Wednesday, February 5, 2014

More two-way traffic coming to downtown St. Catharines

Last evening I made my way to the council chambers at St. Catharines City Hall to take a look a the proposed changes to the remaining one-way streets in downtown St. Catharines.

I was one of two members of the public visiting for about half-an-hour last evening, in addition to St. Patrick's Ward Councillor Mark Elliott and soon-to-be-sworn-in St. George's Councillor Laura lp and representatives from Delcan, who worked on the study presented to the public yesterday.   I am hoping things were busier in the afternoon and earlier in the evening than when I arrived at 7 pm.

Anyone who has traversed the downtown streets the last few years since the major conversion back to two-way traffic has to admit the move was a wise one and a long time coming.  Sure it is slower to get through the downtown now, but that was the point, really.  No longer do we have the Daytona 500 on St. Paul and King Streets when they were one-way only.  You now get a chance to notice what there is downtown that's worth stopping for.

Okay, I know we still have some empty storefronts to deal with, but really, would you rather race through the downtown like you still can in downtown Hamilton?  That setup is efficient, but heaven help you if you miss your turn off from either King or Main Streets!

Anyway, almost all the last vestiges of one-way traffic in downtown St. Catharines will be history in about five years time according to this study, providing of course funding is available to do the conversions.  None of them are major projects, although the five-way intersection at the end of St. Paul Street, long considered a nightmare to try to figure out will be a little more complicated to deal with.

According to the study, Niagara Street will remain one-way from Church to Geneva Street, but a dedicated lane from the Geneva/St. Paul/Queenston intersection will handle the one-way northbound traffic on Niagara.  In addition, the Niagara Street lane will be taken out of the intersection equation entirely, which should make for a better traffic flow through that area.

As for Queenston Street, it will be converted back to two-way traffic from Geneva to Riordon in order to accommodate the wine route, designated along Queenston Street.  The wine route passing through our downtown has been the major impetus to converting roads back to two-way in the first place, and considering the Geneva/Niagara/St. Paul/Queenston intersection would be enough to drive anyone on the wine route to drink in short order, it is good we finally got the mess sorted out.

So in a nutshell, you'll head in both directions east-west on St. Paul and Queenston, and both directions north-south on Geneva.  You'll only be able to head north (sort of, since it is on an angle) on Niagara.  Got that?  Good.

Now, on to the other traffic planning nightmare still lurking in the downtown:  Church Street from King to Court Street.  Oh, what fun this would be!  With a planned realignment of the Church Street and King Street intersection (that's an intersection?!) they figure two-way traffic can flow through that stretch with no problem.  So essentially all of Church Street will be two-way, along with King Street. That realignment will be interesting to see once it is officially opened.

And you thought roundabouts were hard enough to figure out!

Okay, that leaves just one more street to deal with and that is William Street from St. Paul to Lake Street.  It was not converted to two-way traffic the last time because of truck loading issues at The Standard newspaper building, but since that issue resolved itself this past summer with The Standard moving out of their old home on Queen Street, there is no reason why they can't do it now.

Sure, some of the parking issues have to be resolved in that area, including the exit from the Ontario Street parking garage at William Street, but that should not be too difficult to figure out.  What might be more difficult is getting drivers used to the idea once they exit the parking garage after so many years of just having to turn left from either lane.

William Street is not a major downtown thoroughfare, but just think how nice it will be when you come down Lake Street late afternoon and rather than sit in the long conga line of cars heading southbound on Ontario Street, you can just go south on William to St. Paul, west on St. Paul and continue on through the intersection or turn left onto Westchester.  Whoops, was I supposed to keep that traffic tip secret?  Sorry about that...

Anyway, I applaud all involved in finally taming the five corners beast at one end of the downtown and helping to alleviate some of the traffic congestion at the other end.  Who would have imagined, traffic congestion in downtown St. Catharines...been quite a while since we had to deal with that, right?

But consider this:  with the new Meridian Centre, Performing Arts Centre and Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts complex all set to open within the next two years downtown, can we really afford to wait five years to implement all these changes?  Hopefully they can be fast-tracked somehow so we can get everything done by the time all the new venues open to the public, but that might be too much to ask considering the major cash outlay from all involved to rebuild the Burgoyne Bridge.

At the very least, we need to get the William Street conversion done by the end of this summer, which should be not too expensive.  Just imagine the gridlock on Ontario Street when something is happening at the Meridian Centre and people are trying to get into the Ontario Street parking garage.  Although I believe it only exits onto William now, perhaps an entrance from William Street could also be considered in order to improve the traffic flow on a game night.

Let's start thinking ahead and get this done before the Meridian Centre opens in the fall.  If we are going to make downtown a destination point for so many reasons, we also have to ensure people coming in and out of the downtown core enjoy the experience of doing so on all levels.

February 5th, 2014.

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