Millroy: Do we really want to spend 3 million on Bay Street?

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I see where the downtown business people want to return Queen and Bay Streets to two-way traffic and a consulting firm has suggested to council that Bay Street be cut down from four lanes of one-way traffic to two.
I was travelling east on Second Line one day this week and it took me four light changes to turn left onto Great Northern Road. On the way back it appeared it was going to take three light changes to turn left on Second Line so I followed some vehicles that went to Northern Avenue to turn left.
I suggest that before council starts fiddling with something that isn’t broken that it give some thought that will lead to action to rid the city of the bottleneck that has held firm at this intersection for years and is only getting worse.
If money is to be spent on improving traffic flow, make it a priority that it be put toward this problem, one that has been ignored for far too long, rather than to aesthetic changes to Bay Street.
Sault Star reporter Elaine Della-Mattia outlined the two main trains of thought that were in a report the city’s consultant, IBI Group, presented at an open house last week.
I take issue with both ideas. I am not in favour of returning the two streets to two-way traffic and I am not in favour of cutting Bay Street down to two lanes of one-way traffic. To three lines, fine, but to two, no..
To cut Bay Street to two lanes means, according to the study, there will no longer be bus service on the street. Considering how wide the street is, I believe it is ridiculous that senior citizens in the several apartments along the street would no longer be able to catch a bus on the street or that customers of Station Mall now would have to debark and embark on Queen Street.
The cost of the changes to Bay Street preferred by the consultant would be $3 million; the cost of rearranging Queen and Bay Streets to accommodate two-lane traffic would be much more. The city would be on the hook for the full cost of either action.
As Della-Mattia reports, the majority of the downtown merchants are in favour of two-way traffic on Queen Street as they hope it will increase visibility for their businesses.
I am all in favour of keeping Queen Street alive but I think we have to be realistic when it comes to cost. Also, I believe the merchants are dreaming if they think changing the traffic flow is going to bring them additional customers in anything but the smallest of quantity. Queen Street is a destination for some locals; I can’t see it ever getting beyond that no matter what is done to the street or traffic flow on it.
The consultant said that traffic would move well on both Queen and Bay Streets with a return to two-way traffic but there may be times where traffic would be slowed by stopped vehicles such as buses and delivery vehicles.
Yeah, that will go over well. There are times now when delivery vehicles block one lane but at least a driver has a chance to merge.
The only way I can see two-way traffic working on Queen Street is to rip everything up and return to two lanes each way. And with only one lane of traffic coming off Queen Street where Bay Street intersects near the Old Stone House, I think that intersection would be a problem no matter what pattern the planners come up with.
As for Bay Street, along with converting it to two lanes of one-way traffic the consultant sees adding a multi-use path for pedestrians and cyclists.
There are four lanes there now. There are also sidewalks on each side of the street. How much more space would pedestrians need? So are we really being told two full traffic lanes are being turned over to cyclists?
 If pedestrians are also going to use the new lanes, do we fold up the sidewalks? Do they become green spaces? I have always thought, fool that I am, that sidewalks were for pedestrians.
I think carrying on with this idea could become as big a mistake as took place at the corner of East and Albert Streets, where line-painters on their own changed the lane lines to make it so that only one lane from Albert was dedicated to eastbound traffic.
Despite some protests from the public and from within the Public Works Department, the talking heads at the top of the department decided to keep the new alignment after gaining the support of CIMA, supposed traffic experts.
Some members of council thought the change was a mistake but none felt the urge to fight for the lanes to be returned to the way they had existed for 50 years, with two lanes from Albert dedicated to eastbound traffic with easy access to Wellington West and East Street.
With the change made in error by the company painting the lane lines, traffic heading north on East Street was provided with a dedicated lane. However, there was a catch. There was a yield sign on East Street at the time which CIMA recommended be taken out. It is there to this day, officials at the works department realizing the danger that would result if it were taken out. This, of course, tells you how stupid the whole change was in the first place and how stupid it was to keep it.
In regard to either change, return to two-way traffic on both Bay and Queen or reduce Bay to two lanes, the study says it could result in a reduction in speeding.
Personally I have noticed some speeding but not enough to warrant such a change. And anyway, speeding should be able to be further reduced by a little more police presence with radar.
I guess the main question I would have in all this is: What is the benefit?
I can’t buy the visibility argument of the merchants on Queen Street. I simply don’t believe they have enough to offer to warrant such a drastic change.
I also can’t see any benefit, other than the provision of bike lanes, in cutting Bay Street down to two lanes.
Sure it will provide the opportunity to include bicycle lanes, but this could be accommodated by simply redoing the lines. Hell, turn the line-painters who did the change at Albert and East Streets loose; they would probably come up with a solution that would be cheaper than the study undertaken by IBI Group.
Actually, I don’t understand why we had to have a study to tell us how we should conduct the traffic on one of our city streets. Isn’t this something we should have the smarts to be able to do ourselves?
To answer my own question, I guess not. Having studies undertaken on a wide range of subjects has not just been the prerogative of this council; it has been the mode of councils past as well..
To me, the preferred change to the traffic pattern on Bay Street is simply considering change for the sake of change, not because of necessity, which should be the underlying reason in any such move.
Thankfully nothing will be done prior to the city election on October 22. There are four openings on council because of retirements and we can only hope there are a few other changes as well. We need fresh faces with fresh ideas to rid us of some of this foolishness.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Spending dollars for the sake of spending dollars without any benefit is crazy. A far cheaper (and much needed in my opinion) idea would be to invest in paint and mark lanes on all major roads in the city.

