A majority of councillors set aside dire warnings from experts in what they deem is the pursuit of safety.
Midland council voted 5-3 during its regular meeting Thursday to erect a four-way stop at the contentious corner of Bay Street and First Street in downtown Midland. The move goes against the guidelines and recommendations of the Ministry of Transportation (MTO).
Following weeks of confusion by drivers where a former two-way stop was altered from north-and-south to east-and-west as part of a traffic calming study, council decided enough was enough after resident complaints and video footage were provided of near incidents.
Coun. Bill Gordon brought the motion to approve a four-way to the meeting.
“Long story short,” Gordon summarized, “is that several months ago council approved changes to that intersection where the stop signs were reversed, going in a different direction than they were before. There arose quite a bit of community concern, it was the subject of a deputation, there was a lot of email and letters -- not just the usual ‘Scott Campbell on behalf of the BIA’, but a lot of people.”
Gordon continued by pointing out two obstructions that could prevent council from making the intersection into a four-way stop: regulation and liability, the two defences which were provided by staff who advised against a four-way stop being implemented.
“Regulatory signs and stop control is well regulated within the province of Ontario,” Andy Campbell, executive director of environment and infrastructure, explained. “There’s two main documents that we use in the engineering analysis: Book 5 from the MTO looks at the warrants that are required for stop signs and signals, and then there’s Book 15 which is pedestrian control.”
“The guidance, suggestions, and best practices within those books are what the courts choose to determine liability when an accident occurs,” he added.
Campbell further explained that as the town is challenged in the courts, those books are essential in gauging whether the town followed the best practices and guidelines laid out in their pages as regulated under the Highway Traffic Act.
Only four accidents had occurred over the previous three years at Bay Street and First Street, according to the executive director, while a four-way stop control is to be considered once perpendicular-collision accidents occur at a rate of four per year.
In addition, Campbell stated that the distance between Bay Street and the parallel Bayshore Drive to the north was 37 metres, well below the 200 metres required for a pedestrian crosswalk to the nearest stop control as listed in Book 15.
“We don’t have the warrants on the collision basis, we don’t meet the warrants on the distance to a next stop sign, and we don’t meet the warrants for the amount of traffic at that intersection,” he told council.
The sole concession which the executive director provided was that the intersection could meet a Level 2 Type D crosswalk, but as a crosswalk with appropriate signage and not a four-way stop.
Many councillors weren’t accepting of those MTO regulations.
Coun. Beth Prost took the time to share her experience driving the intersection in the past month, explaining that during daily outings she had difficulty in navigating while large vehicles were present, often needing to “inch out” while putting herself in a hazardous situation.
“Not this week. I’m not comfortable with it. I haven’t (driven) it this week,” Prost confided.
Coun. Cody Oschefski echoed those sentiments.
“There are times where you find a perfect storm of circumstances that come together, that you just can’t possibly follow the engineer’s recommendations,” Oschefski said, citing the unique layout of the historic intersection and its challenges. “This is one of those times where I don’t think this is one hundred percent pedestrian driven.” Oschefski, who noted that supporting the motion would be the first time he voted against engineering reports since his time on council, saw the motion as erring on the side of safety.
“I’ve seen videos online this week of people blowing through the new stop signs. I think by adding more stop signs, if there is an issue, then people are in that Canadian standoff where people say ‘you go first, no you go first, is it me, is it you’, which is a much better problem” than a potential accident, Oschefski remarked.
Coun. Jonathan Main also supported the four-way stop as a first step to complete street solutions while citing the safe road mobility initiative Vision Zero.
Campbell reaffirmed the potential liability the town would face if a lawsuit were brought against the town and the warrants and measures weren’t properly in place.
Mayor Stewart Strathearn agreed - as did Coun. Jim Downer, a former Mayor of Midland - both noting how liability has bankrupted other municipalities.
Strathearn also mentioned watching the high-definition video, posted on YouTube by Scott Campbell from a bird's-eye view atop his adjacent business Grounded Coffee, which showed four carefully selected intervals during a high-traffic weekend at the start of the month where vehicles and pedestrians at Bay Street and First Street caused chaos throughout the intersection.
“What I noticed more than anything, was that pedestrians on that intersection seemed to have a death wish,” said Strathearn, “because they were blowing the rules out everywhere. There were pedestrian violations -- it wouldn’t matter what you put in there.
“People were behaving like lunatics on that particular weekend.”
Strathearn also related his experience of driving in the intersection over the month, revealing that in his honest mistake he almost caused two incidents, conveying that people are creatures of habit who need time to acclimate to new traffic rules in their vehicles.
“I’m going to request a recorded vote on this, because I firmly believe that if this council puts in the four-way stops,” said Strathearn with a stern tone, “you’re asking for significant liabilities, and it will come back to bite us as Councillor Downer said.”
The recorded vote was five yays from Councillors Gordon, Carole McGinn, Main, Oschefski, and Prost, with three nays by Mayor Strathearn, and Councillors Cher Cunningham and Downer; Deputy Mayor Mike Ross was absent at the meeting.
“I hope it doesn’t come back on us,” said Strathearn at the meeting’s conclusion.
Scott Campbell spoke with MidlandToday immediately following the council meeting.
“We’re super happy,” said Scott Campbell. “We had hoped that this intersection would become safer. There’s seven other businesses around here right now that were all hoping the same thing, and hopefully it gets implemented sooner rather than later.”
As of the this morning, the four-way stop signs had already been installed by town staff.
Council meetings are held on the first and third Wednesdays of each month, and can be viewed on Rogers TV cable channel 53, or through the livestream on the Rogers TV website. Archives of council meetings are available through Rogers TV and on the Town of Midland’s YouTube channel.
Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca