Good motion gets trashed by Mayor - the need recognized by Councillor Stolte is very real.

News 100 blueBy Pepper Parr

April 30th, 2020



When the motion you put forward to create more sidewalk space for people to use when they are out for a walk is followed by an amendment from the Mayor with seven points to it – you know your motion is in trouble.

Such was the fate of a motion put forward by ward 4 Councillor Shawna Stolte.

Direct the Director of Transportation Services to assess, create and implement as soon as possible, and with input from other city departments and members of the Cycling and ITAC Committees, a “Shared Streets Burlington” Pilot Project with the goal of temporarily closing portions of roadways to allow for safer physical distancing for pedestrians and cyclists for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Background Discussion:

The residents of Burlington, along with City Council and City Staff, are all committed to the goal of stopping the spread of COVID-19 in our community. Our role, as City Council and staff, is to amplify the message of medical experts in regard to adhering to physical distancing requirements while also considering a longer-term plan that acknowledges residents need for physical exercise and fresh air in order to effectively manage their mental health and well being.

Stolte had reliable statistical data on how people were handling the isolation. She pointed out that sidewalks are simply not wide enough to ensure the physical distancing requirements recommended by medical experts and the informal use of grass boulevards does not provide a safe nor viable alternative for wheelchairs, strollers or bicycles.

Stolte and Kearns - budget book

These two women work well together; very different personalities but when the strength are combined that are very effective.

Roadways are underutilized due to reduced traffic volumes and represent a clear and simple alternative to “expand the sidewalk”. There are many resources already available, as well as an established work group comprised of dedicated residents from the ITAC and Cycling Committee who have been meeting to research strategies and suggestions for implementation.

Stolte wanted to begin with a Pilot Project to measure, monitor and learn as well as to assess the willingness of the community to participate in a safe manner.  She was strongly supported by ward 2 Councillor Lisa Kearns.

Her hope was that council would consider a phased approach that can adapt/expand as needed at multiple, local, widespread, “very ordinary” locations to avoid gathering crowds gathering. Her hope was that street networks would be coordinated with park locations

•to ensure strong signage and communication

•to consider a variety of options such as closing off curb lanes on thoroughfares (ex. Maple, Palladium Way, Prospect -east of Guelph) or installing strong “Shared Streets” signage on key neighbourhood streets (ex. Spruce, Townsend, Palmer, Millcroft Park)

This motion is intended to encourage a realistic, longer-term plan that will ensure safe “physical distancing” as well as strive for the balance that is needed to support physical exercise and mental health initiatives, by literally creating more space for people to get outside and breathe.

Burlin Vt road share sign

Public education is key – it doesn’t always take in Burlington.

Stolte encouraged Council to join the 60+ other cities around the world including Brampton, Calgary, Edmonton, Kitchener, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, Victoria and Winnipeg who have already implemented or are actively exploring this creative alternative as a means of supporting the well-being of their residents.

Debate on this one was vigorous.

Ward 6 Councillor Angelo Bentivegna came out of the gate asking that it be deferred – “we have bigger fish to fry – and this will be expensive” he said. “If we open up part of a roadway we are going to have to put pylons out and then take them in.”

Angelo B

Councilor Bentivegna was solidly against the motion – too expensive and the city has bigger fish to fry.

Bentivegna, like most of the other Councillors said they just weren’t seeing all that much pedestrian traffic on the streets.

The Mayor who lives in ward 2 didn’t agree with Lisa Kearns, councillor for the ward. The Mayor said you could fire a cannon up the streets she walked along. She said she was out walking every day.

Councillor Nisan said he felt that this was a Staff matter and that they were the people who should be driving it; implying that Councillor Stolte might be offside. Odd that Nisan would take that position; when he wanted some traffic moderating in Kilbride and he could hardly get the time of day out of the department.

Nisan wanted the issue of changing the way roads get used during the State of Emergency referred back to transportation – problem with that is the motion didn’t come from Transportation – it came from Stolte, a member of council.

Ward 6 councillor Bentivegna said: “Transportation experts should make the decision because it is an operational matter – maybe it should be handled at the ECG.”  It was discussed at the ECG.

