Third Street upset

Poster being distributed around the west end

An interpretation of Collingwood’s latest draft of the Official Plan (OP) has many west-end residents up in arms. The picture above is a copy of a poster being circulated to residents along Third Street and stuck on hydro poles. Although the connected Third-Ontario Streets are marked as a corridor with plans to extend it west of High street even as far as the Tenth Line sometime in the future, I couldn’t find the plan to create this traffic monstrosity “corridor” clearly identified in the OP.

This “corridor” brings to mind Sixth Street, with its racing, loud traffic that already cuts the town in half. No one in this neighbourhood wants another Sixth Street design that brings more traffic through peaceful, quiet residential areas. But what is going on on Third Street? There are marked posts along the south side of the boulevard for a kilometre, and crews have been out surveying and marking property lines. Clearly, something is going on but no one I’ve contacted at town hall seemed to know what.

We, and others in the area, asked some of those workers and several had been told by employees of Tatham Engineering (under contract with the town) that the town is planning to remove the sidewalk along the south side of Third St., uproot all the hydro poles (including those recently installed as replacements for older poles), tear down all the trees along the boulevard (including all those planted by the town a few years back), then move the sidewalk about 0.5-1m north (towards the road), and replace the hydro poles. To that end, a lot of stakes and survey marks have been made along Third St from Oak to Spruce Streets.

On Aug. 2, Third Street upgrades and the future were raised by several people during question time after the town’s online presentation of the draft OP. According to Peggy Slama, the town’s Director, Public Works, Engineering, and Environmental Services, while there are future plans for Third Street, the only current work will be to move some hydro poles. She did not mention anything about moving the sidewalk or cutting down the boulevard trees, although she did say that traffic lights would be installed at High Street sometime in the undefined future.

I agree with other residents that the idea of making Third Street a wider corridor to move larger volumes of traffic through town is inappropriate. This is a residential area and what the town should be doing is traffic calming to reduce speeding and flow. A lot of people have moved to Collingwood to get away from the traffic and congestion of the GTA. No one wants to bring it up here.

There are already as many as 3,000 vehicles a day using the street according to the town’s 2019 Transportation Study. The capacity is stated at 700 vehicles per hour with surveys showing more than 500 in both directions (page 69 of the report; page 83 of the total) and another table shows almost 600 (p. 87). That’s already a LOT of traffic. And the report warns traffic will increase if the town connects Third to the Tenth Line via a new road (p. 82). It will be like living along the Danforth in Toronto.

Is this the sort of planning we want for Collingwood? Isn’t vehicle-centric planning opposed to the concept of walkability and alternative transportation? I live a house away from Third Street and I can tell you it’s already a busy, noisy street, and sometimes very busy. Late at night, some drivers use it to speed across town so they can avoid First Street with its traffic volumes and signals.

When the town extends Cambridge Street south to Third, the report warns:

It is assumed that Cambridge Street will be upgraded to a collector road after full build-out and occupancy of the RCD development and after it is extended to Third Street. Thus, the assumed capacity will increase from the existing amount of 500 vph to 700 vph (per direction).

This will also increase traffic along Third significantly. As will the proposed widening of High Street (p. 92). In fact, the report projects the number of vehicles per day on Third Street to climb to 5,720 by 2031 and 6,320 by 2041 (p.100).

I understand that engineers and planners work on numbers: capacity, peak volumes, etc. to arrive at their idea of what a road should do and how it should perform. But that’s not humanistic planning; numbers don’t say what a high-traffic street does to the neighbourhoods, to property values, to the threat to wildlife and pets, or speak to the increase in noise and pollution, and the decrease in safety and quality of life.

Almost every day from spring until winter, my wife and I see people riding bicycles, kids riding skateboards, people walking dogs along Third Street (on the road, not the sidewalk). Many pedestrians have to walk along the road after a heavy rain because many sidewalks and clogged storm drains create ponds that discourage people. In winter, uncleared sidewalks and residents parking on sidewalks also force pedestrians onto the road. What will happen when the traffic doubles?

I’d like to see a different vision. We could consider extending the low-speed zone around the school by a block for sidestreets in all directions. We could put a four-way stop at Cedar and Third Streets (in fact, because so many drivers use it, Cedar should have a four-way at Fourth as well, and a three-way at Fifth). I’d also like to see suggestions for at least one more four-way stop on Ontario Street, too.

And I’d like to see more plans for traffic calming and for directing traffic away from residential areas and to more suitable, existing roads. I’d also like the council to advocate with the county for an upgrade and widening to the Poplar Sideroad to help direct some of the traffic around town, rather than through it.

Online, there are numerous guides and ideas for alternative streetscapes and designs that are not heavily vehicle-centric and I think we should consider them. I understand we can’t escape the need for cars and traffic, but surely we can plan for them in better ways that preserve neighbourhoods and retain our community’s attractiveness.

If elected, I will raise these and other traffic-related concerns at the council table.

PS. Future plans for Third Street include painting bicycle lanes on the asphalt. While I am all in favour of bicycle lanes, simply painting lines is not sufficient. Lines alone don’t ensure cyclist safety, or even exclusive use. There are already bicycle lanes along Ontario Street, but the town also permits vehicles to park on them, which effectively makes them pointless. Bicycle lanes need better protection and parking restrictions to be effective and safe. Traffic calming would help improve street safety for cyclists.

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