north shore trail 1

Town image.

Hub Staff

Six kilometres of paved trail connecting Port Elgin to Southampton, known as the North Shore Trail, has become a heavily journeyed pathway by cyclists, rollerbladers and pedestrians. Both residents and visitors have been enjoying the trail for a decade now and many recognized sporting events and fundraisers such as the Gran Fondo Lake Huron and the Rotary Huron Shore Run make use of its scenic vistas.

Higher water levels in 2019 have taken bites out of this beloved trail causing the Town to barricade hazardous portions. A steady increase in trail use and higher vehicle traffic since the trail's early days has Staff and Council concerned about the safety of trail users who continue to travel the North Shore Trail.

Staff reached out to residents along the North Shore Road, from McVicar Street in Port Elgin to South Street in Southampton, and conducted a public survey that garnered over 1,500 responses. Survey results as well as written emails and letters were used by Staff to develop a temporary solution for the summer of 2020 before repairs are set to begin in the fall. Director of Community Services Jayne Jagelewski presented a recommendation to Council at their online Committee of Whole meeting June 22.

Jagelewski proposed conversion to a one-way road from McVicar Street to Hilly Lane in Port Elgin to allow trail users to share a portion of the road. North from Hilly Lane to Concession 10 would remain a two-way road but restricted to local traffic. Staff also recommended a speed limit reduction from 40 km/h to 30 km/h for select portions of North Shore Road and Miramichi Bay Road.

Comments from councillors fell on both sides. Councillor Cheryl Grace focused on public safety and Town liability. She referred to a case between an injured cyclist and the County of Bruce, who operates the Bruce Peninsula Mountain Bike Adventure Park, wherein the county was held fully liable for sustained injuries of the cyclist. Grace argued that the recommendation from Staff, if passed, would prove that the Town foresaw potential risk to trail users and appropriately took action to keep users safe.

“I will support this report because I believe this plan will protect public safety and the municipality’s financial interests,” concluded Grace, suggesting suggested an increase in signage and barricades to further assure user safety and municipality responsibility.

Councillor John Rich sought out confirmation from Staff that this would remain a one-time temporary fix and not an ongoing solution. Rich stressed the importance of proper signage in particular for hidden driveways along the road, but remained in favour of the report.

Councillor Dave Myette expressed his disapproval toward the recommendation and stated that "the North Shore Road and that byway was a road first and it should remain a road."

Myette indicated that the majority of the survey respondents as well as every resident along the impacted route that he spoke to were against the proposed solution and made the claim that drivers on North Shore Road are already accustomed to seeing cyclists and handle it with courtesy as they would on any municipal road. Myette preferred enforcing speed calming measures as opposed to inconveniencing the residents on the North Shore Road.

Councillor Kristan Shrider echoed Myette's concerns in regard to the number of negative responses, both from the survey and from feedback she received, and while she acknowledged the liability issues raised by Grace, Shrider said all municipally owned roads, sidewalks, parks and playgrounds come with a liability to the Town.

“I think this would be a safe alternative, I’m just not sure it’s the best alternative," said Shrider. “I would have liked to have seen one or two other options to consider,” she said.

Deputy Mayor Don Matheson suggested there was an increase in cycling in the area due to COVID-19. As a result, he informed of other cities that were reducing roadways to add more bicycle lanes. "It’s because people are staying home and they’re more active," he said. "They’re getting out, you can’t do much, but you can get out, walk and ride your bicycle,” said Matheson.

Although Matheson agreed there are many other great trails in Saugeen Shores, the vista along North Shore Road will continue to draw residents and visitors. Matheson claimed that an extra five minutes for motorists for two months is a minimal price to pay to keep the trail safely open to thousands of cyclists and pedestrians that use it each year. “This is a viable solution for the next two months,” concluded Matheson.

Councillor Jami Smith also expressed her concern for only having a single option on the table and found the survey results unsupportive. She also reported the need to further enforce users to respect the barricaded areas and inquired whether the Town could do more.

Saugeen Shores Mayor Luke Charbonneau responded. "I would say, Councillor, that it is within our authority to enforce a closure of that trail and we have by-law enforcement and police who can do that and probably ought to," he said.

Councillor Matt Carr also disclosed doubts that this will be as short-term as described and conveyed apprehension regarding the larger construction trucks working in the new subdivisions in the area as well as the large boats that use North Shore Road to travel to and from the Port Elgin Harbour. Carr requested more details on the plan for trail repair before he was able to support the proposed solution.

“Do we have a timeline when we’re going to start repairs on this, do we know how long it’s going to be to repair this, are we going to be closing the road while we’re doing repairs,” asked Carr.

Director of Infrastructure and Development Amanda Froese explained that she is actively meeting with both the Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority and a consultant who worked on a similar road repair in Kincardine to develop a design for the needed repairs. “It is not going to be a cheap project to get these trails back up," said Froese, adding it's not tens of thousands of dollars but millions for a long term fix.

"So I want to do it once and do it right," she said. The Director noted the distinct differences in lake levels and wave action since the original road design, which merit a professional consultation for the redesign. She predicted summer construction in 2021 that could incur road closures, construction lights or other options. Froese also confirmed that the by-law can be written such to guarantee the two-way road be re-opened on September 7, 2020 as stated in the recommendation to defuse any lingering doubts about the short-term fix.

Mayor Charbonneau confirmed that the summer 2021 construction timeline would be contingent on Council approving the budget to fund the project. Before the recorded vote, Charbonneau offered his own comments on the recommendation. “I think it is optimistic to say that the North Shore Trail will be up and running next summer and for that reason we need a more permanent solution than this,” declared Charbonneau, adding that a solution until September 7 doesn't cut it.

"We need something that’s going to be permanent because this could go on for a while," said Charbonneau, who reminded Council of the Lamont Sport Park, a new recreation centre and numerous more critical infrastructure projects that will all be competing for funding in the upcoming budget.

“There’s no guarantee that this gets through Council for 2021 and there is every likelihood that we are going to have to have a more long-term solution on the North Shore Road,” cautioned Charbonneau. "We need a share-the-road solution that is going to last until we get it fixed."

A recorded vote conducted by the Clerk produced a 3 to 6 vote in favour of the one-way short-term solution. As a result the recommendation was defeated.