KENTVILLE - The future makeup of Webster Street is a hot topic of conversation these days.
About 200 people turned out for a public meeting the Town of Kentville hosted April 4 regarding the proposed Webster Street Traffic Calming and Beautification Project. The evening session, hosted at the Kentville Fire Hall, included a presentation providing an overview of the project and breakout discussions to gather comments from the public.
If approved by council, the proposed project would see Webster Street and Webster Court altered to allow for the installation of a protected bike lane. The concept has raised some concerns about the potential traffic-related implications of reducing the main section of Webster Street to one lane and eliminating some parking spaces in front of businesses and service providers.
‘More than a bike lane’
Rachel Bedingfield, parks and recreation director for the Town of Kentville, told the crowd that the project grew from a desire to connect the two ends of the rail trail system, and the consultant’s report examining how this could be achieved highlighted opportunities to both create an accommodating cycling facility and take steps to improve the pedestrian experience on Webster Street at the same time.
“When we read this, this is what caused us to pause because all of a sudden, with that information in there, it became something much bigger than a bike lane,” she said.
The proposal aims to prioritize people over vehicles and beautification over parking in hopes of spurring more economic growth and having a positive retail impact, Bedingfield said.
“It (represents) a huge opportunity to impact our community economically.”
The current proposal recommends reducing the bulk of Webster Street proper, from Cornwallis to Aberdeen, to one driving lane.
“It is a one-lane street all the way up until just before Scotiabank, where it turns into a two-lane so that there is an opportunity to have a turning lane at that light there,” said Bedingfield.
Alternate options regarding the addition or removal of parking spaces could be considered if there is a need to make room for loading zones for businesses, she added.
“There’s lots of options for all of these, but we haven’t had a chance to sit down with the business community specifically and talk about these, if people are interested in moving forward on this.”
The consultant’s report prepared by WSP recommended eliminating four parking spaces on the south of side of Webster Street, just east of Aberdeen, but Webster Court would be the hardest hit by the proposed loss of parking spaces.
There is an opportunity to create a new, 36-spot parking lot to service the downtown core off of Justice Way, Bedingfield said.
A destination street
She stressed the beautification work, coupled with the proposed two-way bike lane linking Kentville to larger trail systems within the province, align with a vision to create a destination street.
“It’s more than just a bike lane. We’re talking about adding greenery downtown, we’re talking about bump-outs to calm the traffic and making it more pedestrian friendly. We’re talking about infusing more money into our trees, into our benches – all of these spaces.”
The projected budget for the project is $195,000, with Bicycle Nova Scotia offering to contribute $37,000.
Lindsay Young, community and economic development co-ordinator for the Town of Kentville, urged the public to see the revitalization project as a way to make room for continuous improvements.
“We wish to explore what choices and potential changes we could make that will move downtown Kentville towards becoming more of a gathering place for people, making it a real destination that folks seek out and want to spend time in because it is welcoming, comfortable and because they feel good when they’re here,” she said, adding that the vision is to create a complete street that is accessible for pedestrians of all ages and abilities.
Young said the Town of Kentville has done collected information around what makes for an outstanding downtown and compiled a list of desirable features: narrow streets, traffic calming elements, wide sidewalk, trees, decorative buffer between parking areas and sidewalks, decorative crosswalks and bump-outs and appealing night lighting.
“Complete streets are designed to be comfortable for all people who find themselves downtown, and visitor experience is super important to attract a new business,” she said.
Public weighs in
Following the presentations by Young and Bedingfield, the public was instructed to circulate between four stations to contemplate questions pertaining to Kentville’s downtown and the proposed Webster Street project. The group then reconvened, with the facilitators from each question station providing a brief overview of the comments received.
Town of Kentville employee Jennifer West collected feedback relating to concerns regarding the Webster Street proposal.
“Emergency services was brought up many times. People want to make sure that emergency services can flow easily and quickly,” she said.
A number of the concerns voiced were traffic related, including comments from individuals opposed to the loss of some parking spaces in the commercial district and fearful of traffic congestion occurring if the one-lane design is implemented, West said.
“Loading zones came up a lot. Businesses want to make sure that loading zones are accessible.”
When asked to consider the potential benefits of moving forward with the project, the crowd came up with: added pedestrian safety, cyclist friendly, tourism boost, potential to attract new businesses and residents, beautiful new look, creation of a destination on a larger trail system, a unique feature to put Kentville on the map, and trail connectivity.
Town council is slated to discuss the Webster Street Traffic Calming and Beautification Project at a committee of council meeting April 9.
“We can make it the best place that it can possibly be and encourage people to come here,” said Mayor Sandra Snow, in closing out the meeting.
“This may not be the answer, what you saw tonight, but this is not one of those all or nothing things.”
Merchant, fire chief air concerns
Andrew Zebian, owner of the Phinney’s clothing store on Webster Street, was disappointed the format of the public meeting did not include a direct question-and-answer period that involved the entire group.
He said he’s not happy that a video of Argyle Street in Halifax was shown to give the public a sense of what a complete street project looks like.
“I wanted to stand up and say you can’t compare a watermelon to an apple....but, unfortunately, none of the business community or citizens were allowed to speak,” said Zebian, who stressed that he intends to continue advocating for what he believes is best for businesses and customers.
“I only want the best for downtown Kentville and I don’t want to deter people from coming downtown. Without the clients and customers who patronize our downtown, there would be no downtown.”
Ryan MacEachern, Kentville’s fire chief, hopes council will make time for in-depth conversations with representatives of the fire department moving forward.
“Where Kentville is built with one-way streets in the downtown core, it does concern us very much so to hear that there’s shorter lanes for traffic,” he said.
“What are you going to do with that kind of situation when you have a big aerial ladder trying to get through there to go to a fire?”
Trucks deployed from the front of the station have to make the loop through town to head toward Coldbrook.
“You can’t just swing that aerial around through parking lots to cut through. That’s a big truck,” said MacEachern.
“We already have a congestion problem from time to time. Is it only going to make it worse?”
MacEachern said he’s in favour of projects that would promote the town as a destination, but he’s going to need more information about how the fire department could be accommodated in the event that the proposed changes are eventually implemented.
“I believe there’s always good in projects but you’ve got to make sure you cover the other angles, too.”