SUNDRE – Council considered whether to revert to a two-way direction of traffic the back alley adjacent to the Foothills Terrace condos, but ultimately ended up opting to maintain the one-way from west to east that was established years ago in an attempt to mitigate safety concerns.
Providing a recap of the file to date, Chris Albert, director of corporate services, told council during the regular Nov. 20 meeting that the formerly two-way alley north of Highway 27-Main Avenue between 2nd and 3rd streets NW was originally converted to a one-way lane in 2016 as a result of concerns expressed by the Foothills Terrace Condominium Association pertaining to dust, excessive vehicle speeds, increased amounts of traffic, and the potential risk of collisions when residents egress from the building’s underground parking.
The back alley has been back on the agenda a number of times since, ultimately leading to a survey of adjacent property owners being conducted this past spring by municipal staff, said Albert.
“The results of the survey were inconclusive,” he said.
The association proceeded with the installation of a warning light for the safety of both residents exiting the garage as well as motorists driving down the alley, he said, adding council directed administration earlier this summer to add the item to the recent fall workshop’s agenda.
Having had the opportunity to discuss the issue at length during the workshop, council was asked to provide direction to administration, which did not recommend a particular course of action one way or another and deferred to council’s discretion.
Opening the floor to debate, Coun. Jaime Marr motioned to remove the one-way signs and restore the two-way lane.
“I felt that it made the most sense to revert the lane back to a two-way. It is the only one-way in town,” said Marr, addressing not just her council colleagues but also a contingent of roughly half a dozen residents from the condo who attended the meeting.
“It’s not a common thing to have,” she said.
Further elaborating, she said the lighting that was installed by the association as well as “the lack of passion, interest and debate from the surrounding residents” left her of the opinion that “it just makes sense to have this as a two-way lane.”
Concluding her comments, the councillor added that having a two-way lane could well come in handy for the community in the future when the municipality moves forward on major projects.
Although paused for the winter months, construction work on and underneath Sundre’s high-load corridor is expected to resume in the spring.
Coun. Todd Dalke said there either way will remain a safety concern and asked about the possibility of installing a speed mitigation measure such as speed bumps on either side of the garage’s entrance to ensure motorists slow down.
Dalke said he would hate to remove the one-way lane without having an alternative approach in place to reduce the risk of collisions.
Originally supporting reverting the alley back to a two-way lane as there are no other one-way lanes in town and it seemed to cause confusion, Coun. Chris Vardas – who joined a portion of the meeting remotely by phone – spoke of a change of heart following a good conversation.
“If we left it as a one-way, I think it’s a little safer,” he said. “That back alley is narrow as it is. With two lanes, it would be really tough.”
Coun. Owen Petersen was also opposed to reverting back to two-way traffic.
“The original change back in 2016 was a good idea. It is the only one-way back alley in town; it’s also not rocket science to use a one-way back alley,” said Petersen.
“It’s also a very unique back alley because of the fact that there is that (underground garage) door, the high-traffic area right next to the alley. You don’t see that anywhere else in town.”
The councillor was also against speed bumps, which he said would simply present another hurdle potentially causing problems for snow-clearing efforts.
Although the safety risk cannot be outright eliminated, measures can be taken to mitigate it, such as the warning lights that have already been installed, he said.
“But going back to two-way is just taking away one added safety element” without implementing another in its place, he said.
Mayor Richard Warnock said he was originally against the idea of having the one-way lane because as the only such alley in town, motorists are used to being able to go two ways and old habits die hard.
But in light of the survey’s largely ambivalent results that did not indicate strong support either way, the mayor said he began to reconsider whether the one-way alley was a bad thing.
That being said, he added the responsibility falls largely on the shoulders of residents as few people who drive through Sundre will ever go down that alley, unless perhaps there’s construction going on.
“You got to understand that enforcement of this is going to be very difficult,” he said.
“Driving is a privilege, not a right. We got to get our residents convinced that that’s a one-way alley and to follow the rules of the road. But we also have to get the residents of the condominium complex to understand that it’s a one-way alley and follow the rules of the road.”
Marr’s motion was defeated, with Petersen, Warnock, Vardas and Coun. Paul Isaac opposed. Dalke, Marr and Coun. Connie Anderson voted in favour.
Petersen then motioned to maintain the one-way lane without increasing the level of service on the back alley.
“I really appreciate that there’s a light, I really appreciate that it’s a one-way. Those are two things that are going to mitigate this situation that’s going to exist as long as that condo is there,” he said.
“I believe that that is enough and the rest of the responsibility for that situation needs to be on the drivers.”
Marr, who was not necessarily opposed to keeping the one-way, countered by saying the unique alley should in that case be policed more.
“If we’re going to maintain that as one-way back alley – the only one-way in Sundre – I think it is silly to maintain no additional level of service,” she said. “If we’re going to keep it as a one-way back alley, I would like to see an increased level of service. And I think it’s not beneath the peace officer to spend a little bit more time in that area to do tickets.”
The mayor asserted that among the peace officer’s roles is to spend an equal amount of time patrolling all of the town’s back alleys without placing a special focus on just one.
The motion to keep the one-way lane ended up carrying with Marr and Dalke opposed, while Vardas, Isaac, Petersen, Anderson and Warnock were in favour.