Smiths Falls town councillors will make a final decision on the design for the redevelopment of Beckwith Street at a special meeting on Monday, Feb. 26.
Council was presented with the engineers’ final recommendation for the design – which would see parking on the street move from angle to parallel parking – at a meeting Monday, Feb. 20. However, with one council member, Joe Gallipeau, absent, members decided to defer their discussion and final vote on the design for one more week to ensure full attendance.
In a presentation by company vice-president Ron Clarke, the engineering firm Parsons outlined the process of its study leading to two options for the redevelopment of six blocks of Beckwith Street between Elmsley and Chambers Streets. Option One would retain the existing angle parking, with some modifications and improvements. Option Two, which Parsons is recommending, would replace the angle parking with parallel parking, and allow space to introduce wider sidewalks and bicycle lanes.
Features common to both designs include raised intersections at Russell and Main Streets to reduce traffic speed, and a new landscaped “gateway” with new signage to welcome visitors coming into the downtown from the north.
The study was triggered by the need to replace the aging infrastructure, including water and sewer mains, beneath the roadway in Smiths Falls’ downtown. Also important, said Clarke, is the design of the street above the surface, “which is the visible part of the investment.”
Clarke said Parsons’ goal was to develop “a plan aimed to support principles of sustainability, pedestrian friendliness, heritage preservation, and the creation of vibrant outdoor public spaces.” In developing its plans, the company has coordinated a series of consultation activities including two public open houses, the most recent and last took place on Feb. 7.
The street currently consists of two travel lanes, one turn lane, angle parking and sidewalks. The street’s unusual width allows the opportunity to create what Clarke called “a complete street.”
His recommended design retains two travel lanes and a turn lane while adding two lanes of parallel parking and using the extra space created by eliminating angle parking to add cycle lanes next to the sidewalk, separated from the parking lanes by buffer zones. Introducing parallel parking would still allow for 101 parking spaces along the length of Beckwith Street. With the current angle parking arrangements, the street offers 120 spaces. There are about 640 spaces in all of downtown Smiths Falls.
Historic photos taken downtown appear to show that angle parking did not become standard in Smiths Falls until the 1950s. Earlier postcard photos show cars parked in the middle of the street, or parallel to curbs.
Although the existing angle parking makes the street unsafe for cycling, said Clarke, cycling lanes would help Smiths Falls benefit from the current increase in cycling tourism in Ontario, and would connect the downtown with local and regional trail networks. The lanes would also create access to businesses for cyclists.
If council chooses to keep angle parking, the consultants are recommending that the angle of the parking spaces be reduced to 40 degrees from about 60 degrees, to create improved sightlines and safety for drivers.
Smiths Falls Director of Public Works and Utilities Troy Dunlop advised councillors that construction of the project, once council makes its final choice of design, will be unable to commence until the spring of 2019.
Staff’s goal is to issue the tender for construction by February of 2019. The plan will require approval from the provincial ministries of transportation and environment, a process which will take five or six months, said Dunlop.
The town has submitted two applications for provincial funding for the project, which will cost up to $4.5 million for each phase, based on the cost of similar projects in Arnprior and Napanee. Dunlop stated that the town will work collaboratively with downtown businesses during construction, as was done in Perth during the reconstruction of Wilson Street.