    Perhaps local people know where the lines should be, but we are a hub for any commuters driving west/north and east, especially in the summer.

    • Line painting used to be done with an oil based paint. The environmentalists complained and cities reverted to water based paints. We should go back to oil based and it would then last a few years and save money as well. Water based paints only last one summer and are removed with winter plowing.

  2. To me, the solution is to take the power out of the hands of the Staff at City Hall and turn it back to Council. Staff has been hired to make decisions and turn them over to Council. Because they fail to do their jobs, they in turn suggest a 3rd party report be done so as not to be tagged with the blame if things go wrong. As I see it, Staff has Council by the very tender area of the male human anatomy and want to keep it that way. If they can’t do their job, fire and rehire. Not only are these suggestions needless and expensive, but more expensive by hiring the 3rd party. Most of Council’s elected officials are afraid that if the go against staff, then Staff will not side with them on other matters, thus coddling of the people “HIRED” to do a job. I, for one am glad to see some retirements on Council and hope that more people will be elected that have the previously said anatomy, to stand up to Staff and say “go back and figure this out and come back with a solution or go find another job.”

  3. I hope they follow though with the 2 lane plan for Bay. It’s a concrete jungle down that stretch and needs to be fixed up. 4 Lanes = overkill.

  4. Who cares about 2nd Line and GNR?

    Pino Cares!!! Plus every other driver who has turned left there lately. It’s a non-stop mess. I’m thinking that extending Industrial Park Crescent through to 2nd Line between the PUC and Roofmart is the best way to go with Pinorth going in soon.

    In any case $3 million is better spent alleviating traffic at 2nd Line and GNR BEFORE re-configuring Bay Street, but Bay Street eventually does need to be cut down to 2 lanes to make the entire area from Queen Street down to the waterfront an integrated, not bisected, downtown.

    Personally, I’m happy the city is planning based on the downtown BIG PICTURE (Wellington down to the waterfront).

    Sincerely,
    MAB

  5. You want to talk about speeding, racing, stunt driving? it goes on daily on Bay street between East and Pim. It’s a regular drag strip for cars trucks and motorcycles. Zero enforcement, ever.

  6. Good article Doug and even though I do not live in the Sault anymore agree 100% with you. If anyone wants to see a traffic screw up take a trip to Ottawa and try to navigate some of the downtown streets that have been given over to the cyclists – I went close to the downtown area the other day and had to use a one way street on the way back that used to be 3 lanes but was changed to one lane with the other 2 given over to the bicycles which are 2 lanes. It is now a ridiculously difficult place to drive. Take care and keep up the good work my friend.

  7. A totally dumb idea. The money could be spent 100 different ways that would benefit the community 100 times more. Very typical of Sault Ste. Marie though they make a lot of dumb decisions.

  8. Well stated Doug. There are many ways that 3 million dollars could be WISELY spent…not on this foolishness. The problem at Great North en and Second Line could be somewhat alleviated if when coming up second line eastbound there were TWO TURNING LANES on the left hand lanes heading up Great Northern.You could double the number of vehicles that could get through the light cycle. Many cities have dual turning lanes….why not us?
    The EAST STREET situation is ridiculous…I agree with Doug. If you are travelling along Albert Street you should end up in the CURB lane as you round the corner onto East Street.There is going to be a major accident in that area soon.
    3 million dollars could do a lot of road repairs. Lets hope the new council will look at this again and just perhaps ask a few drivers what they think.

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