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Downtown Oakville eyes streetscape renewal - People, pedal power

March 11, 2015
BY Edward LaRusic

A new study proposes new initiatives to transform downtown Oakville into a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly environment that could revitalize sluggish retail and business activity in the town’s core.

Yesterday evening, the final report of the Downtown Transportation and Streetscape study was presented to the Oakville planning and development council for approval. The study, prepared by city staff and planning consultant BrookMcIlroy, recommends a redesign of downtown Oakville streets to spark economic vitality and a vibrant public realm.

Local ward 3 councillor Nicholas Hutchins told NRU that the study is not only timely but a good step towards revitalization of the downtown.

“From my perspective, something needs to be done because the downtown area is dying. I’ve lived here for 28 years, and from what I’ve seen, there are more and more stores closing, and there’s not enough people shopping there. We need to encourage people. This is a first step in trying to fix some of the issues.”

The study, if approved, would set a long-term vision for reimagining downtown streets in more people-friendly ways than at present, with funding dependent on the town’s budget.

As a first order of business, council will have to vote on the reconstruction of Lakeshore Road East, described in the study as a major arterial road at the “end of its lifecycle.”

Engineering & Construction Department director Dan Cozzi said that the reconstruction and renewal of Lakeshore Road East is an opportunity that comes around once every 30 to 40 years.

“We’re talking about making it easier for pedestrians. Wider boulevards. A better environment for our street trees to grow. Different, higher-end materials to compliment the character of the downtown. The Lakeshore Road project will help reinvent the downtown, and make it more of a people place than it currently is, but at the same time still addressing the transportation needs downtown,” said Cozzi.

Currently, Lakeshore Road East has five lanes, with two for traffic, two for parking and a centre turning lane often used unofficially for deliveries by commercial vehicles. The study’s preferred option is to remove the centre lane and use the freed-up space to expand the boulevards on both sides of the street. Two lanes of parking would be retained, but the centre lanes which would be shared by bicyclists.

The reconstruction of Lakeshore Road East would take about two years, said Cozzi, at an estimated cost of $9.25 million dollars. The project requires council approval for funding.

Hutchins said that he’d like to explore a different option for Lakeshore Road East to allow for even wider sidewalks than currently proposed. As well, he would like to see one of the parking lanes removed to add room for sidewalks and bike lanes.

“I know a lot of the retailers don’t want to see parking taken off the streets, and I can sympathize with them. But the chances of anyone driving down Lakeshore and finding parking right opposite the store they want to visit is pretty remote. They’re going to be parking on the street somewhere else and walking anyways.”

Hutchins noted that council is also looking to construct a 348-space multi-storey car parking garage on Church Street, adding to the current inventory of parking spaces that could compensate for the loss of parking on Lakeshore Road East.

“We still seem to be building for the automobile and not for people,” he said.

Cozzi said a scenario for two driving lanes and one parking lane was not considered. He said the staff preferred option will be presented to council, which in theory could make other recommendations.

He noted that the multi-storey car parking area could add quite a bit of parking space for the downtown, mitigating the loss of parking as Lakeshore Road East is reconstructed.

However, he noted the proposed garage would cost about $23 million and would delay the reconstruction of Lakeshore by about two years.

As part of the Downtown Transportation and Streetscape study, one-way streets in the area (most of those north of Lakeshore Road East) would become two way in flow. Navy Street and George Street, which connect to Centennial Square and Towne Square respectively, would become curb-less, “flexible” streets that could be closed for town events and festivals. New buffered bike lanes are proposed for Robinson Street and Church Street.

Cozzi said there was no timeline for these streets change. But he anticipates the redesign of Navy Street and George Street as flexible streets as the logical next steps, tying into the town’s Downtown Cultural Hub Study.

The Downtown Transportation and Streetscape Study and the Downtown Cultural Hub Study are two parts of the larger Downtown Plan for Oakville. A master plan for the cultural hub study is expected to be completed in the fall.