Destination Reeves Street project sparks debate

PORT HAWKESBURY: A planned redesign of Port Hawkesbury’s main thoroughfare has been generating a lot of discussion.

Members of the Port Hawkesbury Volunteer Fire Department attended the Town of Port Hawkesbury’s monthly council meeting last week to hear an update on the Destination Reeves Street project and present their concerns on the proposed changes.

Greg Zwicker, a senior planner with WSP Canada Inc., has been working with the town and the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (DTIR) on designing the streetscape portion of the project. At last week’s council meeting, he presented an overview of some possible new designs.

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“One of the issues here with Port Hawkesbury is that we’ve got essentially a rural highway coming right into town and then straight into an urban environment with driveways, traffic lights, businesses, schools, and restaurants,” said Zwicker.

Zwicker said the proposal to reduce four lanes of traffic to three with the centre lane serving as an alternating left turn lane will slow down traffic and increase visibility for drivers.

“People can see vehicles coming at them and they have time to take their turn. They’re not crossing two lanes of traffic, they’re crossing one,” said Zwicker.

He also proposed reducing the number of driveways turning onto the street and presented options for adding an active transportation lane. Zwicker said that similar changes have been made to streets in communities across the country such as Toronto’s Bloor Street, and have led to fewer accidents and increased bicycle and foot traffic. He proposed that some of the changes could be implemented on a pilot basis and the results would be monitored by the DTIR.

Port Hawkesbury fire chief Curtis Doucet presented his concerns on planned changes to Reeves Street.

Port Hawkesbury fire chief Curtis Doucet questioned whether the changes will make Reeves Street safer.

“We feel that if there is an incident on Reeves Street, because of the reduction of lanes, it will make it harder for us to respond to the hall to get our vehicles so we can respond to the emergency itself,” he said.

He also expressed concern that the new lane configuration will hinder fire trucks travelling to an emergency scene.

“We’ve heard the statement that we should have access to the centre lane, but according to the Motor Vehicle Act, we as a fire department still have to follow the regulations of the road,” he said. “Even though most people probably would give us the right-of-way, it’s that one time someone doesn’t, we’re in the wrong.”

Doucet said first responders may be forced to shut down the entire street in order to safely clean up after an accident due to the reduction of lanes. He argued that measures such as creating a bypass for heavy commercial vehicles and increasing the police presence on Reeves Street could help improve safety without sacrificing response times.

Following the meeting several members of the public addressed council with questions and concerns. Some questioned the lack of studies on similar projects in other rural communities with heavy industrial traffic. Councillors were also asked if they had considered the use of cameras and electronic speed indicators to help enforce traffic rules.

Chief Administrative Officer Terry Doyle responded that the town has submitted a request to the DTIR to install this type of equipment, but said current legislation does not allow the use of cameras to ticket motorists.

To address the issues raised at the meeting, Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton hopes to establish a special committee with emergency personnel including the fire department, RCMP and EHS, as well as the DTIR and the project design team.

“Of course we want to hear from as many people as we can. Sometimes the comments are positive and sometimes they are based on a concern because maybe they don’t have enough information,” said Chisholm-Beaton. “I think the key to moving forward is just trying to be as open and share as much information as we can and give people an opportunity to weigh in and learn more.”