SPECIAL TO THE GAZETTE
One of the pleasures and delights in touring this County (especially on my motorbike) are the wonderful surprise views that I get when travelling the backroads and lakeside highways. I’ve often felt that Prince Edward County is more like the Maritimes than any other place in Canada. Take a curve and there is another view of the water or hillside packed with colour and sensory delights! Those familiar with the part of County Rd. 12 that skirts along Lake Ontario within Sandbanks Park and gives way to views of sand beaches will know what I mean.
As someone who has spent a career in urban planning and land development, I can’t resist turning my attention to the potential that Picton has to provide similar visual stimulation, albeit in a different environment. Picton is busy with buildings and people. Think of any pretty and inviting town the same size — Port Hope, Goderich, Coburg. Previous generations took care to protect the streetscapes, to encourage pedestrians, and to maintain a balance between the built and natural landscape. They protected what urban designers like to call “vistas.” Beautiful views are an important form of civic property and common space.
This leads me to the opening that presents itself in the current debate over a roundabout at the Picton Town Hill. Providing a traffic circle instead of signals at the famous intersection offers an unparalleled opportunity to enhance Picton’s vistas — one likely not considered by the traffic engineers.
Imagine driving towards the Town Hill from any of the three directions, but perhaps most especially eastward from the Regent Theatre. Instead of facing the “eyesore,” one-storey office buildings that currently frame the intersection, imagine seeing green space, a public park flowing right over to Shire Hall on the left, and giving way to views of the harbour from the street.
Plans for the roundabout call for tearing down the two not-very-interesting one-story office structures and landscaping instead. I say, let’s go for it. Imagine the views, not to mention opportunities, this move opens up. Recent County studies regarding the Harbour Trail and proposed boardwalks confirm the positive vision and suggest a link up the back hill behind Shire Hall, connecting the harbour, with a staircase and a trail, to the town.
The additional triangle of land orphaned by the placement of the traffic circle would supplement the existing parkette and would provide a civic space from which future generations of residents and tourists could admire the beautiful views. Give pedestrians a shady lookout and a place to sit and take in the revitalized harbour. Make it about civic pride and civic vision. Perhaps motorists will then drive down Main Street and say “wow!” — not “why?!”
Most of the comments I have read in the local press about the pros and cons of an expanded traffic circle concern traffic flow and pedestrian safety. I generally trust traffic engineers to design things right; the same way I trust architects before I walk into most buildings. What I don’t trust are the motorists currently driving the Town Hill while I’m trying to cross it. The traffic engineers say having three pedestrian crossings at the three entrances, each with their own island, is much safer than longer crossings at a signalized solution. I believe them. I would also like to see pedestrian activated lights at each crossing, like the new ones on Macaulay Mountain. These warning lights would give one more layer of safety.
The roundabout solution offers the best of all worlds: safe pedestrian crossings, an even flow of moving traffic, and an enhanced streetscape with vistas worth celebrating.