Repairing and developing main streets may be a focus for the Muskoka District in the future.
Muskoka District Chair Jeff Lehman presented a proposal at the Engineering and Public Works Committee for encouraging the development of main street infrastructure. This refers to developing and investing in roads, sidewalks, crosswalks and road shoulders in key areas.
The Lehman proposal would be a shift in the district’s involvement in transportation development in municipalities. Lehman stated that this proposal is responding to the increasing importance of main streets within communities.
“We’ve seen this in communities across the country where main streets became more of a thing,” Lehman said.
Lehman highlighted how the Coronavirus pandemic changed how individuals and businesses used public spaces. According to Lehman, people and businesses recognize the importance and need for quality public spaces. This includes accessible main streets which allow for public activities and events.
“What’s core to the Muskoka experiences is great local communities with tremendous independent local businesses,” Lehman said.
The first element of the proposal is rethinking the role of the district in transportation throughout Muskoka. This entails coordinating capital projects, working in collaboration with municipalities. The second element is focusing on projects that can assist economic development within communities. This would entail dialogue with municipalities, businesses, business organizations and tourism organizations to address needs and opportunities for capital projects. The third element of Lehman’s proposal was the development of main streets to strengthen community and common identity in Muskoka. This could include the development of trails, expanding road shoulders, sidewalk repair and expansion. According to Lehman all of these would allow for safer movement of people.
“That has its own intrinsic safety benefit, health benefit and economic development benefit. Places that people can walk around are more prosperous,” Lehman said.
The proposal is at a preliminary stage aimed at determining support amongst councillors and to determine its feasibility. Many members of the committee expressed support for the new focus on transportation development.
One councillor who expressed support for the proposal was Peter Kelley. He highlighted that before determining what can be done to improve main streets within Muskoka it is important to address what problems they currently face. Kelley highlighted how in Bala and Port Carling there are 11 missing segments of sidewalks which make it more difficult for people to walk in those communities.
“We have some serious deficiencies in our ability to move around both in Bala and in Port Carling,” Kelley said.
Kelley went on to say that these deficiencies create dangerous situations for pedestrians.
“My humble opinion is only by the grace of God that we haven’t lost somebody to a truck or a car in the middle of the summer because darting across the road is a challenge,” Kelley said.
He stated that sidewalk repairs, adding crosswalks and investments in existing infrastructure were the best areas to begin developing this program.
The committee voted to support the proposal which will now be examined by staff for feasibility and practicality and will be revisited at a later date.
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