‘Frightening’ intersection in Nanaimo to be replaced with a roundabout

'Frightening' intersection in Nanaimo to be replaced with a roundabout
An artist rendering of a planned roundabout on Mary Ellen Drive. (City of Nanaimo)

A roundabout will replace a “frightening” intersection on a well-known stretch of roadway in Nanaimo.

The City of Nanaimo is expected to spend $366,000 to replace an intersection between Woodgrove Centre and Woodgrove Crossing on Mary Ellen Drive with a roundabout as part of an effort to make navigating the roadway and access to both shopping centres easier for motorists as well as pedestrians.

Mary Ellen Drive, a roughly 230-metre stretch of roadway between the Nanaimo Parkway and Island Highway North, was constructed in 1999. Over the years, the road and the intersection between the two plazas, has become well-known for being difficult to use for both pedestrians and motorists.

According to a recent city staff report, the existing setup of Mary Ellen Drive is not safe for motorists or pedestrians due to a variety of factors that include a lack of right-of-way control, high speeds of vehicles coming off either highway, long crossing distances required for pedestrians, and traffic congestion, and does not fit in with the city’s vision of the area being more walkable.

“The area is not pedestrian friendly and the crosswalk is not located at a natural crossing location. The crosswalk is currently on the west side of the intersection, which is not directly connected to the sidewalk network. It is also closest to the Parkway, where vehicles approach at higher speeds,” the report reads.

Although the city has budgeted $366,000 for the project, more than half ($205,382) is being funded through community contributions. The remaining money will be funded directly by the city. ICBC is also expected to cover a portion of the costs, however, it is not known how much that will be.

During a finance and audit committee meeting on July 20, where staff formally discussed the plans with council, the city’s project engineer, Annalisa Fipke, told councillors that the original plan was to install a full-scale roundabout in 2014, but that was abandoned due to high costs.

“We did explore kind of completely pulling apart the entire insection back in 2014 but the expensive would’ve been too high. So, this is a low-cost alternative. It utilizes existing curbs and existing drainage,” said Fipke.

As part of the project, there would be would also be a number of other upgrades to Mary Ellen Drive that include relocating the crosswalk to the eastern leg of the intersection away from the free-flow Parkway exit, and reducing the pedestrian exposure in the crosswalk from five lanes down to a two-lane two-stage crosswalk.

Councillors were generally supportive of the project, which does not need council’s approval, but councillors Sheryl Armstrong and Jim Turley did express some concerns about whether the roundabout will accommodate big trucks.

“How are they going to get in there because there is not the width to allow them? Are they going to have to down and find someplace to U-turn and then come all the way back up. How are we dealing with that?” questioned Armstrong.

Fipke explained that the roundabout will accommodate all vehicles including those made by large trucks coming and going from either shopping centre, but that there may be some restrictions on turning movements.

“It will accommodate vehicles and all movements, however … the largest [trucks] that deliver … will have to do right in and right out movements,” she said, adding that there will “have to be some rerouting” but that the properties are supportive of those measures.

Coun. Ian Thorpe said the project is “long overdue” and very much needed.

“I have lost track and count of the number of people who have asked me when we are going to do improvements at this location,” said Thorpe.

Coun. Ben Geselbracht said the roundabout is going to make him and many other people happy once its finally installed.

“This traffic circle here makes me happy and I think it is going to make a lot of other people happy. The number of times I’ve been pulling out of the Save-On-Foods and everybody is looking at each other like ‘who goes, how do we do this?’ It’s a pinch point,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mayor Leonard Krog called the intersection “one of the most frightening” in Nanaimo and said he is thrilled that a roundabout will be installed.

“I think this is a marvellous solution,” he said, later adding. “For the amount of money involved, this is money well spent.”

Krog also said that while he appreciates the concern about access for large trucks, he believes the roundabout will be a positive for the area and that truckers will be able to find other ways into the shopping centres.

“Without question … intersections, roundabouts create inconvenience for some, will on occasion cause inconvenience for larger trucks,” he said, adding. “When you’re in the trucking industry you figure out the routes that are satisfactory and make due.”

Construction on the roundabout is expected to begin this fall.

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Nicholas PescodNicholas Pescod

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