Tonight, three members of the SCU attended a meeting held by Interpaving, the developer that is building a 700 unit housing development between the big box stores on Marcus Drive and Bancroft Drive in Minnow Lake. The development is adjacent to the woods commonly known as BlueBerry Hill, and would be a subdivision consisting of 24 single-detached dwelling units, 194 semi-detached dwelling units, 112 townhouse dwelling units and 440 apartment dwelling units. The plans include green space, a park, a playground, and the developer will be building a two-way bike path along one side of the road that connects Marcus Drive to the Kingsway – a road they called Silver Hills Drive. The developer will also be assisting with bike path and trail development in the Minnow Lake green spaces, including extending the existing Blueberry Hill trail. The subdivision would be fully developed over the next 10 years.
From mingling in the crowd of folks who attended the meeting, most of them had no problem with the development itself. The problem is three-fold for people in Minnow Lake, all relating to traffic:
Traffic is already horrendous on Bancroft/Bellevue/Howie, in particular in rush hour. One lady said that it took her 15 minutes to get out of her driveway onto Bancroft in order to get to the meeting. At rush hour, it seems everyone is trying to bypass the Kingsway by going this route. Most of the traffic is not residents who live in the area and are trying to go to and from their homes. It’s folks who are trying to bypass the Kingsway to get from one end of the city to the other.
New road exiting on Bancroft
The development’s plan currently includes exits on both the Kingsway and Bancroft Drive. The developer was touting the benefits of this, including traffic studies that indicate that such a connector road would actually alleviate traffic on both the Kingsway and the Bancroft corridor. Also, this road has been part of the official Transportation Network and thus the Official Plan for many years.
The developer’s stance is that many opportunities for input have been provided over the years and no one has had any concerns until now. They also hedged, but finally came out and said that the city is the one who is more or less directing what’s happening, and that they are doing their best to follow the Official Plan and the Minnow Lake Improvement Report.
Residents feel that such a connector road will only increase traffic and make their lives more miserable than they currently are. They are in no mood at this point to believe that additional development will not increase traffic. They’re doing the math – 700 households, with perhaps one or two cars each.
I tend to agree with them, because it will be a while before Sudbury becomes less car-centric. While I would like to think that all of these additional people will bike, take transit, or walk, somehow I doubt that these will be everyone’s primary modes of transportation.
Now if the City can somehow magically get all of the folks who use the Bancroft corridor as a highway to use the Kingsway, maybe the extra motorists would be better accepted by current residents.
Now to the part that affects cyclists. The new Silver Hills Drive would exit onto Bancroft at the intersection of Bellevue. The city and developer are recommending that a single lane roundabout be installed here. The roundabout style would be one where the existing bike lanes would merge into the roundabout and then start up again once the cyclist has exited the roundabout. Eyes were raised at this, because most folks in attendance didn’t understand the “take the lane” concept, and when it was explained to them, they didn’t believe it would be safe or possible to do that in their neighbourhood.
The roundabout would have safety islands and crosswalks, although those crosswalks would not be of a pedestrian priority i.e. pedestrians would not have the right of way and would have to wait for a break in traffic in order to cross. Residents said good luck with that.
The developer is arguing that the roundabout would be a safer alternative to street lights, and referred to two studies on roundabouts, one in done in Australia in 1999 and one in the US in 2000. No actual names of the studies were provided. These studies concluded that roundabouts were safer than lighted intersections and that the number of severe and fatal accidents decreased with their use. They didn’t seem to know that studies around the world did indeed match those findings, but for cars only, and not necessarily cyclists.
The roundabout was recommended as a way of slowing down traffic because it would be designed in such a way that traffic at that intersection would have to slow down to 15 – 20 km/hr. Residents said that was fine, but it didn’t help them get out of their driveways. Or allow them to safely cross the street with strollers and kids.
Residents used to hate buses, said Peter Seto, an SCU member. But they love them now because when they stop, they create a break in traffic, and allow residents to get into and out of their driveways. It’s pretty sad when folks are that frustrated.
A roundabout is all about increasing traffic flow, and would decrease the opportunities for residents to get onto the road from their homes.
The way I see it, the developer is putting the onus on the City for the decisions that will be made. If that is the case, then the City needs to address the concerns of the residents by
1. dealing with the current traffic problem
2. either not allowing the Silver Hills Drive to exit on Bancroft, or if they do, putting in additional measures to ensure that any potential increase in traffic doesn’t happen
3. if they put in a roundabout, ensuring that it is as safe as possible for cyclists and pedestrians, by putting in design features that put a priority on the cyclists and pedestrians. And they will need to do massive education and monitoring.
Part of the backlash in all of this is that residents now resent the bike lanes currently on the Bancroft corridor. As one woman put it, “why do we have to be the only area in the City that has bike lanes and don’t have turning lanes?”. My response was “Exactly, we need more bike lanes elsewhere in the city”. That made a gentlemen respond with a very strong “Heck no”.
The developer is going to the Planning Committee on June 25th to ask for a change in zoning classification from “FD”, Future Development to “R1”, Low Density Residential One, “R2-2”, Low Density Residential Two and “R3-1”, Medium Density Residential. And to permit the development of a plan of subdivision consisting of the units mentioned at the start of this article.
Unless something radical happens, I would suspect that this will be approved. After all, the development is indeed good for the City, and good for Minnow Lake. Residents aren’t against change, they just want their traffic problem solved, not made worse.
And as for cyclists, if the proposal is approved as it was presented, we’ll need to get ready to mobilize to ask the City to adjust their plans to ensure the safety of cyclists and pedestrians using the roundabout. Let’s hope that the City and the developer are right, and that the new road will alleviate the traffic issue. If it doesn’t, as cyclists, we’ll have even a bigger mess to deal with.
Hopefully, cyclists will also be consulted about the separated two-way bike lanes that are to be constructed on one side of Silver Hills Drive – the side that has no driveway entrances to homes. In my opinion, this configuration, depending on the traffic, will make it very hard for cyclists to cross two lanes of traffic in mid-block to get to their homes which are on the other side of the road from the cycling lanes.These types of decisions just highlight the fact that the City needs to consult experienced and knowledgeable cyclists prior to putting in designs that may actually not work well.