By Charlie Senack, Barrhaven Independent
A public meeting was held to discuss improvements for the Jockvale Road crossing amid rising safety concerns.
The meeting was attended by over 50 nearby residents and municipal candidates who have long expressed concerns for pedestrians and cyclists who use the Barrhaven United Church side of Jockvale.
While a pathway runs along the other side between Weybridge and Tartan, only a stretch of dirt lines the other side.
Over the years various ideas have been brought forward, and in 2019, plans for a $6 million pedestrian underpass were unveiled during a public meeting at the Walter Baker Centre. It was labelled as the safest and most cost efficient option.
“We looked at a couple of options with respect to grade separation,” Frank McKinney, Program Manager and Transportation Environmental Assessments for the City of Ottawa noted in 2019. “We actually looked at the idea of an overpass (similar to what runs over Greenbank Road), but it became very costly and required a lot of right of way to build something like that.”
There have been varying options over how to make the Jockvale Road rail crossing safer, but not all residents are on board with the project. Others would prefer to see a crossing north of the VIA Rail tracks in order to provide connectivity to Barrhaven United Church and the nearby Steepleview affordable housing. City officials have previously noted that was being reviewed by the Traffic Management Branch as a separate project.
A working group has recently been set up to push for the project. Their goal is to get neighborhood residents from the multi-use pathway on the west side of Jockvale to the other side safer. That is where a bus stop is also placed which takes many of the Steepleview Crossing residents to the Marketplace shopping district.
Out of the 88 people living in the affordable housing complex, roughly 40 per cent struggle with health challenges and 20 of the residents use wheelchairs or mobility devices.
A number of those residents were at the public meeting held at Barrhaven United Church on Sept. 21 to share their concerns.
‘They shared some of their stories about the dangers of crossing the road. The speed of the vehicles and the fact they have to make it across the road all in one shot is a concern for them,” said Darrell Bartraw, president of the Barrhaven West Community Association, who also sits on the working group. “Some of the residents said they just don’t go out because they are too concerned about crossing the road.”
The push for a safer rail crossing has long been in the works and began in the 1990’s when concerns were first raised. In 2002, Barrhaven councillor Jan Harder called for an Accessibility Advisory Committee to review issues and solutions. A report was filed but no action was taken.
Earlier this year, the city’s Transportation Master Plan added the Jockvale road rail underpass to its draft priority list, but work wouldn’t begin until somewhere between 2023 and 2046.
The future of the project has become a talking point for Barrhaven West council candidates running in the upcoming fall municipal election. All agree it should be a priority for the next term of council.
“Pedestrians need a way to safely get to and from the west side of Jockvale Road to access the bus stop, grocery stores and other amenities,” said ward 3 candidate Taayo Simmonds. “Many of those affected live in the Steepleview community and have mobility issues.”
Simmonds vowed to “aggressively push” for a crosswalk and an improved bus stop at the site. He’s also supportive of approving the pedestrian underpass.
Jay Chadha, who is also running for city council in Barrhaven West, said the site is an accident waiting to happen.
“We need to improve the safety on Jockvale abroad before a serious incident occurs. Many people who walk along that section of the road use wheelchairs and walkers,” he said. “Compared to what other city projects cost, this is not a lot of money. The city engineers have come up with various portions for the site and now it’s time to act.
Barrhaven West candidate Sadaf Ebrahim said she’s been scared and feared for her safety when driving or walking along Jockvale road.
“While I was loading my signs with my volunteers near the Jockvale rail crossing, I noticed someone went through the train tracks despite the signal being red,” she said. “It’s a big safety issue and people need to have patience for the train to pass by.”
David Hill, who was the first person to put their name forward to run in Barrhaven West, said as a chairperson with Barrhaven United Church, has long advocated for a safer rail crossing.
“It’s a busy road. We have folks who live here in Steepleview Housing who have disabilities,” he said in a recent Twitter video. “They have a difficult time crossing this road. Even somebody without any physical impediments would have a difficult time crossing this road to get to the bus stop on the other side.”
Over the years, various incidents have taken place on the Barrhaven train tracks. In the summer of 1992, a young boy, only aged seven, died after being struck by a train on Dolan Avenue. At the time, the coroner said safety improvements were needed.
In September 2013, six people died just a few kilometers away when a VIA train struck a double-decker OC Transpo bus. The tragedy sparked calls for action.
And in February of this year, a Steepleview Crossing resident in a wheelchair died after being hit by an oncoming VIA Rail train. The Transit Safety Board has completed their investigation and said no further safety improvements were needed. Details of the man’s death were never publicly released.
“Following the deployment and the data and information collection in the field, the TSB determined that further investigation would have little likelihood of identifying new safety lessons that will advance transportation safety,” said TSB communications advisor Marc-Antoine Brassard in March 2022.
Even so, the working group says their safety concerns are legitimate, and will continue to push the city for funding.