As the number of homes and businesses increase in St. Davids, along with its population, infrastructure to accommodate the accompanying spike in traffic has not kept pace.
The need for improved traffic flow at the main intersection, known by locals as the four corners, has become an issue for residents, truckers and those just passing through, with vehicles on Four Mile Creek crossing York Road creating lengthy back-ups, often blocking driveways, says Greg Dell, past president of the St. Davids Residents Association.
Before the 2003 sewer project opened up property for development in the village, including the Cannery Park subdivision, there were about 250 homes in the community. That has grown to well over 1,600 homes, and a corresponding growth in population and traffic.
The regional project is looking at solutions to the traffic problem, says Dell, and recently held its second virtual public information meeting, but the residents association is not yet satisfied with the response to local concerns — he sees a lack in communication and in transparency with the way this has been handled.
The two options presented to ease flow of traffic and reduce back-ups, were traffic lights or a roundabout, but from the start, he believes the region was set on moving forward with a roundabout.
The region is currently undertaking an environmental assessment study to identify an implementation strategy for the transportation infrastructure requirements for the intersection, looking at increased transportation capacity, improved street lighting, more sidewalks, and bike lanes.
Maged Elmadhoon, the region’s manager of transportation planning, says the region has not yet calculated the estimated construction cost of the roundabout. “This will be done at a later stage, once the preliminary design has been finalized,” he says.
“Aside from operating and maintenance costs, typically capital costs to construct roundabouts may be higher.”
However this might not be the case in St. Davids, he continues, “since there will be significant changes to the geometric design of the intersection for both options.”
The option of installing traffic signals at that intersection will not be a simple one, he explains.
“While the roundabout, for example will have only one lane approaching the intersection, in the case of traffic signals, there will be one through lane and one left turn lane approaching on each direction. In addition, the signalized intersection will require underground infrastructure for the traffic signals, which will not be needed for the roundabout.”
Residents’ concerns, primarily with a roundabout, were addressed in a regional recap of a March open house.
At that time the St. Davids Residents Association and others primarily were hoping for lights, as the safer and less intrusive option, Dell says, but at the second June 23 virtual public meeting, the region presented the roundabout as their preferred alternative.
“We said whoa, wait a minute. Le’s take a look at that. We’ve had a concern about it all along that there wasn’t enough engineering done to ensure it’s a safe option. We’ve asked the region to show us what they’ve got. We don’t want to be a close-minded group. We want to see how this solution is the right one for St. Davids.”
Pedestrian safety, especially for the growing number of children walking to and from St. Davids Public School, west of the intersection, remains one of their chief concerns, says Dell.
The response from the region has been that the project team is aware of the pedestrian traffic in the area, and pedestrian safety is a high priority. If a roundabout is constructed, the region will launch an educational campaign for the residents in the area, to ensure the safe use of a roundabout for both pedestrians and drivers.
While traffic signals may be perceived as safer for pedestrians, statistics, the region says, show the opposite — a roundabout is safer than an intersection with traffic lights, for pedestrians and drivers. Most pedestrians hurt at an intersection are from cars turning at a traffic signal.
Traffic lights have lower installation costs, but a roundabout has lower lifetime maintenance costs, the regional report says.
The residents’ association is not happy about what they see “as a lack of communication, a lack of transparency, and a lack of listening to what residents are saying,” Dell says.
He doesn’t feel the region’s roundabout design “is addressing the dynamics of pedestrian traffic, both for kids and seniors, and the number of tourists who will use it.”
Residents and business owners are also afraid traffic will continue to be backed up on Four Mile Creek Road from Warner Road to Line 9, blocking driveways, he adds.
And there is still no mention of a community safety zone on Four Mile Creek Road, as was originally requested and “forgotten” when the region went ahead with one on York Road, which slows traffic through the school area.
The number of people moving to the village and the associated traffic problems “will only grow in the coming years, and the region is just forgetting about us. The region needs to look at the big picture and plan for the future.”
