Most anyone agrees the Sault’s downtown, specifically Queen Street, should be more of a destination point than a mere through corridor. What is far less unanimous, however, is what the exact plan should entail to make it happen.
Last night’s City Council meeting featured a 68-minute discussion on the pros and cons of a major city staff proposal designed to update Queen St. E from Pim St to Gore St., with the aim of making the downtown area a cultural, retail and entertainment hub with a neighbourhood feel.
Discussion points were varied – the $18 million price tag chief among them – but there was no
vote on whether to accept the proposal in principle and further talk on the project was deferred.
Council instead approved a motion tabled by Ward 3 Councillor Angela Caputo calling for consultation of Downtown Association (DTA) merchants on possibly extending their business hours. The motion was seconded by Ward 1 Councillor Sandra Hollingsworth. Council expects to have results of a survey of merchants in hand when it meets July 31.
Caputo, receptive to the upgrade in general, has some reservations.
“I think we need to go forward, but I want us to get this right,” she told council. The proposal from City Planning and Engineering, would see lanes reduced in size to 3.3 metres from the current 3.5, and would include new street lighting. The speed limit would be 30 km/hr. The $18 million project, which would be phased in over three years ( $6 million annually) would see Queen Street resurfaced, with two west-bound lanes for motor vehicle traffic.
The plan includes, asphalt, curbs, boulevards, sidewalk surfaces, trees and street furniture., to enhance accessibility, particularly along sidewalk surfaces and at intersections.
Queen Street’s last resurfacing was in 1979, and included new boulevards, curbs and sidewalks. Trees, which line the downtown’s main street, were planted shortly after. Caputo asked City Planning Director Peter Tonazzo, “What is the ultimate vision that we’re trying to achieve for Queen Street, with this remodel?”
Tonazzo said from the outset, part of the vision was to give business owners greater opportunities to use sidewalk space in front of them. Accessibility and mobile concerns also figure prominently, he added.
“Really, it’s to make the downtown and this (Queen Street) being the main street of the downtown, a top cultural, retail and entertainment hub of the community,” Tonazzo continued.
“And at the same time, making it a complete neighborhood. A place where people can live, work and play.”
Caputo said she loves the idea of making Queen Street a destination hub but “unfortunately, our downtown does seem to close pretty early. If we’re going to have this destination and spend this money, have we discussed with the merchants…about them investing their time into our downtown?”
Tonazzo said that issue issue had not been raised with merchants specifically.
Bill Grawbarger, representing the Sault Trails Advisory Committee (STAC) said the current proposal is “car centric” and asked that council consider “a more progressive approach.” This would include one lane for motor vehicle traffic, separated bike lanes, two-way bike lanes and mid-block crosswalks, making Queen Street more accessible to citizens and cyclists.
“This could be a chance for our city to be a leader and a model,” said Grawbarger, adding some cities in Europe have already adopted measures in their downtowns that provide greater accessibility for active transport.
Grawbarger said STAC would like to see the city conduct a pilot project of the one lane concept and would be open to discussions with City Engineering and the Downtown Association and its merchants.
City Engineering Director Carl Rumiel said with about 7,000 vehicles using Queen Street daily, one lane could work, but snow removal, deliveries and access for emergency services raise a number of concerns.
Ward 4 Councillor Marchy Bruni said the total project cost is too high. Bruni said he’d support a resurfacing of Queen Street but any additional spending would be best spent on other roads.
Sault Mayor Matthew Shoemaker said the downtown core has a fair bit of commercial space and that is reflected in the hours existing businesses operate. Shoemaker cited a lack of people living downtown as a mitigating factor. “There’s not that full 24-hour a day presence of people that you would have if there was housing development.”
The cost is also a concern.
“I’m worried about the price tag,” said Shoemaker. “I’d be a lot less worried if funding was available,” adding successful applications to the senior levels of government are a possibility.
Shoemaker was asked about the Downtown Association survey and its results which are due in time for council’s next meeting at the end of the month.
“We’ve received their feedback in terms of how the streetscape should look. We haven’t, to be fair to them, asked the question of can we use this opportunity to see if they’ll stay open later and that’s what we’re going back to, just on that one specific question.”