Nisan moved a motion to refer it to staff – Galbraith seconded it. He too didn’t see the need, at least not in Aldershot. Didn’t think this was on for Burlington – “we are not a big city like Ottawa, Edmonton and Vancouver.

Stolte had taken the idea to Staff and found she wasn’t getting anywhere and withdrew the motion she had planned on putting forward earlier in the month.

Meed Ward style

Mayor Med Ward basically manhandled the Stolte motion.

Meed Ward’s amendment, it had seven parts, did add valuable points to the motion. She was concerned about the purpose of the amendment and what the criteria would be for closing down part of a public road.

In getting into her seven point amendment the Mayor seemed to be defining what the motion was really about – it is usually the mover of a motion who does that and the record shows that Stolte had done her home work.

There wasn’t much in the way of appetite for the idea from the Transportation department when it first came to them. The ECG people were swamped with other more pressing issues. City Manager Tim Commisso was comfortable with where things were – people were thinking about a possible problem. Stolte had discussed the idea with them earlier.

Galbraith, Councillor for ward 1 couldn’t see a need. No heavy pedestrian traffic in his part of the world.

Councillor Sharman was non-plussed – he didn’t see any pedestrian traffic to speak of on Spruce or any other part of his ward.

After lengthy, robust debate, the motion carried 4-3 and will come back to Council during the May meeting.

Earlier in the debate Councillor Nisan had put forward a motion to defer  the motion back to Transportation; it really should have been a referral – a motion that will come to be seen in a much different light when the warm weather arrives and people don’t want to stay cooped up.

Lisa Kearns had it right: “This is a public health and a mental health issue, she said.  Covid-19 is a serious public health issue, “but we also have to let people move around and we need to be proactive now and not react to a serious problem later” said Kearns.

Vito 2 Sept 2019

The matter is in the hands of the Director of Transportation Vito Tolone

Bentivegna, Sharman and Galbraith weren’t seeing that.

Nisan wanted staff to run the show.

The City manager, with help from City Solicitor Nancy Shea Nicol, that the closing of a public road is not something that has been delegated to municipalities – that is going to require some explaining. explained something

The Mayor scooped a good motion right off the plate of a Councillor who understood the need and was taking steps now to handle a situation she is certain will come back to bite us.

Stolte wanted to know why her motion wasn’t acceptable.  The Mayor said that the Nisan motion prevailed.

The Mayor said that Stolte’s motion didn’t do what Nisan’s did.

Hopefully staff will understand and work with the nuance that came out of the meeting.

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11 comments to Good motion gets trashed by Mayor – the need recognized by Councillor Stolte is very real.

  • dave turner


    Now is the time to implement pedestrian zones downtown and in residential areas. Residents and on street business owners will be accepting. Commuter traffic not so much. It will be pushed back onto the QEW where it belongs, which is the Provinces problem.

  • dave turner

    It seems Councilor Stolte’s idea was not so far fetched or out of left field as many have made out. I hear Mayor Tory and the City of Toronto is very seriously looking at, in certain areas, expanding sidewalks or closing off streets to vehicular traffic so as to afford personal distancing.

    Many respected commentators from around the world are saying we are at a point in time where society is now very willing to accept radical permanent change to the way of life. Maybe will can shed the rule of the car and make our downtowns havens for pedestrians and on street retail.

    Well done Councilor ! Creative and progressive thinking !

  • Lynn Crosby

    The mental health of people living near construction sites when they can’t go outside because the province has now allowed them to run 6 am to 10 pm 7 days a week for 18 months, and these people can’t go to parks, and are told to stay home, should be considered if we are talking about mental health effects of dealing with COVID. We would like our council to stand up for us and speak out … we have seen this provincial government change their mind when public pressure is applied before, and having municipalities speak out on this can only help.

    On this issue, I agree that in my regular walks, I don’t ever have a problem with streets being too crowded or people not moving out of the way as others have noted here. Agree with Councillor Galbraith that we aren’t a big city like many of those cited and don’t seem to have the need for this.

