St. David’s Road a safety concern for Brock students, pedestrians and cyclists

 

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Article credit to www.thoroldedition.ca

THOROLD – Christopher Yendt knows how unsettling it can be for pedestrians and cyclists to travel down St. David’s Rd.

He made the 4.5 km trek from downtown Thorold along St. David’s Rd. – most of which has no sidewalks or bike lanes – everyday to get to class at Brock University.

“It was probably one of the most harrowing experiences of my life because there’s very little median stopping a vehicle from jumping the curb onto where you’re walking,” said the Brock Student Union’s vice president of finance and administration. “And despite the fact the speed limit may be posted at 70 km an hour, cars are reasonably doing 80 or 90 km in that stretch coming off the highway.”

A border road that divides St. Catharines and Thorold, St. David’s is the primary access road to the university for vehicles coming off Hwy. 406 and Hwy. 58, as well as those using active transportation.

Its lack of pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure is “a major safety concern”, said Yendt, who’s leading the union’s push to improve the situation. He said Brock students are known to use the road to walk or cycle to and from class.

The union did a major survey of students last year about the road’s travelling conditions, and Yendt said the results revealed many students feel it doesn’t provide “a reasonable means to facilitate pedestrian traffic” – from the university out into the surrounding communities and vice-versa.

“We’re still in the process of collecting all of the data, but what we did determine is that many students actually just avoid the road in general because they feel it’s unsafe,” he said. “It might look like there isn’t much demand for use of the road, but that’s really a byproduct of the fact students don’t feel it’s safe.”

Brock student Brandon McMurray confirmed what the survey results suggest. He reluctantly takes the bus to get to class instead of using active transportation.

“I wish all the time I could skateboard or bike to school instead of taking that silly bus,” McMurray said. “Eventually, something will definitely need to be done.”

Efforts to construct sidewalks and bike lanes have been slow moving due to the road’s complicated zoning in multiple jurisdictions.

Niagara Region owns the section that runs from Brock to the west side of the Hwy. 406 overpass structure, which is owned by the Ministry of Transportation. East of the ministry’s highway interchange up to Collier Rd., the north side of the road belongs to St. Catharines, while the south side belongs to Thorold.

Joe Cousins, the Region’s director of transportation services, said the Region has plans to reconstruct its portion next year to include pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure (pending budget approval), but the rest is out of their hands.

“There is a short section that is ours – from Merrittville Hwy. over to the beginning of the interchange,” Cousins said. “We’re at least going to take care of that part, but of course, that only gets you part of the way there.”

And he said the entire road is in need of better access for non-vehicular traffic.

“I drive to work here everyday and I see people either walking or cycling across there and it’s not a safe environment,” he said. “There does need to be some sort of improvements. We’re well aware there has been discussions going on between the two cities and the ministry and a number of alternatives have been looked at.”

At this point, none of them are feasible.

In 2010, the St. Catharines, Thorold and the Region participated in a class environmental assessment on St. David’s Rd. in efforts to find a solution, but the study’s most practical and affordable recommendation was shot down by the MTO.

“We asked for deviations from their policy to allow for that solution to be constructed, but they were unwilling to waiver,” said Sean Dunsmore, Thorold’s engineering manager. “That effectively knocked it off the rails and it’s been off the rails ever since.”

CONSIDERED OPTIONS

Install traffic lights east of the highway interchange to direct pedestrian traffic into barrier-protected median walkway in middle of the overpass (shot down by MTO)

Construct a separate multi-use pedestrian and cyclist bridge over the highway, which has price tag of about $1.5 million

ROADBLOCKS

While the MTO owns the section that passes over the highway, the Public Transportation and Highway Improvement Act specifies it’s the responsibility of the local municipalities to construct and maintain sidewalks and other multi-use paths.

That leaves the entire stretch of road outside of the Region’s jurisdiction to St. Catharines and Thorold.

“Even on an MTO structure, they would require us to cover the costs of expanding it to include sidewalks or bike lanes,” said Dunsmore. “The jurisdiction becomes a really odd concept.”

Yendt agrees.

“Getting all four parties to talk and realize that everybody has to combine resources and monies in order to make the project viable is a little more difficult than anyone would like,” he said.

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