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City to remove traffic islands on Somerville following public backlash

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Following a second attempt to gauge the public’s opinion on traffic calming measures on one of the city’s busy thoroughfares, council is moving to rip out traffic calming islands that have some residents up in arms.

The culprits of the controversy are a set of traffic calming islands around the intersections along Somerville Street north of Oshawa’s downtown between Rossland Road and Taunton Road.

Starting in June, residents of the street approached council about the possibility of ripping out the raised islands that were installed in 2002.

Area residents argued that the islands were not only restricting the entryways into the nearby driveways, but were also repeatedly the cause for collisions with snowplows during the winter months, and causing damage to nearby boulevards as large vehicles are forced to make wide turns to maneuver around them.

The issue was potentially exacerbated by the fact that the nearby section of Simcoe Street North was closed between April and October of this year for a major reconstruction project. According to city data, traffic volumes more than doubled on Somerville Street over the course of the project.

In September, things appeared to be shifting in the residents favour when the results of a survey were presented to council noting that of 142 surveys sent out, 79 per cent of respondents were in favour of removing the islands. However, residents were shocked when the staff recommendation came forward to leave the street as is, noting there was “insufficient community support.”

The main issue was that despite the majority of survey respondents voting in favour of the removal, the city’s policy guide notes that 60 per cent of those who were given surveys needed to respond in order for the city to recommend action. In this case, despite the strong number of people in favour of the removal, only 63 of the 142 surveys sent out were completed, a response rate of 44 per cent.

The report caused several residents to cry foul over the city’s process, noting that many people either tossed the survey in the trash, thinking it to be a flyer, or didn’t receive one at all.

Following that, council voted to conduct a second survey in order to gauge public opinion around the concrete obstructions once again. This time around, they got better results with a similar outcome, receiving 98 responses to the 145 surveys sent out, a 68 per cent response rate, with nearly 82 per cent in support of ripping out the islands.

However, not all residents were pleased with the results, during the community services committee on Dec. 7, resident Julie Fagan came forward, labelling the survey discriminatory and invalid.

Fagan called on council to leave the islands in place, but dedicate more traffic calming measures to the street along with a maintenance budget for the islands to keep them in good shape.

“We are a street in crisis, we need your help to make it safe again,” she told councillors.

Despite her concerns, committee voted in favour of staff’s motion, which called for the islands to be removed at a cost of $21,000. Along with that, the city will also be looking to implement other traffic calming measures on the street, including the installation of radar message boards, pavement markings where the islands currently exist, and a request for ongoing, targeted police enforcement. Radar message boards could cost the city approximately $30,000, with funds being taken from the city’s reserve accounts.

The final vote will go to council during its final meeting of 2017 on Dec. 18.