An Open Letter to the Mayor and Council

To Mayor Baguley and Members of Council,

Re: Future of Innisfil Beach Road Urbanization Project

I felt very disappointed and frustrated to read that Council voted to delete the centre median design from the Alcona urbanization project in Precinct 2A. I want to warn you that this is a very bad decision that will have serious long-term consequences for the Town of Innisfil.

First of all, what is the basis of this decision? There has been a complaint from one business owner about traffic at the 25th Sideroad concerning vehicle access to Pizzaville and Home Hardware.

  • Does this decision alter any circumstances at the 25th Sideroad? No, it does not.
  • Does it materially change the budget for this project? No. Removing the median  west of St Johns Road reduces the budget by only 4%
  • Does it save money for the Town? No, the same money will expended on “other roads”.
  • Are the complaints about the median valid? In my opinion, no, they are not.

As reported in the local media, the complaints are as follows:

  • The median “has severely cut down traffic on Innisfil Beach Road”. Is this true? What are the traffic counts before and after construction? Until we complete another summer season we will not have data to compare. Since other local changes occurred at the same time as road construction it will be impossible to determine the relative impact of these without a more detailed study.

o     Other factors may account for changes in traffic flow at the 25th Sideroad. The relocation of the LCBO outlet to Trinity Plaza more likely affected traffic volumes at the 25th Sideroad more than the roadway installation. Two more pizza retailers have opened on Innisfil Beach Road west of the 25th Sideroad in competition with existing businesses. It’s quite possible that these two factors have had more effect on any change in road traffic.

  • anyone trying to make a left turn into the Home Hardware Plaza backs up traffic”. Is this a problem? What’s wrong with other cars waiting 10 or 15 seconds for someone to make a turn?  There is a second driveway entrance into Home Hardware at the east end of the building accessible with a centre turn lane. There is no need for drivers to impede traffic flow at Home Hardware.
  • constant road closures for everything from snow clearance to emergency response”. No evidence has been presented to justify this claim. I have not read about any emergency services personnel complaining about the median design. I live in the area and have never seen or heard of the road being closed for either of those reasons.

A centre median design is nothing new, novel, experimental or unproven. There are variations of the centre median in many Ontario towns that function exactly as they were intended without public controversy. They have been installed for the same sound reasons that they were proposed for Innisfil.

Serious long-term implications for Innisfil

This decision was made on the basis of a “value engineering assessment” by Town staff. But much more is at stake than engineering. The most immediate impact of this decision will be to create a schizophrenic streetscape. One half will be a car-friendly, expanse of pavement with faster traffic. The other half will be a more attractive, people-friendly area with slower traffic. Which half of this bipolar streetscape do you think people will prefer?

The streetscape will affect the built environment for years to come. Council will be inviting developers to create multi-storey, mixed use buildings along this confused and inconsistent commercial core. Will developers prefer to build their projects on the people-friendly or car-friendly half? On which half of the commercial district do developers already own property? How will the perceived value of these properties begin to change in the people-friendly and car-friendly portions?

How will developers alter their plans in the higher-speed, car-friendly area? Will the sidewalks be punctuated with driveways every 50 feet? Will the car-friendly portion end up being a sterile, drive-through, drive-by failure? Whatever is built in the years to come will be with us for at least 50 or 60 years. If Council botches this urbanization project it will undermine the creation of a successful urban core for decades to come.

Loss of credibility, loss of public engagement and public trust

The decision to remove the median in Precinct 2A is a big red flag that this Council doesn’t even faintly understand the design objectives that consultants so painstakingly tried to explain to them. The message to architects, developers, planners and entrepreneurs is that this Council “just doesn’t get it”. Private investors with innovative ideas may shy away from Innisfil. The message to residents who so enthusiastically participated in the Inspiring Innisfil 2020 process is that this Council can’t be trusted to follow through on a core project. Public trust and engagement will be severely damaged.

It has disturbing implications for anyone who may be hired to the position of Economic Development Officer. If a fundamental urbanization project that took years to plan and implement can be fundamentally altered in a couple of weeks on the basis of unverified claims from one individual, how can an EDO have any confidence that Council will support him or her?

I urge all members of Council to consider all of these factors carefully and to focus on the long-term goals for the Town as a whole. Altering the design of the IBR urbanization project at this late juncture is not in the best interests of the Town, its residents or businesses. I respectfully urge you to support completion of the roadway project as originally intended.

Thank you,

Mike Richard