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A matter of safety

A memorial sits at the corner of Conlin Road and Simcoe Street North where a 19-year-old pedestrian was struck and killed last month. (Photo by Dave Flaherty)

Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

About a month ago, a 19-year-old UOIT student from Mitchell, Ont. lost his life after being struck by a vehicle near the intersection of Conlin Road and Simcoe Street North.

On any given day, one can see a number of near misses that could result in the same kind of devastating incident.

With development booming in North Oshawa, the intersection has become one of the busiest in the city.

What was once an area surrounded by farmland is now bustling with business, post-secondary facilities, subdivisions and schools.

This fact is not lost on Ward 2 regional councillor Tito-Dante Marimpietri, who grew up in the area.

At the new city council’s first meeting, Marimpietri, with support from local councillor Jane Hurst, introduced a motion to develop Oshawa’s first community safety zone in the area surrounding UOIT and Durham College.

The motion received unanimous support from council.

The proposed community safety zone would generally be located along Conlin Road, starting at Bridle Road to the east of Simcoe Street North and Founders Drive to the west.

Another would start along Simcoe Street North at Niagara Drive/Selleck Lane to the south and the entrance of the Campus Ice Centre to the north.

Both safety zones would be in effect throughout the year.

Marimpietri said as he was campaigning for council, and even beforehand, he knew community safety was an issue in this part of his ward.

He says he met with Mayor Dan Carter and city manager Jag Sharma to voice his plans.

“It was understood very quickly by them, and they supported every attempt that I made,” he says.

For Marimpietri, the death of the young man was a significant indication that he needed to bring his motion to council as soon as possible.

“There’s a great deal of distress to myself, staff, and everyone, especially the student population, that there was a fatality there. Nobody should have to die to make sure that action was taken,” he reflects.

With continuing growth in the area, both from a postsecondary and residential viewpoint, Marimpietri says “we have to get a handle on this situation.”

“You can’t just roll out the welcome mat in the local area without completely dealing with the growing pains,” he said. “For those who may not remember that area for what it used to be, my brother and I, we used to ride our bikes over to a motorcycle shop on the corner…now we’ve got thousands of students providing the knowledge that we need to make great things in the future for our country and in Oshawa.”

His plan also includes requests to the region that speed limits be reduced to 50 km/h (from the current 60 km/h) between Conlin and Britannia Avenue, and to 60 km/h from 80 km/h north of Britannia to the 407.

Finally, Marimpietri wants the region to pay for the installation of a temporary sidewalk on the east side of Simcoe between Britannia and Northern Dancer Drive, and on the west side between Britannia and Conlin.

He wants this done before the planned reconstruction of Simcoe to make it four lanes traveling north towards Winchester Road.

“We need the Region of Durham to hop on, and not just work with us, but to fund [his requests] and provide for an easier path,” he says.

Marimpietri says he is confident this will happen because Regional Chair John Henry is from Oshawa, and understands “the needs of the community.”

The restructuring of Simcoe Street North has been in the region’s plans for sometime, and Marimpietri says this is critical infrastructure that can no longer be delayed.

His motion also asks the city’s community services staff consult with the region, UOIT, Durham College and Durham Regional Police Service to “improve public safety along the arterial roads.”

Hurst says she has heard about this issue on numerous occasions as well.

“It’s become more and more heavy with traffic and pedestrian traffic, and it is not safe,” she says.

Creating a community safety zone would be the best option moving forward for everyone in her view.

“It is the northern gateway into Oshawa, so it’s not just for the post-secondary students but for all the families that live in and around the area,” Hurst states.

Ward 1 regional councillor John Neal said the safety issues go even further.

“The whole thoroughfare on Simcoe, right up to Raglan (Road), it’s just always behind schedule and I’m really concerned about that. Residents in Columbus, I don’t know how they live with that traffic and the congestion they have to deal with.”

Marimpietri told The Oshawa Express that the issue has become very contentious for residents.

“I’ve spoken to them throughout the campaign and I have an opportunity on a daily basis to travel the area, and I think it is fair to say there is great concern.”

Ramesh Jagannathan, director of transportation and field services for Durham Region says the Conlin-Simcoe intersection is one of the busiest in the municipality.

According to Jagannathan, an average of 17,500 cars travel through it per day.

During the busiest eight hours of a given day, it will also see about 320 pedestrians.

Because of this, Jagannathan says the region is on board with the idea of a community safety zone.

He says the temporary sidewalk on the east side of Simcoe would work within the region’s future plans for widening the street between Conlin and Winchester.

That project will naturally slow down traffic in the area, Jagannathan adds.

“Once you put in sidewalks it automatically reduces speed. Over the next two or three years, that area is going to see a lot of construction,” he said.

The region has already taken some measures to improve safety including the installation of a pedestrian crosswalk near Founders Gate.

However, Jagannathn did concede there are still issues with people jaywalking across Simcoe in the area, and they are hoping to work with UOIT to raise awareness of the associated dangers.

“Unfortunately, a lot of us, they way were are now, we are impatient. We are trying to work as a group to promote the right way to cross the road,” he says.

Markings have also been added make pedestrians more visible to motorists at the main intersection of Conlin and Simcoe.

Jagannathan says the pedestrian crossing signals at Simcoe and Conlin are also designed to account for slower pedestrians, such as seniors and students perhaps distracted by their phones.

According to data provided by the DRPS, there have been 85 collisions at the intersection since 2014.

Sixty-one of these have included property damage, 21 resulted in injuries [three involving pedestrians] and there have been three fatalities, including the pedestrian death last month.