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The Questionable Intersection


The intersection of Commercial Street, Victoria Crescent, Wallace Street and Albert Street is an awkward confluence of roads creating confusion and conflict. Its design was never well conceived, it does not accommodate cyclists or pedestrians and it presents a confusing array of instructions to motorists who often have trouble negotiating the traffic patterns. Surprisingly, there are very few accidents here, however there are huge number of conflicts; in the order of multiple times an hour. Given the volume of traffic here, the rate of conflict is extremely high. Pedestrians and cyclists are safe only in the sense that almost all drivers can’t go fast enough to hit them. The game of dodge the car usually favors those without the car, but only by a small margin. Something has to be done to improve this intersection.

Over the years many proposals for improving this intersection have been put forward. The proposal that gets the most attention is a traffic circle. However the geometry of this intersection and the terrain make a traffic circle challenging in this location. While traffic circle might help vehicle traffic flow, it would not reduce the size of the intersection and it would increase the area of conflict between motor vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. The game of dodge the car would start to favor the drivers.

Another proposal expands on an innovation from the Netherlands that allows cars and pedestrians to go where ever they wish within an unmarked open square. Cars are required to go slow enough to avoid hitting pedestrians and cyclists who could wander around which ever way they wished. Cars are required to dodge the pedestrians and not the other way around. This works well if the only use for the space is getting from one side to another. In these open spaces nothing more can be done than walk, ride or drive. If you want to park your car and get out, sit and get some sun, meet people, buy something from a street vendor things get awkward and conflicts will occur.

Another idea, proposed lately is to remove traffic from Commercial Street and have only the traffic from the three remaining streets contend with the intersection. While this would likely reduce conflicts between drivers, it still wouldn’t reduce conflicts between drivers and those involved in active transportation and it would also reduce vehicle access to the several neighborhoods beyond this intersection. It’s a very one dimensional solution to a three dimensional problem.

I have proposed a third option (illustration "A"). To those I have shown it too, the response has been favorable, but I would be interested a serious critique. I know this is not a perfect solution, but I haven’t seen a proposal that is better. This proposal is called a “double T”. It divides the present intersection into two “T” intersections.

The design has a number advantages; it allows drivers to traverse the space in discrete stages which allows drivers to focus on the essentials of each part of the transition. It allows an expanded “off ramp” from the highway and improves traffic flow from the highway to Victoria Crescent, while improving the connection from Victoria Cresent to Albert street. It grants the pedestrians several ways to cross the road safely. It also grants pedestrians two large areas on the sunnier side of the street (marked in blue). These areas would expand the area for outdoor seating for patrons of restaurants, they could also be used store bikes. It expands the area for waiting for the bus, reducing the conflict between people walking down the street and those waiting for the bus.

intersection diet.b.jpg
intersection diet.a.jpg

To be sure the design does not accommodate buses that have to cross from Wallace to Victoria. In fact, this design might even necessitate changing certain bus routes.  


The design would also require moving several large maple trees, but it might be possible to move these trees across the street to provide a canopy for the newly created public space. Finally, the design would necessitate some minor changes to the typography to reduce the slope of Albert and Victoria Crescent this would necessitate the introduction of retaining walls and stairs. This could be done using retain walls and by taking advantage of construction that must happen on either side of Commercial Street. 

A better solution might be as proposed by the Toole Design group working on plans for Commercial Street. This proposal (illustration "B") would accommodate the existing bus routes. It also involves a "double T" intersection so that vehicle traffic is directed in discrete stages, but instead of aligning the intersections along the Commercial Street axis the intersections are aligned along the axis created by Wallace and Victoria. I my view this is an option that would be easier to do. It does not involve moving large trees or moving pavement. However it does impose limitations on the "off ramp" capabilities of Commercial Street and would occasionally require cars turning right onto Commercial from Terminal to impede traffic on Terminal. I do not think this is a relevant concern, but that is my opinion. If others determine that this is relevant than option "A" has a slightly better off ramp capability.

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