Step forward

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A step toward sidewalks in Blue Acres has been taken.

The Municipality of Pictou County passed a motion during its Property Services meeting on March 15 to issue a Request for Proposals regarding the design of sidewalks in Blue Acres.

Andy Thompson, councillor for District 11 that includes Blue Acres, says he’s happy that first step is being taken on an issue he’s been trying to work on for his entire time on council.

“This is an issue I’ve heard about (from residents) for years and I’ve seen the problem every day myself,” said Thompson.

“People want to stay active and we live right next to an urban centre, but there’s no safe way to walk there. It cuts our community off.”

Thompson says it’s the municipality’s responsibility to put sidewalks in, not someone else’s. “That’s on us. We can’t ask somebody else to take this on.”

Adding sidewalks to Blue Acres won’t be an easy task. It’s a high traffic area, with multiple ramps to access the 100-series highway. Because of this, Thompson says it’s not an easy problem to solve, and it will take the cooperation of the province’s Department of Transportation and Active Transportation.

“I want to caution people that things don’t happen overnight,” the councillor said, adding a process needs to be followed and that could take some time.

“But I’m looking forward to what that design looks like, and if there are cost-sharing opportunities available.”

During the meeting, Warden Robert Parker said the issue had been looked at by council over the years, and discussions with the transportation department deemed the area unsafe for pedestrians. The warden said it was estimated to cost more than $700,000 for sidewalks and additional infrastructure.

Thompson says a design was never done, so the cost was never truly estimated.

“Let’s figure out the true cost of that. Let’s get the design of it. Nobody has ever taken it to that level,” he said.

Over the years, discussions have included adding a pedestrian bridge over MacLellans Brook, as well as islands to address the intersections.

“Nobody has ever put that design on paper. We’ve never been shown what that could look like. Even if we had a design for a bridge, we could take that somewhere and ask how much it would cost. We could take that out to tender; we could take that to the federal government,” said Thompson.

Without knowing the true cost of the project, the councillor says funding from other levels of government can’t be secured.

“Let’s see if we can lessen that burden,” he said.

Having the issue brought to the Property Services meeting came about after Brittany Currie sent letters to those on council. She’s been strongly advocating on the issue and is excited to see some progress is being made.

“Unfortunately I didn’t hear back from the majority of councillors, which is a little disappointing,” said Currie.

Her letter struck a chord, however, with Deborah Wadden, councillor for District 2, who brought the issue to the table.

“We have great sidewalks in the county, in the towns, but this is No Man’s Land. It is an accessibility issue,” said Currie, who said it may also be a human rights issue.

Currie says the road is the busiest road in Pictou County, so it makes no sense for pedestrians to not have access to sidewalks. She calls it a “liability” issue to not provide sidewalks.

Currie watched the Property Services meeting virtually and was dismayed by some of the negativity shared by councillors.

“We live in a world of 2021. Here there are people struggling. The towns are able to provide sidewalks. The Town of Truro worked with the Municipality of Colchester to put in a beautiful accessible sidewalk through the roundabout on Robie Street that has three accessibility points. I have a hard time understanding why this is an issue.”

She says it’s “very unfortunate” when you marginalize people, which is what’s happening to residents in the area.

Seeing council pass the motion for the Request for Proposals on the design made Currie happy, so much so that she was “dancing”.

“I’m so happy for Andy Thompson,” she said, acknowledging the work he’s been trying to do for the issue.

“People shouldn’t have to work this hard for access to sidewalks. People are going to get hurt here, people have gotten hurt here.”

Curtis MacKinnon, the staff sergeant for the RCMP detachment in Bible Hill, says his operations sergeant was not able to find any records of collisions at the roundabout in Truro involving pedestrians.

Brittany Currie stands with her daughter’s wheelchair in the Blue Acres area, where there are no sidewalks. Municipality of Pictou County will issue a Request for Proposals regarding the design of sidewalks in that area. (Brimicombe photo)