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Protests continue against street design

At Tuesday’s town council meeting, members awarded the contract to Thomas Cavanagh Construction Limited. It’s still too early in the process to know when the $4.72-million reconstruction will begin.

The process of both Phase One and Phase Two of the revitalization project has been met by a group of protesters who have taken to the corner of Beckwith Street North and Church Street East with signs protesting against council, a move sparked by the design of the street.

The town has been working towards the completion of Beckwith Street for many years, and now the final phase is in the works. Phase Two includes the stretch of Beckwith Street from Russell to Elmlsey Street.

The project starts at Chambers Street and stretches about 600 metres northerly to Elmsley Street, and includes the replacement of the water and sewer system, and construction of a newly separated storm drainage trunk system, as well as construction of two parallel parking lanes, a new pedestrian crossover, and an addition of bicycle lanes, newly upgraded LED street lighting and more of the streetscape, according to the Town of Smiths Falls website.

The protest began a couple of years ago because of the parking design proposed for the first phase of the project, but now the group of protesters continues to feel like their voice on the matter hasn’t been heard.

Council completed many public consultations about the project but voted for the plan that included bike lanes and parallel parking in both designs that the group of protesters opposed.

“The election is coming up in 2022 and we want these things brought to the forefront,” said Todd Hamilton, a member of the weekly protests. Hamilton said the group is going to keep up with the protests until the next election.

He said it’s not just about the parking, but about having their opinions and concerns heard and understood.

“Yes we were here because of the parking design, but it had really little to do with parking but how it was implemented,” he added.

Hamilton said he’s also concerned about bike lanes and cyclists and pedestrian safety, being so close to the street that is busy with large trucks and other vehicles passing through with the addition of parallel parking.

Smiths Falls Mayor Shawn Pankow said the council took a fairly progressive view on the redevelopment of Beckwith Street and tried to anticipate and plan for the current and future needs of the community.

“Pedestrian and cyclist safety was considered to be as or more important than how we parked vehicles,” said Pankow.

“We know that there are a number of people very attached to the previous angled parking configuration but we heard from numerous people who were concerned about how dangerous and difficult it was to back out of angled parking, and we made a design that we believe is safer for cyclists, pedestrians, far more accommodating with mobility needs or challenges and safer for drivers parking on Beckwith Street.”

“They’re not giving the public the credit they’re due; if they’re going to ask us for our opinion, at least take it into account,” said Hamilton.

The group had created a petition and attended many council meetings hoping to express their concerns about the design throughout the years. The group has been protesting now for about four weeks since restrictions surrounding COVID-19 have eased up more.

However, Pankow said council had heard to their concerns through public consultation but assumes the frustration comes from the council decision to keep the design of the revitalization with parallel parking and bike lanes being added, instead of sticking with the original layout of the street.

“At this stage we can agree to disagree about what the right design was,” said Pankow.

He explained that he has heard from some residents that they agree with the design now that Phase One is completed. The second phase when completed will look similar to the first phase of the project.

The busy street in the heart of Smiths Falls has undergone Phase One of the revitalization project that was completed in November of last year and covered Chambers Street to Russell Street.
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