Mayor Lowry comments on traffic concerns

Recent discussions around the Council table, around kitchen tables and through online commentary have certainly confirmed that safe roads for residents and children are important to us in Mississippi Mills. This past week I have been receiving questions about my personal position on two items from our October 1st Council meeting. In this letter, I am pleased to provide clarity on both these issues:

1) Lowering the speed limit on Golden Line Road

2) Suspending the procedural by-law to allow discussion of a notice of motion

Speed Reduction on Golden Line Road

Earlier this fall, Council received a petition asking for a speed reduction along Golden Line Road in Ramsay.  Council directed staff to bring back information and a report for Council’s consideration.  It is important to first note that Golden Line is a boundary road that is jointly owned with the City of Ottawa; any maintenance, upgrades or changes to road speeds must be agreed upon by both municipalities.

Staff put our speed spy in place for seven days on Golden Line Road.  The device collects speed and traffic data but is not visible to drivers. The speed limit on this portion of the road is currently 80km/h and road improvements have recently been completed. The data collected show:

–         Average northbound speed = 69 km/h
–         Average southbound speed = 63 km/h
–         85th percentile northbound = 87 km/h
–         85th percentile southbound = 84 km/h
–         75% of total traffic travels at or below the speed limit
–         Traffic volumes are low

The Municipality has a policy for consideration of traffic calming and speed management when the 85th percentile is 20 km/h above the speed limit on an 80km/h road. The 85th percentile shows us the speed at or below which 85% of people will travel.   Put differently, the vast majority of drivers are travelling at or below this speed.  As the 85th percentiles on Golden Line Road in both directions are well under this threshold, this warrant is not met. According to our own policy, the current traffic data on Golden Line does not support changes at this time.

Additionally, the OPP were contacted for information regarding collisions on Golden Line Road and it was confirmed that there were two minor collisions reported over the past 5 years, both related to “property damage” with no personal injury.

While there is a perception that a speeding issue exists, the data paints a clear picture that there is no issue of speeding on this road, police data shows little concern and our own policies do not support the need for traffic calming measures at this time.

Lowering the speed limit on Golden Line Road responds to the demands of the petition but it is an arbitrary decision which ignores speed spy and OPP data. It is unlikely that local residents will see a marked difference in driver behaviour. All to say, while reducing the speed-limit isn’t going to hurt, it likely isn’t going to help either.  This decision gives a false sense of action to residents.  For these reasons, I did not support changing the speed limit on Golden Line.

Also to consider is that a decision to proceed on the strength of a petition alone is precedence setting.  Acting against our own policies but without supporting data could open the door for widespread requests based on petitions alone.

Since speed has been determined to not be the issue on Golden Line, maybe this was the wrong discussion?  If residents continue to have concerns after having an opportunity to see and understand the speed spy and OPP data sets, next steps could have been around enhanced police surveillance or consideration of other factors.   Putting a band-aid on a problem that does not exist is poor decision making and is unlikely to serve residents as intended.

Note: a majority of Council supported the potential speed reduction and directed staff to consult with the City of Ottawa who jointly owns the road with Mississippi Mills.  Council awaits further information from the City of Ottawa at this time.

Suspension of Procedural By-Law

The Procedural By-Law is one of Council’s most important documents. It spells out how Council does its work so that meetings and decisions are always undertaken in a transparent manner.   Suspension of the procedural bylaw, therefore, is a serious decision and because of this requires the support of a 2/3 majority of Council. With the exception of occasionally extending the length of meetings, “suspending the rules” is rare and would normally be considered under unusual or extraordinary circumstances.

There were three Notices of Motion on our Agenda last Tuesday. A Notice of Motion is the way an individual member can ask Council to support a new idea or action. For the sake of transparency, the first time Council (and the public) sees this idea or action, it appears on our Agenda for information purposes only. At the following meeting, the motion is discussed and decisions or actions are made such as directing staff to conduct and present research to Council.

Councillor Dalgity moved that the rules be suspended so that discussion and decisions could happen immediately on two items regarding pedestrian safety. I did not support his motion to suspend the rules. Some believe that I and the other members of Council who stood by the Procedural By-Law also “voted against the safety of children.”  While impassioned, this statement shows an unfortunate misunderstanding of process and a gross distortion of fact.

It can be tempting to make quick decisions, especially in efforts to increase safety, but it is crucial that appropriate consideration of data and expertise be taken. Rushing a decision could create new, unforeseen problems.

How would creating “exclusive pedestrian phases” on two traffic signals affect circulation? Keeping in mind that Almonte has only one east-west route through town, would it impede traffic in a way that would create irritated or aggressive drivers? Could this create dangerous or risky actions?  And how would an exclusive pedestrian signal affect pedestrian behaviour?  Would we inadvertently be encouraging our children to become passive pedestrians and non-observant of traffic rather than alert and street-smart?  Are there other options available to us that would be safer?  What are the traffic volumes, traffic speeds and traffic patterns in the first place?  What observations, comments or concerns can the OPP provide?

Without a traffic study, there are too many questions left unanswered. I would be very uncomfortable making a decision without understanding its full impact – both intended and unintended.  Rushing to a solution without appropriate data is another example of poor decision making and here too is unlikely to serve residents as intended.

While the motion as it currently reads does not request a traffic study, I look forward to our discussions at the next meeting and will encourage that Council’s next step be to conduct a thorough traffic study.  I do want to thank Councillor Dalgity for bringing forward these two Notices of Motion; this issue is one he cares about deeply and I agree wholeheartedly that it needs to be resolved.

For families who have concerns about their children crossing Ottawa Street while walking to R. Tait and Holy Name of Mary Schools, there is an immediate solution available to you. The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark Health Unit offer a free program called The Walking School Bus. Two trained adult volunteers accompany children from the Augusta Park/Menzie Street area to both schools, five mornings a week.  The program has been in place since the second week of school and is available to all children at R. Tait or Holy Name of Mary. I am very grateful this program is available to students so that they have a safe way to walk to school while providing the opportunity to learn how to be a safe pedestrian. The Walking School Bus is open to all children at R. Tait and Holy Name of Mary; you do not have to be a resident of the immediate area. You may drop your child at one of the designated waiting/collection points just like a regular bus stop.  For more information or to register your child please go to: healthunit.org/health-information/physical-activity-rest/walking-school-bus/

In closing, I would like to thank those residents who have reached out to me and asked for clarity on my personal position for these two issues.  Facts are important.   The next time you hear or read something that seems one-sided, ask yourself what the whole story is and always know that my door is open for a healthy conversation.

Christa Lowry
Mayor, Municipality of Mississippi Mills
Office: 613-256-2064 x230
Cell: 613-816-1716
www.mississippimills.ca