The intersection of Opal Road and Rock City Road. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo city council asks for another report on ‘high-speed shortcut’ residential road

Staff reports on traffic calming on Opal Road

City council wants more data before it decides whether closing a shortcut through the Rock City neighbourhood was the right call.

Nanaimo city council received a staff report Monday on traffic calming on Opal Road, where the city blocked off access onto Opal for all vehicle traffic coming from Rock City Road.

The work was done in September following a second request from Opal Road residents who “felt that traffic volume and speed were too high and they had significant safety concerns,” according to a staff report.

Monday’s report noted that the traffic calming had halved the amount of vehicle traffic on Opal Road from 1,330 vehicles per day to 620 vehicles per day. Traffic speeds were essentially unchanged, dipping from 42 kilometres per hour to 41km/h.

“Inherently it comes down philosophically to what you find more important: the safety impact on the neighbourhood or mobility/efficiency,” said Poul Rosen, the city’s director of engineering, at Monday’s meeting. “They’re both things that we want to promote and encourage, but what do you find more important? In this case, that balance tipped in favour of protecting the neighbourhood.”

Rosen said the “geometry” of Opal Road would make street upgrades cost-prohibitive and Jamie Rose, city manager of transportation, concurred.

“The road was never intended to accommodate that type of volume and the costs to support that, whether the community supports it or not, would be huge,” Rose said, adding that staff has “considered just about everything.”

Councillors had mixed opinions about the report, with Coun. Erin Hemmens acknowledging that city council has heard “backlash” over Opal Road traffic calming. Coun. Sheryl Armstrong said 800 vehicle trips were being disrupted for 20 residences.

“We hear this quite often when it comes time for development [that] the road belongs to everybody. So now, basically what we’ve said is this road belongs to just this neighbourhood,” Armstrong said.

Coun. Tyler Brown said “it seems odd to me that we would re-route 250,000 annual trips in the name of safety for 24 houses and run them by Rock City School. I just don’t understand that logic.”

Among councillors who spoke up on the subject Monday, Coun. Ian Thorpe was most supportive of the traffic calming measures.

“I understand that Opal Road was being used, to put it bluntly, as a rather high-speed shortcut for commuters and through a residential area which is cause for concerns for safety…” he said. “I think people will get used to this. I think it’s a very minor inconvenience for some people to go slightly further to a more major intersection and simply not be cutting through a residential zone that was never intended as a shortcut.”

Mayor Leonard Krog put a rumour to rest swearing that “no member of council either lives on or even near Opal Road” and suggested he’d like to see crash data before deciding if the traffic calming is making the area safer. He asked for another staff report once the traffic calming has been in place for a year, though council did not make any motion other than to receive Monday’s report for information.

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Traffic calming at Opal Road and Rock City Road. (City of Nanaimo image)

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