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Committee Vote Goes Against Residents Opposed to New Sidewalks

Civic works committee votes against granting sidewalk exemptions on 8 London streets Andrew Lupton , CBC News
Posted: Mar 15, 2021

After four hours of debate, London city council’s civic works committee voted on Monday to follow city policy and install sidewalks on a handful of residential streets despite strong opposition from residents.

So strong was the opposition that a special meeting was held to allow everyone a chance to have their say. More than 30 people appeared at the committee via video conference Monday afternoon to speak against new sidewalks on streets in their neighbourhood.

Residents argued the sidewalks aren’t needed on their quiet streets and that adding them won’t be worth the loss of mature trees.

Lila Kari lives on Doncaster Place, a small cul-de-sac in the Sherwood Forest neighbourhood with fewer than a dozen houses. She said a sidewalk proposed for one side of her street would be a detriment, not an upgrade.

“This would be a short, one-sided, disconnected sidewalk going nowhere to nowhere that would only serve three houses that don’t want it,” she told the committee.

However, this debate is about more than whether or not residents want the new sidewalks. The city has a number of policies that call for sidewalks to be added when streets are dug up for upgrades to sewer and water lines. The Complete Streets manual calls for sidewalks on both sides of the street wherever possible. The London Plan also calls for sidewalks to be added as a way to encourage walking and ensure accessibility and mobility.

London is also working to comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which calls for the entire province to become fully accessible by 2025.

This year, staff produced a list of eight streets slated to get sidewalks when work was performed.

Subdivisions built without sidewalks were common in the post-war period and many Londoners told councillors they prefer their neighbourhoods the way they are.

Anne-Marie Grantham spoke against adding a sidewalk on St. Anthony Road, a quiet residential street that runs between the banks of the Thames River and Riverside Drive.

Against ‘a blanket policy’

Grantham called on councillors to grant an exemption to the sidewalk policy, given that her street is lightly travelled and a sidewalk installed there won’t connect to any others.

“A blanket policy can’t possibly fit in all neighbourhoods,” she said. “There are sound reasons why exemptions are sought and why they should be granted.”

One speaker who argued in favour of adding sidewalks to every London street was Jeff Preston, a wheelchair user and academic who is also an accessibility advocate.

He said the sidewalk debate comes down to granting accessibility to those who’ve been denied it for so long.

“Installing sidewalks does not necessarily prevent people from using the road who prefer it, however not installing sidewalks does force everyone onto the road,” he said. “The enterprise of accessibility is not a one-size-fits all project. It’s really about creating multi-modal spaces for people with a variety of abilities and needs.”

After a few hours hearing opposition from residents, the debate shifted to the five members of the civic works committee. Other councillors joined the discussion as guests, mainly to give voice to sidewalk opponents who live in their wards. Phil Squire spoke in support of residents in Orchard Park and Sherwood Forest while Steve Lehman pointed to what he says are problems with a proposed sidewalk on Tarabart Terrace in Oakridge.

‘Ribbon of concrete’

Coun. Paul VanMeerbergen, who sits on civic works, said the plan to add a “ribbon of concrete” on Bartlett Crescent, a street set to get a sidewalk in his ward, has led to unanimous opposition.

“We’re not listening to the people, we’re just imposing, thinking that this is what’s good for them,” he said. VanMeerbergen voted against adding sidewalks on all the streets on the list. A vote to exempt Bartlett lost 1-4 with VanMeerbergen casting the lone vote in favour, while a vote to exempt the other streets from sidewalk policies fell 2-3 with Coun. Elizabeth Peloza and VanMeerbergen voting in favour.

Coun. Jesse Helmer tweeted during the debate that failing to add sidewalks to older streets “perpetuates exclusion.”

The debate will now move to full council at its March 23 meeting.

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