Nanaimo city council narrowly voted against a surprise motion to go against staff recommendations and return Opal Road to the way it used to be.
Coun. Zeni Maartman made the motion at Monday’s meeting after council received a staff report on the Opal Road-Rock City Road intersection.
Councillors have been hearing from citizens about the intersection since a 2019 realignment that blocked left turns from Opal Road onto Rock City Road and right turns from Rock City onto Opal in an attempt to discourage use of the residential road as a shortcut.
A staff report recommended that council continue to monitor the intersection until the spring or make further installations to restrict illegal turns there.
However, Maartman preferred neither option, saying that it’s her opinion that the intersection has become more dangerous.
“We do have all the expert advice, but my responsibility is also to listen to the citizens within that area and we have heard for months about the difficulties, the challenges, people not obeying it, people doing dangerous turns,” she said.
Coun. Sheryl Armstrong agreed, saying she’s observed illegal movements there and said even a City of Nanaimo truck didn’t comply with the rules of the road.
“I consider this a failure. I think it’s going to result in more accidents,” Armstrong said, adding that she’s concerned about increased traffic near Rock City Elementary School negatively impacting safety there.
Coun. Erin Hemmens said she’d be interested to hear the school’s perspective “because children’s safety is paramount, obviously,” but hadn’t heard concerns to that effect. She preferred to go with staff’s recommendations, saying that it might take some time to break drivers’ habits.
Coun. Ian Thorpe also opposed Maartman’s motion, saying that drivers previously using Opal Road as a shortcut, sometimes speeding, “was a more dangerous situation than what some people are claiming we have created with our solution.”
Councillors Ben Geselbracht and Don Bonner also voted in opposition, both expressing they would prefer to see traffic enforcement to combat illegal turns at the intersection.
Krog voted in favour, saying hundreds of drivers using the Opal Road shortcut every day would have some effect in reducing carbon emissions.
The staff report noted that traffic on Opal Road is down 65-70 per cent from 2018; however, about 20 per cent of turns at the Opal-Rock City intersection are illegal turns.
“The traffic calming effect on Opal has been what we would have regarded as a success and we’re well aware of the consternation caused in the community of what it took to get there,” said Bill Sims, the city’s general manager of engineering and public works.
Maartman’s motion failed 5-4 with councillors Hemmens, Thorpe, Geselbracht, Bonner and Jim Turley opposed.
A subsequent motion to continue monitoring the intersection as is until the spring passed 7-2, with Maartman and Geselbracht opposed.