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Proposed changes to Terry Fox Circle get mixed reactions from councillors

Staff want Terry Fox Circle closed to vehicular traffic; 'Don’t you think we’re overdoing it just a little bit?' councillor asks

A city councillor feels “betrayed” by a staff report on the future of Terry Fox Circle.

During Monday’s council committee meeting, Coun. Pat Hehn teared up as she provided her thoughts on the two concepts presented for the popular area in Couchiching Beach Park.

“There is so much in this report that I disagree with that I scarcely know where to begin,” she said.

Council had previously asked staff to provide three design options, including one that would see Terry Fox Circle remain open to vehicular traffic.

The report Monday included two options. Staff’s preferred concept shows Terry Fox Circle being closed to vehicular traffic, as well as the addition of a new, smaller circular drop-off area for vehicles near the southeast part of Terry Fox Circle.

The alternate concept includes a smaller circle that doesn’t go to the beach area. It would be open to vehicular traffic, but with lay-by parking spots.

When Hehn voted for the parks master plan, she said she had a “major concern” about Terry Fox Circle being closed to vehicles.

“I was told not to worry; I would have the opportunity later on to address those concerns and it was not a done deal,” she said. “I feel I was led down the garden path, so to speak …”

She said it’s important for elderly people and those with disabilities to have access. Many seniors can’t use walkers to access all of the park, and it would be difficult, too, for those who use non-electric wheelchairs, she said.

The preferred concept also calls for a “Terry Fox celebration plaza,” horticultural displays and a new boardwalk near the government dock that would include a performance area.

“I’m not sure that we need to have a Terry Fox celebration plaza, and what the heck is a celebration plaza?” Hehn asked.

“Don’t you think we’re overdoing it just a little bit?”

Among the main goals of the concept, according to staff and consultants, are better connectivity throughout the park and enhancing safety by removing traffic from Terry Fox Circle. Allowing vehicles in the circle “contributes to unsafe interactions between vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists …” staff wrote in the report.

Coun. Ralph Cipolla said he asked police if there had been any collisions there or if any children had been struck by vehicles, and they couldn’t find any instances of that happening.

“I think the safety factor that you’re alluding to doesn’t exist,” Cipolla said.

John McMullen, manager of park planning and development, said the city has heard about “near-misses” involving vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists, especially at the north part of Terry Fox Circle, near the lake. The city has received calls about “what is perceived as, and is, a significant safety issue.”

Coun. Jay Fallis suggested measures could be taken, including the installation of speed bumps, to mitigate safety issues and keep the circle open to vehicles. Like Hehn, his concern was accessibility.

“This is Orillia’s park. This is everyone’s park,” he said.

Coun. Rob Kloostra also didn’t want to see vehicles prohibited.

“Do we want to be known as the city that said, ‘Remember when you could drive through the park?’” he said.

“If we keep limiting access to the jewel of the Trent … people will just drive by Orillia and never return.”

Not everyone was supportive of the status quo with regard to Terry Fox Circle.

“I’m making a decision based on tomorrow, not on yesterday,” said Coun. David Campbell.

As Orillia’s population continues to grow, the demand for space in city parks will grow with it, he said, adding the preferred concept will free up more park space, “and that’s what we need.”

Campbell also expects it won’t be long before “not owning a vehicle will be the norm” and autonomous vehicles will be a preferred mode of transportation. When that happens, and if council doesn’t vote to change some of the current park features, it will be viewed as “a complete waste of parkland.”

Coun. Ted Emond agreed.

“We’re making a decision for those folks in Orillia for the next 50 years, and my view is that things change over time. I sometimes wonder, as a plus-80-year-old, why it is that I don’t have the same concerns … that some of my colleagues have,” he said.

“Option 1 is a perfect blend of what the original proposal suggested, which was to remove the conflicts that exist in the park.”

When talks of blocking vehicle access to Terry Fox Circle first came up, Coun. Mason Ainsworth said he was “completely against” the idea, but now he sees the current situation as a safety concern.

It’s a concern shared by Mayor Steve Clarke, who said walking in the area can be “problematic, especially when you have young kids.”

“I am quite enamoured by the preferred option. I think it’s a good compromise,” he said.

During public consultation, he noted, 70 per cent of people who provided feedback wanted to see the circle closed to vehicles.

Staff were hoping council committee would direct them to start the detailed design process. However, now that more detailed concepts are available, Coun. Tim Lauer wanted to give residents another opportunity to provide feedback.

After council committee had discussed the concepts for about two hours, Lauer suggested both be posted on the city’s website and, rather than undertake a formal public consultation, that residents be encouraged to contact council members with their thoughts.

Emond said that process wouldn’t reveal the “genuine opinion” of the population.

“What I see is a council that is procrastinating,” he said.

Lauer’s motion to defer passed, and the matter will come back before council in July.

The staff report that includes the two concepts can be found here, starting on Page 55.