It could be up to five years before the construction of the roundabout in St. Davids begins, and if it is not the right solution, it shouldn’t be too late to stop it.
That is the opinion of Mike Pearsall, past-president of the St. Davids Residents Association, and also an engineer who is considered an expert on roundabouts.
He believes if the municipality does not support a roundabout, it’s the region’s responsibility to back off from their preferred option for the intersection and look at alternatives. And it’s not too late, he adds.
Last week, regional representatives attended the virtual town council meeting to talk about regional capital projects expected to take place in Niagara-on-the-Lake over the next five years. Of the projects mentioned, the roundabout was the one that provoked the most discussion. The environmental assessment is winding up, the detailed design work will begin and should be finished within the next three years, and the region should be ready to seek funding and begin construction in five or six years, Frank Tassone, transportation engineering director for the region, told councillors.
Pearsall says his career involves making recommendations on intersection infrastructure such as roundabouts versus lights and four-way stops, and he sits on a Canada-
wide joint committee on roundabouts.
As an expert who recommends a roundabout when it is appropriate, and believes them to be beneficial in certain situations, he says in his opinion, as a resident of St. Davids, he does not think it’s the best solution for the intersection at Four Mile Creek Road and York Road.
Pearsall attended both the virtual public information meetings held by the region, and heard the comments of residents. The first was in March, 2021, a virtual meeting that had 17 people sign in, when the regional presentation described the two options of traffic lights or a roundabout for the intersection. The second public meeting in June 2021 had 27 people attending, and the regional presentation said a roundabout was the recommended option.
Throughout last summer, as residents began to fear the decision had been made, they began lobbying the region to reconsider, through a petition and letters to the region.
But there was no response, says Pearsall, who believes the region had already decided before the process began that a roundabout was the best solution. He mentions Phil Weber, a senior project manager and associate partner with CIMA+, a Toronto engineering company, was retained by the region as project manager at the beginning of the process. He questions why the region brought him onboard that early if a roundabout wasn’t going to be the solution — Weber is considered a national authority on roundabouts, says Pearsall, and designing them is what he does.
Several councillors, including Coun. Sandra O’Connor, expressed their concern about pedestrian traffic, for seniors, people with disabilities, and especially for students, with St. Davids Public School close by and those walking to school from the Cannery Park subdivision having to cross the roundabout.
Any solution that encourages “less walking and more driving is not a solution at all,” O’Connor added.
The pedestrian crossings on the roundabout would be unsafe and inconvenient, and would not serve as a link
to other parts of the community, she said. “I see it as dividing the village.”
Coun. Norm Arsenault said he is a fan of roundabouts, but not at that intersection. It would totally change the look and feel of the intersection in St. Davids, and the traffic lights would be a better solution, he said.
When asked about the comments at the public meetings, Tassone said it would take too much time to go into them. They are available online, and included some of the concerns mentioned by council, as well as others: traffic loading at the intersection; speeding; no traffic gaps to allow for turning on nearby roads; concern about large trucks; impact on nearby gardens, historic sites, and St. Davids Queenston United Church; destroying the character of the village; but mostly, pedestrian safety.
The regional responses said many of the concerns would be addressed at the design stage, and through education.
As to the village character, the response was that the current environmental assessment study aimed to “reimagine the York Road and Four Mile Creek Road intersection to meet the future needs of the surrounding community for all road users.
The recommended intersection improvements provided a solution that addressed traffic operational issues while providing dedicated pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure that is safe, attractive, and maintains the character of St. Davids. The recommendation to proceed with a roundabout was based on many factors, including intersection safety, traffic operations, vehicle noise and emissions, the complaints history, speeding issues, and utility impacts. The roundabout will foster slow vehicle speeds and offer opportunities for streetscaping and community placemaking.”
At the council meeting, councillors discussed a motion to say they did not support the roundabout.
Carolyn Ryall, director of the transportation services division, explained to council that “the process is quite a ways along.” The two legislated public information sessions have been held, and a third is not planned, she said.
She suggested instead council could ask the region to respond to the concerns about the various components being presented.
Coun. Clare Cameron said although she very much appreciated how far the project has advanced, given the importance of the intersection, “this isn’t sitting right with me, that there is going to be a roundabout there.”
Councillors unanimously voted to tell the region they don’t support a roundabout in St. Davids, hoping an alternative will be considered.
At the same meeting, there was also a discussion about Concession 6, which is not a regional road, and is seeing excessive speeding and a number of collisions now that it goes through to Niagara Falls.
The speed limit on Concession 6 between York Road and Queenston Road is being reduced to 60 kilometres an hour, from 80 km/hour, but that intersection on York Road, says Pearsall, would be a perfect place for a roundabout, wth no pedestrian or cyclist traffic.
If you don’t live in St. Davids but travel through it, “you’re going to want a roundabout,” he says. It keeps traffic moving, and it is a safe way to navigate through the intersection, “especially if it’s a single lane, which it will be.”
But in the middle of the village, for the people who live there, for the cyclists and pedestrians, students, seniors and people with disabilities, “it’s not the best fit.”
Pearsall believes residents were paying attention and speaking out against the roundabout.
“It was made clear how we felt. We tried to put out alternatives.” But the region wasn’t listening, he said. “It was very frustrating.”
One of the concerns of Pearsall and the residents’ association is that the school was not included in the study area, and notices only went out to residents within 250 metres of the intersection, although Cannery Park was included.
There is no magic number of 250 metres in planning intersections, he added. “You look at all the areas that generate traffic. They should be looking at the whole village.”
He would like to see the region look at St. Davids as a whole, consider more four-way stops, including one at Tanbark Road, and making Line 9, now unfinished from Four Mile Creek Road to Tanbark, a through-street, to take some of the pressure off the four corners.
The residents’ association was recently told by the region that “they should meet with us and educate us about roundabouts,” Pearsall said. But when the association reached out, “they said it had to be between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. We’re not available during the day, we have jobs.”
And the region knows “that except for a few people who don’t walk around the village or a couple of developers, it’s not a popular idea.”
But roundabouts, he adds, “are the flavour of the day, and the region wants to put them everywhere.”
It’s not too late to reconsider, he says.
Although the region is saying the process is too far along, it hasn’t reached the detailed design stage, or budgeting for the design and construction phases.
“If town council is not supporting it, the region should put on the brakes. The municipality should be fighting the region.”
The first step in getting the region to look at alternatives, says Lord Mayor Betty Disero, was the motion that council voted on last week, showing lack of support for the roundabout.
That will bring a response from the region, and from there, if council gives her direction, Disero says she can take their concerns to regional council.
“A lot can happen in the next five years. So much is changing all the time, and they need to take a second look at what is happening. If I had my way, I’d like them to look at a roundabout at Concession 6 instead.”
A roundabout at Concession 6, along with access to Highway 405 at Mewburn Bridge, could create a bypass of the York and Four Mile Creek Road intersection.
That would reduce the number of collisions at Concession 6 and York Road, and could make the roundabout in St. Davids unnecessary, says Disero.
While collaboration between the town and the region should be part of such a major project, the region has been focused on reducing traffic through the St. Davids intersection, she adds.
“The decision shouldn’t have been rushed, and before doing anything further, maybe they need to relook at the area and work with the town on it. St. Davids is such a historic town and they (the region) should be working a little closer with us.”