A few weeks back I wrote about motorists losing the ability to make a right turn off Bruce Street onto Queen Street because of the reconstruction of Bruce Street that took place last year.
Bruce Street between Queen and Albert Streets has been reduced to two lanes squished between two seas of concrete, which are soon to be graced with something called streetscaping.
Anyway, having written about the change and criticizing it, I heard from others with similar sentiments but who also asked the question, “Why in hell would they do that?”
I thought I better find out so I contacted Mayor Christian Provenzano, asking if Council had any input at all in regard to Bruce being cut to two lanes and southbound traffic losing its ability to make a right turn onto Queen at a red light.
I said I wondered if this was just another example of the kind of disaster that we have been living with at East and Albert, where linepainters from Guelph changed the configuration that had been in place for 50 years without any complaint from Council but plenty from the public?
“Who is responsible for something like this?,” I asked. “Are changes like this not brought to Council’s attention? If Council has to give the OK on the removal of traffic lights, does it not have to give approval for such a change as took place here? Did it?”
The mayor replied:
“I have asked for a rationale from the engineering department/traffic engineer that was retained to do the work so that I can provide that to you. I have copied Carl Rumiel (from our engineering department) and when he has that material, I will make sure you receive an answer.
“With respect to Council’s role, Council does approve the projects but council does not, usually, approve details such as lane configuration and turn lanes. We rely on engineers/traffic engineers and the governing MOT regulations. In this case, I note that there was a public information session on Feb. 3, 2018, where this project was presented, including all of the drawings of how the lanes would be structured.”
I believe the public information session was probably a good move, but I will bet it was not that well attended? Few people would really be interested in the reconstruction of two blocks in the downtown between Wellington and Queen Streets..
It would never enter anyone’s mind that such a ridiculous change as occurred would even be considered, let alone actually put into play.
Anyway, let’s look at what the engineers had to say:
Carl Rumiel, Manager, Design & Transportation Engineering with the city, replied to the Mayor:
“Below is an email from David Spacek of WSP Engineers. This outlines the design approach to the elimination of the right-turn lane. While we will not argue that the level of traffic flow was higher with the lane, it was a compromise to achieve the required space to improve the streetscape. Further the level of service is still acceptable as the lane is not warranted from a traffic engineering perspective.”
David Spacek, Northern Ontario, of WSP Engineers, replied to Rumiel:
“The development of the Bruce Street cross section is based on the principles set out in the ‘Downtown Development Strategy’.All new capital projects are to incorporate streetscaping to facilitate beautiful streets and open spaces, encourage active use of downtown spaces and improve mobility and linkages. Bruce Street has been dedicated a ‘Gateway Street’.
“The street cross section on Bruce Street mirrors the Downtown Strategy with the addition of wide-treed boulevards to increase public space within the street right-of-way. Bicycle lanes were added to improve cycling mobility. Pedestrian safety was improved with the narrowing of the crossing distance at Bruce and Queen Street.
“The threshold for the implementation of a dedicated right-turn lane is based on traffic counts at the intersection. The Transportation of Canada (TAC) Guidelines recommend when the number of vehicles turning right into traffic exceeds 20% of the on-coming traffic volume, a right-turn lane may be considered. Based on the current traffic volume, the traffic counts did not justify a dedicated right-turn lane on Bruce Street at Queen Street.”
There you have it, the rationale for eliminating the right-turn lane.
If you don’t buy it, you are not alone. I still don’t buy it either. I think the whole idea is ridiculous.
Spacek says all new capital projects are to incorporate streetscaping to facilitate beautiful streets and open spaces, encourage active use of downtown spaces and improve mobility and linkages.
What mobility is he talking about? What linkages? He certainly isn’t talking about vehicle mobility so it must be about pedestrian traffic, right?
There are traffic lights at the intersection, for heaven’s sake. How much of a problem has pedestrian traffic had getting across the street? None that I have heard of.
Spacek talks about the addition of wide-treed boulevards to increase public space within the street right-of-way. How much public space is required on Bruce within Albert and Queen? I would say none because there is really very little business on the block. But it never hurts to throw in a red herring or two, does it?
Both Spacek and Rumiel say that the traffic count does not justify a right-turn lane at the intersection but they don’t say what the count here is. Spacek says it must exceed 20% to get a right-turn lane. What was ours, maybe 18%?
Actually, I don’t care what it is. Convenience should count for something, no matter the count. Why should vehicles wanting to make a right turn on a red have to wait for southbound traffic to clear. The right-turn lane has probably been there for more than 60 years; it is hard to believe it would be taken out now.
And what if the count someday does exceed 20%? Would they really consider putting jackhammers to work on the sea of concrete, concrete somehow seeming to have become intertwined with aesthetics in the Sault.
I think it also should be pointed out that at the other end of the block, where Bruce meets Albert, motorists wishing to make a right turn on red onto Albert have a lane in which to do so. The other side of Bruce is also a little wider to accommodate southbound traffic. No consideration of pedestrians required here, it seems.
I have to wonder if what has happened at Bruce and Queen is to become the norm.
The other major intersections on Queen Street are at East, Brock and Elgin Streets. If and when they are reconstructed, will concrete win the day? being dumped freely on what once accommodated a lane for right-turning traffic.
I think when it comes to project like this, traffic engineers should be paired with someone from the general public, so one could go by the book while the other provides some common sense.
I don’t think you will have any problem figuring out which one would provide what.