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Region needs to support market crosswalk option

Anyone who’s ever been out to the St. Jacobs Farmers’ market, particularly on a Saturday, is well aware of the ongoing pedestrian woes in the area.

Essentially, it’s a free-for-all as people attempt to find parking and, once on foot, flow out across the roads en route to the market and sites such as the outlet mall. Saturdays see an especially pitched battle between the two groups.

Safety concerns have prompted years of discussion, but little action. Woolwich Township has been pushing for some kind of crosswalk, while the Region of Waterloo has resisted, largely based on concerns about disrupting traffic at the intersection of Weber Street and Farmer’s Market Road.

Short of some kind of overpass/underpass arrangement, the solution recommended this week by the township appears to be a workable compromise. A pedestrian-activated crosswalk at Farmer’s Market and Benjamin roads would provide the necessary gap in car traffic to allow those on foot to cross safely without simply swarming out onto the street, which is not uncommon at this point.

Rather than the typical overhead flashing lights, to which drivers reportedly pay less attention, the crossing signals would be the familiar yellow/red/green arrangement, timed to permit pedestrians to cross when activated, but with manageable delays for drivers.

Simply recommending that pedestrians use existing traffic signals to cross goes against human nature – it’s much easier to cross midway than to go all the way to the nearest managed intersection. Safety certainly trumps efforts to get people to behave in a way they won’t.

This type of crossing can be timed so that pedestrians don’t necessarily control the intersection but would create sufficient gaps to allow for pedestrians to cross the road, the township maintains.

There will undoubtedly be some grumblings from drivers – even those about to join the throngs of people crossing the road – forced to wait for signals, but the delays should be manageable. The same applies to any traffic impacts on Weber Street. Moreover, the impact is limited to part of the day on Thursdays and Saturdays, with Tuesdays included during the summer months. And the peak usage by pedestrians falls outside the morning and evening peaks for vehicular traffic, according to counts down by the township.

That applies even though the most recent surveys show increased traffic in the vicinity, due to growth in the area and vehicles displaced by construction and ongoing logjams at nearby King Street and Northfield Drive, worsened by the closure of the expressway ramp.

Having been rebuffed repeatedly by regional staff, Woolwich made the issue political by taking the safety concerns to councillors, which got things moving again. Still, regional staff remain unconvinced, and they’ll have to be on side – or made to be onside – to the pedestrian crosswalk that township wants, as the region is responsible for installing and maintaining such pedestrian crossings.

Though more involved than simply slapping down some yellow paint, the project comes with a manageable estimated cost of $60,000 to $80,000. Better still, it would be funded by developers, specifically the nearby SmartCentres retail power centre.

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