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Elmira bypass a key part of revitalizing the core

Concerns about increased truck traffic through Elmira focus attention on the township’s longstanding desire for a bypass route to channel traffic away from the downtown core.

While operational changes proposed for the biogas plant at the north end of town are unlikely to boost truck traffic in any significant way, there will be a few more making stops there every day. Residents who were concerned from the beginning about the plant’s opening remain skeptical, with trucks topping the list.

Woolwich has been calling for a bypass route for years. Arthur Street is a regional road, with congestion being the region’s responsibility, so it’s up to the upper-tier municipality to spearhead a new route. It’s always been a low priority for the region, and financial woes mean the project is beyond its planning horizon – such a route could be decades away at that rate.

Preventing trucks from rumbling through the core is certainly a much higher priority than the region places on the project. A bypass route that would take through traffic, particularly trucks, off of Arthur Street and through, say, an industrial area on the east side of town would do wonders. A likely scenario would see a route running east of Arthur Street, perhaps branching off of the main road at Union Street at the south end and rejoining the road to the north in the vicinity of Kenning Place.

The actual route, should it come to pass, might look different, as the township has also looked at options on the west side of Elmira. Whatever the final design, the bypass is a pressing need, especially in light of efforts to bolster the downtown core.

It’s no secret the downtown could use some sprucing up. Improvements have long been a topic of discussion for the township and the Business Improvement Area (BIA) board representing businesses in the core.

A number of studies have mapped out some ideal changes, but the township isn’t in the business of acquiring real estate or helping to launch new ventures, unlike some larger municipalities, often with mixed or poor results.

Ideally, there would be a cohesive vision for the core, a strategy to provide what the public wants in order to attract people downtown. That could include longer hours and marketing expertise to make stores more in line with the expectations of today’s customers. In the bigger picture, that would mean attracting the kinds of businesses that bring people in and entice them to linger, such as outdoor cafés to play up the downtown’s advantages in the better weather, a taste of which we’ve seen in response to the crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The township and its BIA have recognized an opportunity presented by a growing Elmira. Many of the new homes – current and future – are within walking distance of the core; the goal now is to give them a reason to walk, and stop, downtown.

Over the years, Woolwich has completed a few core reviews for Elmira, and has undertaken zoning changes to tweak the development options downtown. Much of the emphasis, not surprisingly, has been on the retail portion of downtown business. Such thinking dominates municipal planning schemes just about everywhere. Under pressure today from big-box retail, much as they were from the malls in previous generations, downtowns are having to cope with change. That doesn’t always sit well with core retailers.

Attractive, pedestrian-friendly streetscapes, including trees, green spaces, flowers, benches and trails and amenities such as restaurants are what residents want from their downtowns. Studies have highlighted those demands. But while the township can favour such things, and even promote them, it’s in no position to make the changes demanded by the public.

Getting trucks out of the core would certainly be a strong impetus for further change.

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