Fear and Loathing along the River Heights 'Highway'
Frustration continues to build in River Heights communities over the volume of vehicles being pumped through their neighbourhoods and they're getting weary of waiting for traffic calming measures. Last weekend, town council approved contributing $150,000 towards the installation of $500,000 traffic signals at the intersection of River Heights Dr. and Rivercrest Dr. where at some unspecified point in the future it's anticipated a new school will be built. The town is contributing $150,000 out of reserves to partner with Slokker and Qualico, developers of Rivercrest. Normally, signal lights would be 100 per cent covered by developers but the town missed the boat in applying some of the cost to the developers of Willows on the other side of the street. For a year and a half, Riversong resident and unofficial spokesperson Dana Fenech has been lobbying the town to take safety measures for pedestrians. There's been a substantial increase in population since; more motorists, more people, and development in Precedence has since fully blossomed. Fenech greets the traffic signals at the River Heights/Rivercrest intersection with mixed feelings. She says that the east end of the street, where there's a heavy concentration of development is clearly a higher priority. "Lots of things that need to be addressed right now and could be addressed right now, but they're still not, so do we need a traffic light on River Heights Dr.? We need numerous things, and I think the solar-powered lights for kids and pedestrians to cross safely at the east end is a lot more of a priority than a traffic light a year from now." She questions why so much emphasis has been placed on the east end of the major corridor. Already, a solar-powered crosswalk has been installed by a 7-Eleven, 11 River Heights Dr. Construction of the future school referenced has not even been funded by the province at this point. Even if it was approved today for design and construction, you're looking at something that will occur a minimum of three years down the road. "There's only one small complex across the street from 7-Eleven. It doesn't have a large number of foot traffic crossing that street, if ever. "Why do you have so many solar-powered lights at Rivercrest but you have nothing. down at this end where it's the most dangerous?" Drew Hyndman, town executive director of Development and Infrastructure Service, told town council last week that several traffic calming measures are required for River Heights Dr. but validated the need for the traffic signals project, calling it a critical intersection. "There's a huge community here," said Hyndman. "Their only opportunity to cross the road safely right now is they have to go down to the other end, or there's jaywalking that occurs along this roadway, so I think this provides dedicated safe means to cross this intersection. We have kids who are going to be in this community, who have friends in this community, and they're going to be without their parents to get into other areas of the community. From a connectivity perspective, I think there are arguments for this as well." He said a solar-powered crosswalk is expected to be installed by the developer of a multi-family developer on the east end of the street in 2024. Like others, she is tired of the same old answers of how the crosswalk on the east end had to wait for more development to occur when it's happening so rapidly at Rivercrest. She's been told, "Well, you can't have solar-powered lights there yet because it's not busy enough, is what they deemed. We need more development. Well, that's interesting, because at Rivercrest you put solar-powered lights over at 7-Eleven with no foot traffic and for only a promise of the school years away from being developed. So the argument for one doesn't apply to the other." Hyndman says a solar-powered crosswalk is expected to be installed by the developer of a multi-family developer on the east end of the street in 2024. She says they can't wait any longer for developers to fulfill their commitments. "We don't have a year from now. Everything is a year from now or three years from now. and, yet, we keep seeing it happening now at Rivercrest, where coincidentally, Mike Derricott (town CAO) lives. Everything's always in the future, and we can't have it now, because it's in the future." An armadillo device collected data on traffic behaviour and confirmed what residents have been saying about the volume of traffic. Activated in late September, it indicated 96,000 vehicles travelled the key corridor over 16 days. That amounts to about 6,000 vehicle trips a day, travelling an average of 48 to 52 kph. It's particularly busy at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. "So if you take that 96,000 over a month, you've got 192,000 cars a month coming down River Heights Drive, which is just over 2.3 million cars a year, yet they continue to develop, and the only solution is for the James Walker Trail expansion. She says residents are starting to use the word highway instead of drive. "This neighborhood is in trouble, and we've been in trouble for quite some time, and nobody's listening. These measures are the equivalent of putting a band-aid on the Hoover Dam. Everyone knows what the solution is. They need to execute the solution. We absolutely need traffic calming measures on this road regardless of when, and long after, James Walker Trail is completed. They need to pay attention to this entire road, not just in one area of Rivercrest." The completion of the James Walker Trail was delayed because Southbow Landing didn't come on stream as quickly as anticipated. Southbow Landing good news for Cochrane motorists Now that Qualico has taken on the major development, the extension of James Walker Trail to Hwy. 22 will begin. At what pace should become clearer in 2024. Yet, just how much that will ease traffic along River Heights Dr. is questionable. Housing developments are far from being completed on the east end. There's also a major expansion of the Bow Valley High School expected to begin in the spring and at some point in the future a new school will be developed in Rivercrest. It all created traffic flow. Fenech believes River Heights Drive wasn't designed to accommodate the amount of traffic it will continue to see. She says residents have started to refer to it as a highway. Adding to the complexity of the issue was the approval of homes fronting onto a major collector, an issue raised by Town Councillor Morgan Nagel. He wants to see a change in the town's planning policies to prevent this was occurring again. Although the decision occurred before he joined town staff, Hyndman says it is creating some of the issues but did not directly address the question. "The people that I have spoken to and I certainly appreciate their feedback, they've expressed concerns on safety and this isn't an area where you see a lot of pedestrians necessarily, and I think there's a reason for it." While seeing value in the traffic signals, Councillor Marni Fedeyko says residents have told her this isn't their top priority. She says there has been a push for a pedestrian crossing at Riveria and Precedence. "I would like to see the pedestrian crossing put in first because I think that is a must-need right now. I don't believe that having lights at a non-functional school site area is my top priority. I would like to see them in reverse order." Fenech says a test of town council's commitment to addressing the traffic issue will come at a public hearing early in the New Year on a proposed land-use amendment in Southbow Landing by Qualico. The developer is seeking to change approximately 27.48 acres of land from Urban Holdings District (U-H) to Residential High-Density District. She says if they want to land rezoned, the town must insist James Walker Trail be completed before construction begins on the high-density housing. "We're at a critical stage here," she says. "We are at maximum capacity. We can't handle anything else without further infrastructure. So this is the town's one and only opportunity to tell the developer if you want this, this is the requirement. It's going to be very interesting to see if council going to vote yay or nay and say what the stipulations are, or are they going to roll over and simply say yeah, you can rezone this, we don't care." 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