Second crossing: Downtown cores can die if too much traffic diverted, says councillor

By Geoff Coleman

Second crossing: Downtown cores can die if too much traffic diverted, says councillor

As cottage season arrives, a staggering 15,000 cars pass through Fenelon Falls on Saturdays. Locals have long wondered when someone’s house will burn down because the volunteer fire department trucks couldn’t get across the bridge.

With these and other concerns in mind, Dillon Consulting staff hosted an on-line webinar recently to present a clear choice from four options under consideration to improve vehicle flow.

The consultants believe one major reason for the traffic backlog is southbound vehicles turning into Sobey’s at the Lindsay Street/Helen Street (Cty Road 8) intersection. Once four or five cars are lined up to make a left, traffic on the bridge must wait for them to complete their turn, bringing things to a standstill if on coming, northbound traffic is bumper to bumper for a kilometre. Throw in a gas station and restaurant on the northwest and southwest corners of the intersection – each with more than one curb cut – and things get interesting.

Using data from location services on cell phones, and traffic cameras, the consultants determined that 30 per cent of traffic that comes to Fenelon Falls in the summer is actually heading farther north and east, not stopping in the village. So, getting these vehicles in and out of town as quickly as possible will improve the experience for locals and those visitors who do make the village their destination.

Options considered to achieve this were: widening the existing bridge, building a new bridge at the base of Clifton Street, constructing a bridge at Wychwood Crescent, and creating a bypass from Hwy 35 to 121 on the Baddow Road, skirting entirely around the town.

Widening the bridge would create a longer turning lane to enter Sobeys, but this would likely just move the congestion farther north, not eliminate it. New sidewalk bump outs at the downtown which narrow the street would further complicate matters, so this option was eliminated. And, due to the heavily residential nature of Clifton St and the adjacent area, a bridge here was also dismissed.

The Wychwood Crescent crossing option had more potential, but would require new road connections at either end. Additionally, the area has a complex topography that would likely require both a bridge and an overpass. This solution would deliver the best traffic movement, but also the highest cost, (estimated at between $15 and $20 million) so it was not recommended.

That left the second crossing bypass as the option Dillon will recommend to council in a summary report. This option – which incorporates a haul route – would divert 20 per cent of traffic, including trucks, from Fenelon Falls. “Mid-level” costs are associated with this project, and would be approximately half of the Wychwood option.

Concerns from residents living on and around the 3rd Concession included noise, interruptions to boating and a boat launch on the Burnt River, and affects to the Rail Trail. At this stage, little research has been done around environmental concerns. They will be addressed if the project moves forward, including steps to ensure the bridge design is floodplain-friendly.

A bypass that moves thousands of vehicles and potential customers away from downtown may not seem like the way to improve business in the village, but there are those who see that as a “less is more” situation. Diane Reesor and Wayne Jolly, who operated Sweetbottoms Coffee for 10 years on the Fenelon Falls main street before selling it in 2019, are of the opinion that diverting traffic will actually help business in the village.

“With fewer cars in town, parking will be easier, and people will be more inclined to get out and enjoy what the downtown has to offer,” Reesor says.

Councillor Kathleen Seymour Fagan from Bobcaygeon offers a different viewpoint.

“Fenelon Falls is busy because people are stopping, they are going through there, it’s lively. What’s happening now in Bobcaygeon with our bridge out…we are seeing a reduction in traffic, a reduction in business because people are only going around the town. So a bypass does not mean it is going to help everyone — it can actually hurt businesses. That’s actually a rule in planning: as soon as you start diverting people around a downtown core, a downtown core can die.”

For his part, Councillor Doug Elmslie stressed that “no real decisions have yet been made. There are some recommendations that will be coming forward, but I think the contentious ones, such as a second crossing in Fenelon or a bypass…no decisions have been made on that, and people will still have an opportunity to weigh in on it.”

However, residents may not have to wait until the construction of a second crossing or bypass to get some relief. Dillon Consultants reviewed 25 smaller-scale ways to improve traffic movement, ranging from signal light changes to roundabouts and identified opportunities at the Sobeys-Tim Horton’s complex to ease congestion.

They suggest changing access to these businesses from Lindsay Street to “right in, right out” only, meaning no left turns allowed for southbound cars. All other access would occur from the back of the Sobeys parking lot via Elliot St. Even Helen Street (Cty Rd 8) traffic would use Elliot St.

To make this happen, signal lights would be installed at the Lindsay Street-Elliot Street intersection and coordinated with the nearby existing traffic lights. A “queue lane” or “slip lane” would be added on Elliot Street to provide 30 metres of room for cars turning into Tim Hortons.

Questions about any aspect of the project are welcomed by the city and consultants, and they plan to have a comprehensive “asked questions” list available online by June 15. Send your queries to: Martin Sadowski, senior engineering technician Kawartha Lakes at , or Merrilees Willemse, environmental planner for Dillon Consulting at .

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