Every North American city has arterial roadways. Every city also has residential neighbourhoods with schools, homes, parks, playgrounds and other walking destinations. The challenge is how to manage the intersection of arterials and neighbourhoods.
In an earlier blog post, we talked about the issues of arterials and our observations from The Places Project community walk through Burnside Gorge, a neighbourhood north-west of downtown Victoria, BC, Canada. Burnside Gorge includes everything from light industrial to residential to commercial uses. In recent years the very well designed Selkirk Village development (see pink area on map below) has brought a blend of housing, retail and services to the Gorge Waterway (an inlet from Victoria harbour). It’s a great space but the community remains disjointed – to get or from the community centres (see “C” on the map below) to Selkirk Village and the water means crossing a rather intimidating intersection.
This is not a new observation. The recently adopted Official Community Plan for The City of Victoria specifically references a goal to “Better integrate Selkirk Village with adjacent lands.”
In our view it’s not so much about linking “adjacent lands” as it is in facilitating people movement. Those lands are the places where people live, go to school, visit friends, and walk their dogs. The issue is about not cutting off community circulation with a roadway that doesn’t support the multiple ways people move around. In Victoria, a city with a moderate coastal climate, people are outdoors year round. Cycling is a common mode of transportation, as is walking.
Two elements equal one problem
Here at the corner of Gorge Road and Jutland Road (which in turn connects to a city-wide arterial Finlayson) the intersection and street design favour vehicular traffic moving through the area at the expense of locals on foot, bike and in wheelchairs. Two seemingly small elements of this area create this imbalance – and provide opportunities to improve the situation.
First, vehicles traveling north-west on Gorge Road are given a dedicated “ramp” right hand turn onto Jutland Road. That means that they don’t have to stop and while in theory they do yield to pedestrians, the dedicated lane allows drivers to maintain their speed and sweep through the intersection.
Secondly, Jutland Road north of the intersection features an unusually wide northbound driving lane. On our walk, I paced it off at approximately 5 metres (16 feet) versus the standard 3-3.5 metres (10-12 feet).
In combination, those two factors create an ideal environment for heavy trucks to take fast turns. And it is a busy intersection with heavy truck traffic. In the minds of those truck drivers on their mission to get across town, the neighbourhood for all intents and purposes doesn’t exist. They are focused on connecting to the next arterial on their journey and doing so as quickly as possible.
It’s the job of the intersection to help all those vehicles to move – but it’s also the job of the intersection to tell them they are entering a different zone. For just two blocks along Jutland Road, inter-city traffic needs to ‘get the message’ that this is a place of children going to school, people out walking their dogs and folks ambling to or from Selkirk Village and the lovely waterfront.
There are (at least) two fixes for a problem intersection like Gorge and Jutland. One is simply to square off the intersection, removing the dedicated curved turn lane. That would require all vehicles to come up the intersection, stop (if the light is red) and turn. More awkward for a heavy truck, no doubt, but manageable. A less effective solution from a pedestrian’s point of view would be to narrow the driving lane on Jutland – that wide swath of asphalt that allows for sloppy, fast cornering – and install heavy planters that direct vehicles over to a narrower lane against in the middle of the roadway.
I actually tested the latter solution on our walk by standing in the road (do not try this at home), effectively narrowing their lane and directing them to squeeze left. Replace me with a couple attractive planters and you have a safer environment for everyone. A bonus would be the ability to somewhat “separate” the bike lane on the street, streaming vehicles to the left of the planter / barricade.
As Jane Jacobs always pointed out, citizens in a neighbourhood can see these issues easily. In the debrief session after our community walk, people marked up our maps with comments like “modify turning lane for trucks – slow down!”, “plant flower beds”, “width of roadway” and “reduce corner radius and add textured / coloured pavement.”
People know what it feels like to be a pedestrian on a corner where a multi-ton cement truck comes wheeling around without pause. This is not the kind of place where it’s wise to step out into traffic and assert your pedestrian rights. It’s also not the kind of connecting point that links areas together, that invites people to walk to and from the nearby Gorge waterfront, or otherwise do stuff on foot.
As an urban transportation element, arterial roads are important. They move us between neighbourhoods – usually in cars, trucks and buses but also on bikes and foot. Good arterial design needs to recognize, however, that every neighbourhood deserves to have its own “flow” within the spaces that people will walk – usually a 15 to 20 minute radius. It’s reasonable to “neck down,” squeeze or slow an arterial for a few blocks within a neighbourhood, in the zones where neighbourhood flow is most important.
Studies show that traffic can still flow steadily and effectively at slower speeds – a roadway doesn’t need to move vehicles at 50 or 60 km/h continuously in order to move large volumes of traffic.
In Burnside Gorge neighbourhood of Victoria, some steps have been taken to start adding pedestrians to the streetscape. A block up from the problem intersection, curb bulbing has been added to the Jutland Road – Cecilia Road intersection, and new sidewalks lead from there past a school to the Burnside Gorge Community Centre.
With the addition of similar pedestrian features on nearby intersections, the community can achieve a comfortable pedestrian flow while also continuing to “serve” the Greater Victoria municipal region by providing arterial road access.