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Process for quashing Wyandotte Street ‘road diet’ called into question by councillor

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A long-discussed road diet, narrowing a four-lane stretch of Wyandotte Street down to two, has been in the works for years — but a budget night decision to move in a different direction has at least one member of Windsor city council calling the process of not moving forward with the project into question.

“In literally the blink of an eye with no information and no consultation or notice, we decided to dramatically reverse the course or change the course on a project that the community had been intimately involved with from the beginning,” said Ward 9 Coun. Kieran McKenzie.

At the tailend of the Jan. 29 budget meeting, an amendment was put on the floor that would reallocate funding destined for the road diet project and, instead, invest it in a few crosswalks to alleviate concerns from nearby residents and allow for safer crossing of the busy street.

“Council made a decision at budget time that allocated money to this project and effectively said 'We're not going to move forward with the road diet. We're going to move forward with traffic calming measures' which basically were crosswalks at strategic locations along Wyandotte Street,” said Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens.

Dilkens said the change of direction and budget reallocation was, in part, due to personnel changes in the city’s administration. Windsor's top engineer and a traffic planner who have been working on the file are no longer employed by the city.

“(The new staff) looked at this and sober second-thought, they said, 'Oh my gosh, this is going to cause traffic chaos along Wyandotte Street If we move forward with that road diet,'” said Dilkens, noting “at peak times, the chaos will be extreme.”

At Monday’s regular council meeting, McKenzie asked a council question and went on the offensive, questioning the process and calling for answers from administration.

“To me, that's the wrong way to make decisions. We've been doing this too frequently in my view, this term of council,” said McKenzie, pointing to other instances where decisions were made which in his view, did not follow regular protocol.

The budget night news also came as a big surprise to the cycling community, including Bike Windsor Essex executive director Lori Newton who called the move "shocking."

“We had no idea that that was going to be on the agenda and I was truly shocked," she said.

Newton said she and others have been advocating for improved bike infrastructure along Wyandotte Street East for at least five years and seriously thought the road diet had a shot.

“It's important that we don't forget the democratic process in this,” she said. “We are really looking forward to seeing that report and pushing for council to agree, just to a pilot, to see how it goes from there.“

McKenzie added that he's worried because it was a budget decision, in a process under new provincial Strong Mayor legislation, there’s no going back.

“If you want to cancel or kill a project, it should be done in the light of day, not at the end of a budget meeting with no information, no report and no notice,” McKenzie said.

Despite all this, Dilkens said, it’s not necessarily dead. A report on the road diet is still due to come back to council in the coming months.

“If council, in the future, gets other information that causes them to make a different decision, it's always within their purview to pivot and make a different decision,” Dilkens said.

An exact date for when that report will be presented to council is not yet known.

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