By Ryan McGreal
Published June 30, 2011
Starting next Wednesday, July 6, the City's Public Works Department will close King William Street between James and Hughson to install a new sanitary/storm sewer and water main. At the same time, workers will resurface the street and add some streetscaping. The work is expected to take two months.
Because King William and Hughson are both one-way streets (eastbound and northbound, respectively), Hughson will also be closed between King and King William during the work. However, King William between Hughson and John will be converted temporarily to two-way to provide access for vehicles to reach destinations 'downstream' of the closure.
City staff confirmed that King William will be converted back to one-way when the road work is completed, as it "was not identified in the plan for two-way conversion" under the Downtown Transportation Master Plan. The stretch of King William between John and Mary has been identified for conversion, but will be converted at some point in the future "as soon as the budget allows".
Despite a strong rhetorical emphasis on walkability, the Downtown Transportation Master Plan report, titled Putting People First, takes a tentative, go-slow approach to two-way conversion. Listed among the objectives is: "Over the long term, return the residential street system to a residential scale with opportunities for two-way traffic."
Significantly, the plan excludes major streets, like Main, King, Cannon and Bay, on the grounds that they are "Mobility Streets", primarily designed to accommodate "through-trips with the origin and destination of the trip outside the Downtown."
The City recently converted York/Wilson to two-way between Bay and Ferguson and is currently extending the two-way conversion of Wilson from Ferguson east to Victoria. However, the two-way conversion was completed in such a way as to preserve the existing, predominantly one-way flow of traffic.
For example, motor vehicles on James are not allowed to turn west onto York from either the north or the south. As a result of this bizarre, self-fulfilling design choice, the lonely westbound lane sits empty most of the time.
As well, in early 2009 the traffic department vetoed a proposal to add a pedestrian scramble at York and MacNab because it would be inefficient for automobiles. Chief traffic engineer Hart Solomon defended the decision on the basis that adding a scramble would have short-term impacts on traffic and the goal of diverting people out of their cars is long-term and needs to be undertaken in combination with other land-use and transportation changes, which will also happen at some point in the future.
The Downtown Transportation Master Plan Five Year Review from 2008 makes it clear that the York Boulevard two-way conversion remains subject to the overarching objective of maintaining traffic flow through the downtown.
The plan justifies maintaining two eastbound lanes on York so it can continue to serve as an eastbound through-traffic corridor, and recommends against converting Main Street to two-way because Main has to accommodate eastbound traffic diverted from a converted York Boulevard.
It does propose converting King Street to two-way, subject to traffic analysis under the Rapid Transit project, but last December, the two-way conversion was dropped from the Rapid Transit plan, again so that our east-west thoroughfares can continue to function as "the primary corridors of through traffic".
So much for "putting people first".