Steve Hardaker’s interest in the intersection reconstruction is as a congregation member and board chair of St. Davids-Queenston United Church. His concern is regarding the historic cemetery, with its first grave dating back to 1823. Major David Secord, the founder of the village, is also buried there, he says, and the church is worried that the project, especially new sidewalks, which are supposed to go as far as Concession 3, could encroach on the cemetery property.
“We want to know about the plan if unmarked graves are unearthed,” he said. “Who knows what is on the outside edge of the cemetery?”
There is also a mature tree on the edge of the property, and the church has asked the region whether it will need to be removed, and if so, what they will replace it with.
In addition, they are seeking assurances from the region that there will continue to be safe access to the cemetery and the church parking lot through construction, says Hardaker.
He’s happy to see that bike lanes are being considered for York Road, and for his purpose, which is strictly to look after the interests of the church, he says the region has been good about communicating, and quick to respond to their concerns.
Paul Harber of Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery says some years ago, his family presented a proposal to the town for a piece of commercial property the family owns at that intersection — the one with the plaque, that the town uses for its annual Christmas tree.
The proposal was for a three-storey building, retail on the bottom, offices on the second storey, apartments on the top, and parking in the back. It would be designed “to pay homage to the streetscape of the village,” says Harber, but the family did not intend to move ahead with it until they learned more about the future plans for that intersection.
After a recent conversation with a project manager and roundabout specialist, his father Blair fears the decision in favour of a roundabout is a “done deal.”
If the roundabout goes ahead, the region will expropriate almost the entire frontage of their property, and their development, meant as a convenience for St. Davids residents and businesses, “won’t be happening,” says Paul. “The property would be rendered useless. And there won’t be much community space left for modern conveniences.”
Paul was at the virtual meeting to advocate for traffic signals, which would help preserve the traditional look of the historic village, while also providing gaps in traffic for vehicles entering and exiting driveways along York Road and Four Mile Creek Road, including the small post office parking lot, which is always troublesome, he says.
Other roundabouts the region has designed work well, he adds, “but they’re not in the middle of a small village, and a working community. It won’t be the four corners any more. And I don’t know of any roundabout in the middle of a community safety zone.”
And what of the large trucks that go through the intersection now, and the trailers being towed by truck from Niagara Trailers — will they all have to find a route other than the small roundabout?
He is also concerned that the all-important traffic study done by the region did not include the school, the area of Tanbark with new homes, and much of Cannery Park, all of which put added pressure on the intersection.
St. Davids has grown in the last 15 years, from three per cent of the population of NOTL to almost 18 per cent, and is still growing, says Harber, but none of the roads have been improved. He would like the region to look at improving some of those roads including Line 9, as ways to direct traffic around the village, instead of just concentrating on changes for traffic going through the one main intersection.
And if the roundabout goes ahead without other road improvements, he questions what will happen to traffic during construction.
If the region determines the roundabout is the best solution, and the majority of people agree, Paul says he and his family will be fine with it, although he would still prefer traffic lights as the more appropriate solution.
Elmadhoon says there will be a summary report of all comments the region has heard from the public, and responses, posted on the project website after the public review period.
A presentation or a report to town council is not required, he says.
There is still an opportunity for the public to provide input, and residents will also have a chance to review the final Environmental Study Report during the 30-day review period.
“The consultant is still refining the design alignment of the roundabout, and we will be meeting with the owners of the properties that are impacted,” he says.
“We are targeting the completion of the EA in the fall,” he adds, and the next step, after the ministry’s approval of the EA, “will be detailed design, property acquisition, utility relocation, and actual construction, which is not expected before 2023.”
The Harbers were really hoping there would be some opportunity for further discussion about the options, before the decision is made, as well as an expanded traffic study, and a look at improving roads to go around the village.
“I think there is still a need for open dialogue,” says Paul. “This will affect 3,600 residents. I don’t want to see the decision rushed.”
He hopes he’s wrong, but he fears it’s already too late.