From twisty road to multi-path: London plans to defang Snake Hill – The London Free Press
Even a car crash can’t shake London city Coun. Anna Hopkins’ affection for Snake Hill.
Hopkins lives near the bottom of the winding, hilly part of busy Commissioners Road that’s a beautiful, yet confounding gateway to Byron in the city’s southwest.
“I have had two accidents in my lifetime,” she said. “One of them was going down Snake Hill at the bad time of the morning when the ice froze at a certain time and there was all kinds of traffic.”
Hopkins said she had to pull off to the side, hitting her neighbour’s retaining wall. Even that hasn’t deterred her from enjoying one of the steepest roads in London.
“Personally speaking, even though I’ve had an accident on it, I love Snake Hill,” she said. “I just think it’s a beautiful way of driving and meandering down a hill – but you have to do it carefully.”
So as a proud Byron resident who lives in the shadow of the hill, she’s pleased to know that ultra-steep Snake Hill in the future may not have cars on it, but will still be enjoyed as a park.
“I think my heart would be disappointed if we were going to remove it all, because it is just one of those signature places,” she said.
A plan that goes to city council’s civic works committee Monday calls for Snake Hill to be redeveloped as a multi-use path once Commissioners Road is realigned to skirt around the massive Byron gravel pit.
That plan is still 15 to 20 years down the winding road, but the report reaffirm the city’s plan for the area and allows for secondary planning to move forward for the emptied gravel pit.
“This is a long-term plan, so it’s not going to happen real soon,” said Doug MacRae, the city’s division manager of transportation planning and design.
“The purpose of this report is to essentially identify what space that road realignment needs and just to identify that so that any future plans in and around the pit can proceed in a logical manner.”
What the report indicates is a fundamental change in what the corner of Commissioners Road and Byron Baseline Road/Springbank Drive will look like in the future. About 13,000 vehicles a day pour in and out of Byron in that area.
3D Representation: Commissioners Road West Realignment through Byron Gravel Pit (Crestwood Drive to Springbank Drive)
The existing landscape of the pit “is like being on Mars,” Hopkins said, with its deep crevice and lake at the bottom of the canyon.
The future could take on many facets, including a residential area and parkland. A secondary planning group with the city is working on some ideas.
It wouldn’t be the first time a mined gravel pit has been redeveloped in the city. There are other examples of residential areas, parks and golf courses that grew out of the scars left from mined-out pits.
The new Commissioners Road alignment would run along the brow of the pits from Cranbrook Road with a much less steep drop down to the main intersection. The right-of-way for the alignment is already in place.
The sign announces Commissioners Road (Snake Hill). (File photo)
That should make the road much safer. Drivers have often avoided the perils of the hill and its steep grade, which is higher than the standards of modern roads.
“We do see a higher frequency of collisions,” said MacRae. “A new road alignment would follow a more gradual grade to eventually meet Springbank Drive at the same location.”
The existing portion of Commissioners Road at the top of the hill would remain open to access Reservoir Park and nearby homes.
But the road would not extend down Snake Hill.
“Londoners who have a desire to reminisce about the way Commissioners Road used to be, will certainly be able to visit it by foot or bike,” MacRae said.
The stretch of Commissioners Road known as Snake Hill. (File photo)
The future realignment comes with an estimated construction cost of almost $20 million in today’s dollars, excluding any land acquisition.
Hopkins said the proposed plan is exciting for the area. She said she marvels at the geography of the area and the gravel pit that was formed by receding glaciers that cut out the Thames River and hauled the rock away.
Snake Hill, she said, is part of that unique landscape and the history of the community – but the future looks even more intriguing. .
“What we’re going to do with it is going to be interesting times for the community,” she said.
“To me, there’s not too many places out there that are better.”