins and more housing,' says political columnist
Andean Lane is located in south-end Barrie, near Essa and Salem roads.

For the third time in my memory, a Barrie city councillor has raised the possibility of removing a sidewalk from a fairly new street.

It was an irresponsible idea the first two times. It is just as irresponsible now.

In each case, the main justification for requesting the sidewalk removal was to allow more driveway parking. That’s the same reasoning here.

A week ago, Ward 7 Coun. Gary Harvey introduced an amendment asking staff to “investigate the feasibility of removing the sidewalk on Andean Lane and report back to general committee on the implications” as part of an overall motion on limiting street parking in the Bear Creek Ridge subdivision off Essa Road. That amendment could be approved at city council tonight (May 15).

Andean Lane is an example of a new kind of development in Barrie. It is narrower than most city residential streets — six metres versus the usual seven — and has back-to-back townhouses on the side of the street with the sidewalk.

Because of its narrower width, parking is not feasible on the street. Each townhouse unit has a garage, plus one parking space in the driveway, but Harvey said the garage is often used for storage of such items as lawn mowers and snow blowers, cutting the actual number of parking spaces in half. He also pointed out these same residents will need a place to put those large garbage bins being rolled out next year.

So, his solution is to get rid of the sidewalk, allowing two vehicles to park on the driveway. In fact, Harvey went a step further and suggested he was looking to set a precedent for getting rid of the requirement for sidewalks in some areas, pointing out other councillors were going to be in the same position as new subdivisions with narrower streets and smaller front yards are built.

Ward 9 Coun. Sergio Morales was quick to show his support, suggesting maybe sacrificing sidewalks is the price Barrie has to pay for building more compact forms of housing.

“In order to get more housing, you’ve got to get rid of red tape,” he said.

Sidewalks are government red tape?

Pedestrian safety in Barrie, it would seem, must be sacrificed in the name of SUVs, garbage bins and more housing.

I love sidewalks, as anyone who followed my career on city council would know. I never failed to ask developers for their sidewalk plans for new subdivisions. I fought for them whenever streets without them were being reconstructed. I was delighted one of the few bylaws council directed staff to actively enforce — as opposed to acting on complaints — was ticketing vehicles blocking sidewalks.

Part of this is because I love the idea of a connected community, where people are encouraged to get out of their homes and walk, rather than drive.

More importantly, numerous studies have shown pedestrians are much safer walking on a sidewalk than walking on the road. I’m not sure why some council members don’t understand this.

The safety argument goes double for young children going to school or a friend’s house, the elderly, anyone with physical disabilities, or parents pushing a stroller. Previous attempts to get rid of sidewalks in Barrie have drawn letters from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) pointing out the absurdity of asking those with no or limited vision to walk on the pavement rather than a sidewalk.

The possibility of removing a sidewalk is a little surprising from a council that recently thought nothing of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the name of those walking to school for signalized pedestrian signs and has used pedestrian safety as one of the justifications for photo radar, or talked about the importance of the city’s youth when talking about the Sea Cadets.

Right now, Harvey’s proposal is to ask staff for a report. I have no doubt that report will recommend keeping the sidewalk. My worry is the majority of council may choose cars over people.

Mayor Alex Nuttall did offer one intriguing solution. Given a choice between getting rid of a sidewalk or creating more room by making Andean a one-way street, he said he would prefer the latter.

Maybe that’s the answer.

Sidewalks are not a frill. They are a critical piece of urban infrastructure.

Barry Ward is a veteran editor and journalist who also served on Barrie city council for 22 years. His column appears regularly on BarrieToday.

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Barry Ward

About the Author: Barry Ward

Barry Ward is a veteran editor and journalist who also served on Barrie city council for 22 years. His column appears regularly in BarrieToday.
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