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Three-lane Front Street plan hits speed bumps

Downtown merchants prefer four lanes; city is championing three-lane option
2018-01-22 DOMB logo.jpg

Orillia’s city councillors have hit some speed bumps as they look to give the green light to a new-look Front Street.

Ron Spencer, the chair of the Downtown Orillia Management Board (DOMB), told a council committee meeting Monday night that most downtown merchants are in favour of a four-lane Front Street that would better direct traffic downtown.

City staff have recommended, as part of the Centennial Drive Area Improvements project – a $17-million project to rebuild the antiquated infrastructure at the waterfront and redevelop that area – a three-lane road with a shared, middle left-turn lane. That configuration would allow for streetscaping, bike lanes and help turn that arterial road into what Coun. Tim Lauer calls “a signature street.”

Lauer, who is one of the driving forces behind the waterfront redevelopment project, noted that “all the experts” have told council that making such a road “pedestrian friendly” and turning it into a “gateway” to the city is the preferred option. “How does the downtown view cutting off the waterfront with a four- lane highway” as the best plan? he asked.

“Our feeling – and we’re not engineers – is two lanes plus a turning lane is likely going to cause a lot of traffic issues,” said Spencer. He spoke of numbers from a traffic study that cited high volumes of traffic turning on to Front Street from Atherley Road and concerns about congestion at Queen, Colborne and MIssissaga Street intersections. He said turning right or left at those points, especially as traffic increases in the future, will be problematic.

Lisa Thomson-Roop, the manager of the DOMB, agreed. In a letter to council, she noted that “while the BIA appreciates that the three-lane option allows for greater streetscaping, the traffic congestion created will far outweigh the benefits. Streetscaping and a sense of arrival could be achieved through smaller plantings surrounding light standards and aesthetically pleasing sidewalks. Flora and trees could be included in future private developments fronting Front Street, making both the streetscape (and) the developments more appealing.”

Coun. Ralph Cipolla was the only councillor to speak in favour of the four-lane option. “I have a problem with three lanes,” said Cipolla, who noted he uses that road several times each day and often finds traffic backed up at several points. “I know we’re trying to beautify Front Street, but we also have to move traffic … otherwise people will avoid going downtown or living downtown.”

City staff said measures – advanced green lights, “actuated” signal movement based on traffic flows, synchronized lights and other tactics – will be used to improve traffic flow to help mitigate those concerns.

While Spencer reiterated it was “our best decision to champion a four-lane model” after a meeting with DOMB members, he believes whatever route the city chooses will be an improvement. “We have no doubt Front Street will be a much-improved corridor and serve as a gateway to downtown and we’ll be very proud of it.”

Council will make its decision on this matter next Monday night.

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Dave Dawson

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