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Back to the drawing board

Sidewalk

Woolwich councillors unwilling to support blanket policy that would see sidewalks built on both sides of all streets

A blanket policy – sidewalks on both sides of every street – is a nonstarter with Woolwich councillors. Meeting Tuesday night, they sent engineering staff off in search of a better solution.

Sidewalks have long been a contentious issue with the public, and this week’s meeting was no exception as residents of an Elmira neighbourhood vented their frustrations.

The township is going to reconstruct Green Warbler Crescent and wants to install sidewalks on both sides of the street where today there is only one sidewalk. Residents of that street and neighbouring Grey Owl Drive overwhelmingly oppose that plan.

At the Nov. 10 meeting, delegates spoke out against a blanket policy, castigating the township for not following through on a points-based system discussed at an informal meeting last month with the mayor and Ward 1 councillors.

Pronouncing himself “extremely disappointed,” resident Jarrod Leis said a proper system would take into account the likes of pedestrian levels, proximity to schools and the volume of cars on the road in determining the need for more sidewalks.

“Green Warbler is one of those streets that you need to think about,” added Steven Grant.

Phil Willms argued council should be looking at a points system like Kitchener’s rather than a sweeping policy for the entire township. He pointed out that a petition shows 88 per cent of Green Warbler and 90 per cent of Grey Owl residents are opposed to the sidewalk plan, and a policy would try to leave residents out of the process.

“You’re cutting off the voices of the community who voted for you to represent us,” he said.

Defending the staff recommendation, Jared Puppe of the engineering department said the policy would help the township comply with accessibility legislation and support healthy lifestyles by encouraging walking.

His comments about the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) were supported by a pair of speakers – Sheri Roberts of the Cambridge Accessibility Advisory Committee and Elmira resident Taposhi Batabyal – who face daily barriers as they get around in wheelchairs.

For Roberts, installing more sidewalks is a matter of doing what’s right for those with disabilities

“This is provincially mandated. There really isn’t a discussion point.”

Beyond the accessibility issue, it costs much less to install a new sidewalk as part of a large, expensive reconstruction project than to go back later and do the work, said Puppe.

Most councillors weren’t buying into the policy, however.

“I don’t think a blanket policy is effective for Woolwich,” said Coun. Scott Hahn.

The township has to allow for exceptions rather than a strict course of action, added Mayor Sandy Shantz.

“Maybe not all roads are created equal that way,” she said in support of weighing the options.

What of dead-end streets and roads that don’t go anywhere, for instance? asked Coun. Patrick Merlihan, calling for a “more robust” policy.

While staff may be hoping that its policy would put an end to complaints and residents coming to council, that’s not going to happen, nor should it, he said.

“We can’t have a policy to silence future dissenters.”

Rather, a policy should help councillors make a decision, and then support it when answering to the public, Merlihan added.

The issue is expected to be revisited when council meets again Nov. 17.

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