  • Cynthia

    There is a really simple solution to this problem. Steve above almost has it right. Everyone should be walking in the same direction – but not with traffic, rather they should be facing traffic. Do they not teach this in school anymore? I learned as a child that it is safest to walk facing traffic, you can see the cars coming. Now with the added concern of social distancing, it is more important than ever to understand and follow this basic pedestrian safety precaution. If you’re walking faster than someone, walking facing traffic is safer too, if you have to go out on the road to pass, you can see when it is safe to do so.
    In my neighbourhood there are streets that only have a sidewalk on one side, I plan my route so that I’ll be facing traffic when I have to use those sidewalks.
    Come on people, this is not rocket science! #walkfacingtraffic!

  • Phillip Wooster

    Beautiful day today, lots of people out on Spruce Ave (and lots out in Bronte when I drove down there)—all were behaving themselves and social distancing. I think people get it!

  • Craig Gardner

    I live in Ward 6 and tend to agree here with my councilor, unless warmer weather brings out a many many fold increase in walkers at the same time no need in Ward 6 to close streets. Also as soon as things start opening once again the roads will become bsuier with cars. Perhaps some of the small side streets downtown with no sidewalks or with sidewalks on one side need to use th road. I have not found many walkers on Brant or other main roads.

  • Anne is a person with disabilities who mainly travels Burlington streets on her own on her mobility device. The narrow side walks and families of four walking side by side instead of single file has made outings as a pedestrian from Ghent to Spencer Smith very difficult at this time. She often pulls back and sits in a shop doorway until the four abreasts get by. Children using their manual scooters ahead of parents with head down while mom or dad keep up their social media oblivious of their child’s actions and the danger they both present is another issue that made her one outing this month to pay respects to our navy fallen (normally a daily routine) too friustrating to repeat any time soon. Instead we drive to a family grave and Anne has her alone time (married 54 yrs. still does not make 24/7 time together the easiest for two very strong characters with often differing opinions) sitting and pondering in the solitude – no-one around – with the birds singing and daffodils blooming of the happy times we spent with those now immortalized with a grave stone.

    Things are difficult for everyone, we understand that. However, MAKING OUR SIDEWALKS ONE DIRECTION the same as the traffic, single file where possible and heads up (keep your social media time for when you are alone) would certainly help many of us be able to visit and pay our respects to the fallen as we used to do so often without feeling we are a nuisance and paying those respects daily is not going to be a part of our “new normal”.

  • Steve

    Why not have the sidewalks match the direction of traffic? That way people would all be going in the same direction.

    • Jeff Brooks

      Good idea Steve , sometimes the best solutions are very simple sitting right in front of our eyes!

  • Phillip Wooster

    “Stolte saw the need”. No she didn’t! I live in Ward 4 (BTW, does Stolte actually live in this ward?) and like the 3 responsible councillors who saw no amount of pedestrian traffic that would justify this, I too see no excessive amount of pedestrian traffic to justify this. Lots of people out walking and cycling in South Burlington but all respecting social distancing. Burlington is not like major cities–lots of pedestrian traffic with relatively narrow sidewalks and no city-owned grassy borders to the sidewalks-roads.

    I am again troubled by the role that lobbying by the Cycling Committee is playing in this so-called initiative. Some of their key “spokespeople” seem highly favourable to this idea. Of course, they were also behind the dismal failure that was the New Street Lane reductions–are we going to make the same mistake again to please a loud, vocal minority? What is it they say about people who fail to learn the lessons of history?

    Editor’s Note: The point of the motion as I saw it – was to get ready for the time when the sidewalks will be crowded. April was cold – have you been out today (Friday) – people will want to be out and the kids will want to be on their bikes. It will require a lot of discipline on the part of the public to get us through and to the point where there are fewer infection one day than there were the day before – the data indicates that we are not there yet.

    • Stephen White

      All good points Phil. Well stated!

      I walk my dog five times a day on different streets in my neighbourhood. There are certainly more people out walking than before the pandemic, but their outings occur at selective times, usually later in the afternoon and early evening. People will make the customary adjustments to respect social distancing or for those with accessibility issues, and they will naturally move out into the street and then return to the sidewalk. We don’t need to mandate human behaviour.

      Council needs to get a grip on reality and stop spending time dealing with trivia. This community faces a huge challenge when the economy re-opens. How they are going to support local businesses, and in particular, those who have lost employment, is where they should be concentrating their attention.