News Local

Barrie councillor says attempted assault a wakeup call 19 

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner

Sunday, April 7, 2013 5:40:04 EDT PM

A couple walks along Barrie's North Shore Trail.MARK WANZEL FILE PHOTO

A couple walks along Barrie's North Shore Trail. MARK WANZEL FILE PHOTO

Barrie police officers investigate an area of the North Shore Trail near the bottom of Penetanguishene Road. Police are probing an attempted sex assault after a woman, 70, was approached by a man believed to be holding a handgun, last Wednesday afternoon. IAN MCINROY BARRIE EXAMINER

 Barrie's North Shore Trail should lead to safe paths, not fearful ones, says a city councillor.

Bonnie Ainsworth says last Wednesday's attempted daytime sexual assault of a woman on the trail, just east of Johnson's Beach, is a signal not to be missed.

“(It) is a warning and points to the visibility of others, visibility by others, choice and control and solitude without isolation safe greenway design principles,” she said.

Ainsworth notes environmental behaviour research provides useful principles for planning and designing greenways that are both green and safe.

“We were lucky this time but there have been tragic events in other Canadian cities which were a direct result of poor vegetation maintenance in parks,” she said. “It is our duty as a city to ensure we mitigate as much known risk for our citizens as we can.”

On April 3, a 70-year-old woman walking east on the North Shore Trail was told at gunpoint by a man to remove her pants. She screamed for help and the man ran away, east toward Shanty Bay. The handgun has been described as dark grey or black.

City police say the incident took place on the trail between Johnson Street and Penetanguishene Road at about 2 p.m.

The woman wasn't touched and did not require hospitalization.

The suspect is described as being approximately five-foot-eight, and with a slim build. He was wearing a brown leather coat, a dark hooded sweatshirt and dark pants. The man remains at large.

Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call police at 705-725-7025, or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

Ainsworth says the North Shore Trail is intended to be an city asset, something for residents to use for recreation and its views of Kempenfelt Bay. There are signs that point it out and it's used to advertise the city, she says.

“Based on this invitation, it then becomes the city's duty to ensure the NST is as safe as possible for everyone,” Ainsworth said.

But the Ward 1 councillors says it requires a different level of maintenance because of its design and characteristics – an urban pathway connected to downtown Barrie.

“Because it is a long and linear trail, with few exit and entry points, it requires special vegetation maintenance measures to ensure user safety,” she said.

As a result, Ainsworth says she wants crime prevention there through environmental design, what she calls the three-to-seven approach. This means no shrub higher than three feet, no tree limbs lower than seven feet.

This is recommended by city police, she says, and given priority in the city's vegetation and slope stabilization programs.

Ainsworth said Sunday she is unsure if this matter will be addressed at Monday's general committee of city council meeting – but she does plan to meet with city staff on Monday.

In the summer of 2009, a woman was mugged on the trail and robbed of a large amount of cash.

Some trail users complained that the vegetation level created too many blind spots there, where you could not see far enough ahead to determine any danger.

Neighbours complained they could not see onto the trail, period, from the Kempenfelt Drive side. They were concerned about illegal activity there, especially at night, such as drug and alcohol use.

Barrie's previous council (2006- 2010) implemented a vegetation management policy for the North Shore Trail, but it didn't please everyone. Neighbours were not only concerned that it didn't clear enough vegetation, but that the city wasn't putting enough resources (or didn't have enough resources) to get the work done.

A 2010 survey showed that of 121 trail users asked, 90% supported opening up the view to and from the trail.

In the fall of 2011, councillors approved a new vegetation management plan.

It includes removing all trees, branches and shrubs within one metre horizontally and 3.5 metres vertically from the trail's surface, pruning an additional two metres along the trail, and removing dead, diseased or hazardous trees from the trail's vicinity. Non-native, invasive vegetation from the trail corridor will also be removed, and ones native to this area would be replanted. More aggressive stump removal would be considered.

Existing views onto Kempenfelt Bay would be maintained, and the thinning of vegetation between the trail and the bay would further enhance that view.

North Shore Trail is a continuous, four-metre wide limestone path built on the old CN Rail bed, from the bottom of Mulcaster Street to Barrie's eastern limit, at Penetanguishene Road.

This land is part of the rail corridor abandoned by CN, and bought by the city, in the late 1990s. What was no longer to be used for trains has been turned into recreation trails.

It's meant for walkers, joggers, runners, cyclists, those who want to enjoy a little nature on the waterfront.

With files by Ian McInroy