This article was originally published in the Image newspaper.
The surprise opening of the intersection at Beausoleil Dr & Chapel St to car traffic this December ignited a powerful social media debate as locals went online to express shock at the unannounced change when no notice was given to residents nor was there any mention on the Councillor’s website or December progress report.
The news came to local blog www.sandyhillseen.com (SHS) via an email from for a local resident and its editor immediately contacted Councillor Fleury via Twitter to verify facts and start a dialogue with Ottawa’s social media community. A spontaneous flurry of Facebook messages, tweets and emails alerted residents focusing concern, and pressuring the Councillor to find a solution.
Councillor Fleury told sandyhillseen that the change was necessary to acquire a stop sign at Beausoleil where it meets Chapel. The stop sign had been requested by parents to ensure safety on the popular pedestrian route – which had seen near misses and collisions with students – to De La Salle, York St. & Ste-Anne schools.
The Councillor’s office repeatedly stated that, under the Highway Traffic Act (HTA), car traffic at that intersection was necessary for a stop sign, as mid-block signs are not allowed. On Dec 18th Fleury tweeted “currently there’s no way aside from full light signal, expensive & can’t implement now”.
The notion of increasing car traffic, through the creation of a new intersection, to increase pedestrian safety provoked incredulity online. The Councillor’s tweets did little to quell the growing online unease that an important issue that languished for years now had such an “urgent solution” imposed.
Tweets and emails shared dismay at the lack of communication, and the jarring notion of increasing car traffic to protect pedestrians. Without challenging the safe crossing, questions quickly arose as to whether due diligence had been done in exploring solutions.
As passions and online debate grew, the Councillor’s office proposed a next-day December 20 meeting at the intersection, with a City planner in attendance. A small clutch of Sandy Hillers gathered at 8AM in a snowstorm to propose alternative solutions that would legally and inexpensively secure the stop sign without increasing traffic.
This list included: a crossing-guard; proper traffic signals; re-implementing the closure at the opposite end of the block – as done during the summer construction, and instaling a mid-block barrier and making Chapel/Beausoleil a bike-only intersection.
While acknowledging the legality of a bike-only intersection, the offical from City Planning disparaged it, arguing that motorized vehicles ignore stop signs erected for pedestrians and cyclists. “Cars won’t stop for intersections without cars.”
It is inconceivable that a City official would consider bowing to illegal drivers running a stop sign, when the appropriate action is enforcement. The transformational power of pedestrians and cyclists in reinvigorating neighbourhoods is being embraced worldwide and it is unconscionable to discourage forward-thinking visionary approaches for urban improvement.
The lack of firm commitment following the on-site gathering meant the community felt it necessary to stay involved to ensure a green, inclusive approach. Twitter, blogs and emails kept the discussions alive and Sandy Hill joined forces with Lowertown to encourage an inclusive decision. More blog postings articles and an invitation from the Lowertown Community Association’s (LCA) for the wider area to attend their association meeting on January 13th all featured on www.sandyhillseen.com.
On January 14th, a month after the initial Tweet, an email released from Councillor Fleury’s office stated: “staff will convert the opening of Chapel Street at Beausoleil Drive into a “cyclist access only” intersection, as proposed by community members. “ Letter from Cllr Fleury’s office
It is unfortunate the community needed to challenge a fait-accompli and provide legal and cost-effective alternatives to the City professionals that should lay-out viable options. However the outcome heralds the power of social media, of active, joined-up communities and City reps willing to listen to shape the best, most vibrant neighbourhood.