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A simple crossing is more complex than it should be

Though something as simple as a crosswalk has taken Woolwich and the region years to work out, pedestrian signals should be in place this summer at the St. Jacobs Farmers’ market.

The two layers of government are now finalizing an agreement, with construction to get underway as early as this month.

Anyone who’s been out at the market, particularly on a Saturday, knows some kind of improvement is long overdue.

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.

Woolwich has long advocated a pedestrian crosswalk on Farmers Market Road, while the Region of Waterloo has insisted traffic volumes don’t warrant a crossing, expressing concerns about the impact on its intersection at Weber Street.

A pedestrian-activated crosswalk at Farmers 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, synced to the Weber Street lights and 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 be 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 peak 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, fed by growth and by changes made to the Northfield Drive ramps at the expressway that have been a major impediment to traffic, sending drivers in search of alternatives.

In short, things aren’t going to get better on their own.

While Coun. Murray Martin suggested the crosswalk might do little to curb jaywalking and other unsafe actions common today, township engineering staff are hopeful the project will alleviate the worst of the problems.

The $110,000 price tag appears steep for some signal lights, but the cost is being picked up by the developer of the nearby SmartCentres big box retail centre. If the crosswalk is something of an experiment, it’s one that comes without too much risk to municipal coffers.

Some people might argue about putting a price on safety, but there’s always room for pragmatism in the debate.

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