The City of Nanaimo wasn’t able to control illegal turns at the Opal Road intersection, so city council has decided to just put things back the way they used to be.
City council, in a 5-4 decision Monday night, voted in favour of Coun. Zeni Maartman’s motion to remove the existing turn-control measures at the intersection that block drivers from turning left from Opal Road onto Rock City Road.
“From all we’ve heard from the residents, from what we see on social media and bumpers falling off from the way they’re hitting and the illegal turns, I’m just extremely uncomfortable with the way it is right now,” Maartman said.
Her motion went against staff’s recommendation, as general manager of engineering and public works Bill Sims said staff had hoped Monday’s meeting would be the last time the Opal Road intersection would come to the council table.
“The traffic-calming efforts have had the desired effect. We have essentially taken the local neighbourhood road that was being used as a shortcut and overused as a shortcut and we’ve reduced the traffic on that,” he said. “It’s created consternation in the neighbourhood, as council’s very well aware.”
A staff report noted that daily traffic volumes on Opal Road have gone from 1,300 vehicles per day in 2018 to fewer than 500 per day in 2020. However, some members of council, including Coun. Erin Hemmens, pointed out that there have been “unintended consequences of us reaching that goal.”
Monday’s vote was a reversal of past decisions because Hemmens voted differently this time. She said she spent 45 minutes at the intersection last week during rush hour speaking with residents and in that time, more than half the vehicles she saw made illegal turns, a truck hit the stop sign and there was a broken bumper on the median.
“If they’re losing their bumper, it’s because they’re going in the wrong direction and they’re travelling over things they’re not supposed to travel over,” said Coun. Don Bonner, who felt removing the turn-control measures would reward drivers’ bad behaviour.
Coun. Ian Thorpe also argued to keep the current measures in place.
“I think it is doing what it was designed to do and that is stop drivers using a neighbourhood road as a shortcut and in some cases, a speedway,” he said.
Coun. Ben Geselbracht, who voted against Maartman’s motion as well, said if the city were to remove the turn-control measures it should spend the money necessary to engineer Opal to a standard to handle increased traffic.
“If I was in the neighbourhood and my neighbourhood was not built to handle 1,000 cars going by, I’d be very angry at my municipal government to allow that to happen,” he said.
Sims suggested upgrades to Opal would cost “in the millions” because of the constraints of the street and the necessary property acquisition.
“It’s to the point where it’s hard to see how it would be prioritized,” he said.
Maartman’s motion passed with Bonner, Thorpe, Geselbracht and Coun. Jim Turley opposed.
The staff report predicted that removing the turn-control measures will see traffic volumes and speeds on Opal Road “revert back to pre-2018 numbers, undoing and disrupting the local neighbourhood,” but noted that travel time for drivers in the area will be reduced. The staff report added that the work to remove the turn-control structures will cost $20,000 and will require some reallocation of project budgets.