Leaside residents consider traffic solutions after child’s death

WATCH ABOVE: (Jul. 18, 2014) Nearest solution to traffic problem from City Hall is still a long time coming. Mark Carcasole reports.

Residents of Leaside’s Millwood Road and McRae Drive area have decided against more aggressive measures to combat thoroughfare traffic, but won’t back down from launching a grassroots campaign to slow it down.

The makeshift memorial of flowers, cards and teddy bears for six-year-old Georgia Walsh continues to grow on the corner where she was struck and killed by a minivan Wednesday afternoon.

So far, police have not charged the driver.

It’s a tragic death many in the community blame on the increased volume of traffic from shoppers trying to get to the local big box stores on Laird and commuters trying to avoid the Eglinton Crosstown construction.

On Thursday, area resident Roger Cattell told Global News a group of neighbours were considering parking their cars along the curbs of McRae in hopes of bottle-necking traffic to steer outside drivers away from using it as a thoroughfare.

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By Friday Cattell says “cooler heads prevailed,” and that the community realized their solution could only cause further danger. But with no immediate help from City Hall, they’re still taking matters into their own hands.

“A local marketing guy came up with an idea of putting some lawn signs out with messages like ‘Drive like it’s your neighbourhood,’ or ‘Careful, children at play,'” says Cattell.

“Something positive; something that talks to the traffic issue.”

Cattell helped set up a local email list for interested residents to share ideas, and says the initiative has really taken off.  “We’ve got 120 people already who’ve [expressed interest in the signs] and each one of those emails shares a story or event that happened in their neighbourhood, so there’s a level of frustration.”

He says he’s even received messages from outside of Leaside, in other Toronto neighbourhoods dealing with similar problems. Local Lexus and BMW dealers have even agreed to help pay to get the signs printed.

“The neighbourhood is coming together, trying to develop solutions and have good dialogue,” says Cattell, urging City officials to join in.

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So far, it doesn’t appear that there’s any immediate help on the horizon from City Hall.

It seems the best hope for relief here is not a new idea at all, but one that has been kicked around Council and committees for decades.

It centres on Redway Road, Located just off Millwood, south of Eglinton –  A small stretch that dead-ends at a fenced-off Hydro One corridor.

A proposal recently resurrected at North York Community Council would see Redway extended westbound, through the corridor to Bayview in an attempt to divert traffic from Leaside.  But it’s no easy or quick feat.

“It’s more easily said than done,” says Ward 26 City Councillor John Parker.

“We’re talking about land that’s sloped and you can’t just put a roadway in, you have to build a foundation for the road to travel on.”

Parker adds that, given that the land is “naturalized” forest, there are even more concerns to address. He’s also unsure about any issues that might arise in terms of land acquisition.

While that potential solution is still a long way off, likely beyond the time it will take to complete the construction on Eglinton, Cattell is familiar with it.

“The bypass idea is a great idea,” he says.

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Traffic is an issue Leaside residents will likely be taking to the ballot box in October. Global News reached out to the so-called leading mayoral candidates to ask for their thoughts.

David Socknacki was first to reply.

“You’ve got to speed up construction.  So if we’ve got to make construction happen 24/7 we’ve got to do that.”  He adds, “we need to price construction to make sure people are motivated to get the construction done.”

Karen Stintz tells Global News she would hire a traffic czar to better coordinate road work.

“What I will do is work closely with Metrolinx and the traffic to make sure that we have alternative routes for drivers that don’t go into residential neighbourhoods.”

In a statement, Olivia Chow’s team blames bad planning; preaching better construction coordination.

“The problems caused by building new transit are unfortunate, but hard to avoid,” they write. “For years, we’ve not built transit to keep up with growth and are paying the price for that neglect. In the longer-term, better transit will reduce traffic,” they write.

John Tory strayed from discussing solutions, writing in his statement:

“The issues arising from this tragedy need to be addressed in the coming weeks, but now is not the time for politics.  Now is time for the Walsh family, and the community, to grieve the loss of Georgia.”

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Mayor Rob Ford’s office didn’t reply to an interview request, but he did speak about the incident at McRae and Millwood on Thursday, telling reporters “Toronto’s thoughts and prayers are with the family through this very, very difficult time.”

The idea of a bypass may still be in the early phases, but if it’s successful, Councillor John Parker hopes it can eventually expand even further.

“There is also a proposal, that I have not put forward, to take that concept and extend it further to the northeast,” he tells Global News.

In the meantime, aside from the sign campaign, residents are also hoping for enhanced Toronto Police speeding enforcement in the area and more crossing guards at key intersections, like the one where Georgia Walsh died.

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