A study of the downtown traffic flow concludes that Sault Ste. Marie’s one-way street system should be maintained but Bay Street can be reduced by two lanes to increase safety, walkability and other modes of transportation.

A lengthy Environmental Assessment study that examined traffic flow in the city’s downtown core recommends that the existing one-way system be retained.

But the study also says that Sault Ste. Marie doesn’t have the traffic capacity for the four-lane system on Bay Street – and won’t in the future.

The study recommends that Bay Street, between Andrew and Pim Streets, be converted to a two lane one-way street with turning lanes at busy intersections.

The turning lanes are recommended at Bruce, Elgin, Spring, Brock and East streets, council was told.

A two lane system will provide sufficient capacity and level of service, especially if turning lanes are provided for high volume turns at specific intersections, the report concludes.

Councillors questioned whether a two-lane system would allow for curbside snow storage during the winter months and allow for safe transit stops along the route. They were told both would be possible.

In fact, said IBI Group consultant Scott Johnston, a narrower road way would also serve to reduce the speed of traffic, provide better setbacks for sidewalks and multi-use lanes and increase public safety.

It would also improve the aesthetics of Bay Street by allowing for natural landscape improvements including grassy areas and trees.

Johnston said that traffic studies show about 1,050 vehicles travel on Bay Street during the peak afternoon times.

Each lane of traffic can accommodate 900 vehicles per hour so a two-lane roadway would provide plenty of vehicular allowances, he said.

Don Elliott, the city’s director of engineering services, said that Queen Street will also need a new layer of asphalt in the coming years and he anticipates that significant streetscape improvements will also be made at that time.

The upgrades to Bay Street are tentatively scheduled for 2019 if no ‘bump up’ order is requested during the 30-day period following the completion and reporting of the study.

The study first began in August 2107 after council approved a process that would see IBI Group complete an environmental assessment for traffic in the downtown core. The study cost about $121,000.

Its main purpose was to determine what, if any, changes should be made to the current one-way system.

It was noted that the role and function of the downtown’s one-way streets have changed dramatically since it was installed six decades ago. The truck route and Carmen’s Way also changed traffic flow in the area.

The EA process included public information sessions and consultation that also examined the impacts any changes would have on transportation, socioeconomics and the natural environment.

The public consultation saw mixed opinions on whether the downtown streets should be maintained for one-way traffic or converted to a two-way street system.

Johnston said that despite that mixed reaction, the commonality included a desire to improve conditions for pedestrians and cyclists, reduce vehicle speeds and improve access for persons with disabilities.

Other suggestions the consultants received also included improving signage or wayfinding to better direct tourists to the downtown area.

IBI Group calculates that capital costs for the two-lane, one way system would cost about $2.7 million. A three lane, one-way system would cost about $2.9 million.

Annual maintenance costs for landscaped boulevards and multi-use paths would also need to be considered in ongoing budgets.

A previous EA study centred specifically on Bay Street improvements and concluded that Bay Street should be converted from four lanes one way to three lanes one way with a multi-use path in the south boulevard. It also recommended that the downtown one-way system should remain one-way and that Bay Street should be converted from four lanes one-way to two-lanes and that Bay Street should be converted from four lanes one-way to two lanes one-way with a multi-use path in the south boulevard and landscaping.

Currently, traffic entering Canada from the International Bridge can choose to drive along Carmen’s Way, missing the downtown core completely, or drive easterly on a four-lane Bay Street, often missing a short northerly jaunt to reach Queen Street.

The project is expected to receive final approval at budget time.

Source: The Sault Star