19 intersections across the City of Ottawa are waiting for traffic lights or improvements

There are 19 intersections in Ottawa waiting for major safety improvements despite being deemed a priority. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)

Frustration among councillors over roadblocks to getting safety improvements at problem intersections has gotten so bad that one councillor has encouraged residents to drive a problem route more often to improve its chances of getting an upgrade.

Coun. Tim Tierney has been trying to get Maxime Street and Cyrville Road added to a city priority list for years. He wants a set of lights to help people navigate the blind corner, but past traffic studies have never passed what is called the warrant test.

When councillors flag an intersection in need of upgrades, city staff do a traffic study of the area. They look for how many cars use the intersection, how long it takes to get through, and the number of collisions. If there aren’t enough people using the intersection, it doesn’t meet the warrant.

“We all hate the warrant system,” Tierney said, referring to his council colleagues.

‘The more traffic we can create, the better the chances’

Tierney has gone as far as asking residents to use the route when the next traffic study is being conducted.

“The more traffic we can create, the better the chances are of us getting the warrant approval for the traffic light,” Tim Tierney wrote in a Facebook post to residents, urging them to use the intersection while the study is underway.

Past studies may not have been accurate, he said, since people who normally use the intersection avoid it because it feels unsafe.

Several councillors describe communities clamouring for safety improvements to neighbourhood intersections that fall just short of the warrant, keeping them off the list.

“The warrant system is killing us,” Coun. Mathieu Fleury said in frustration at a committee meeting last week.

Even if the intersection Tierney is trying to get added does make the cut, it’s no guarantee it will make it to the top of the priority list any time soon.

The list is already long. There were 19 intersections needing major safety upgrades listed as priority projects as of 2017.

If it was just a matter of putting up street lights, the cost to upgrade the intersections would be between $150,000 and $250,000, but most upgrades require road modifications that push the costs to $2 million to $4 million, according to city traffic services director Phil Landry.

It would cost about $35 million to fix every intersection on the list, but the city spends only $2.4 million each year on those improvements.

That means communities could potentially wait over a decade for safety improvements at intersections busy enough to warrant fixes by the city’s standards.

The problem with pedestrians

The warrant system doesn’t just govern traffic lights and stop signs. Councillors are often confounded when it comes to getting pedestrian crosswalks.

As Coun. Tobi Nussbaum put it, you can’t measure the need for a bridge by the number of people who swim across the river.

Councillors said trying to justify the installation of crosswalks is difficult using the current warrant system. (Robert Short/CBC)

Since councillors are the ones with the closest relationship to their communities, they should be in a position to posit solutions, regardless of what the warrants show, Fleury said.

“If it was built, we would prove its success and it would make a much safer pedestrian environment,” he said.

Review underway

But having some objective way to measure the need for these improvements is important, said Coun. Keith Egli, who chairs the transportation committee.

“I think it is important to have a standard that largely applies across the city so we’re not treating … one set of streets differently from another set of streets,” Egli said.

The standards are mandated by the province and apply to every intersection in Ontario, which some councillors feel ignores the needs of unique neighbourhoods.

Coun. Keith Egli, the chair of Ottawa’s transportation committee, said it’s important to have an objective benchmark to measure the need for major traffic safety upgrades. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

“Sometimes when you get down to the micro level within a neighbourhood there needs to be some flexibility,” Coun. Stephen Blais said.

Councillors do have the option to ask the transportation committee to override the warrant system. Coun. Jody Mitic did that last week when the committee approved an unwarranted stop sign in his ward.

But it’s not a simple request when they’re talking about something as expensive as traffic light, and there are more than a dozen potentially dangerous intersections already in line.

A review of the warrant system is underway, but the results won’t be available until the next term of council.

Source: CBC News