Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Walk Around in Circles

Man, I'm tired. I'm tired a lot lately! I've been going full-bore at learning my new position, and then basically just shambling home and falling asleep, so I realize that I have not exactly been Mr. Excitement lately. It's just nice to be spending all of my energy on working instead of on finding work, y'know? Plus with our library mostly under construction at the moment, and the resulting dearth of available rooms, I've been getting quite the enjoyment out of my makeshift office because it's a dual-monitor station set up amidst shelves of rare books up to four hundred years old.

My office is awesome.

But enough about me! There are lots of interesting developments going on in this city that clearly just have not received enough attention. So join me now as we take a moment to consider one of the less-covered stories amidst our recent events, and thus discuss the hitherto unexplored topic of: traffic circles.

Hey, wait, come back!

Okay, okay, I know; you're pretty sick and tired of hearing about traffic circles in particular, traffic "calming" in general, and pretty much everything having to do with the upswing of unwanted concrete ambushes going on around town. Hey, I feel your pain! Like many of you, I eventually began to feel that the hilariously ill-received and largely unsolicited "improvements" seemed remote and distant concerns -- comedically indicative of our city's planning incompetencies but far removed from neighbourhood roads such as mine, where the biggest excitement is dudes trying to sneak off Osborne before discovering that they'll only get spat back onto Osborne in worse positioning than they started with.

Traffic circles? In my neighbourhood? It's more likely than you'd think:

One of the challenges of writing, particularly in writing dialogue, is that modern usage of the English language very frequently uses questions as flat sentences or as exclamations. In these cases, a period or exclamation mark at the end of the sentence would be best for conveying the intended inflection to the reader, but conventional structure dictates that the sentence phrased in this manner needs to end with a question mark. I am mentioning all this so you won't think me negligent with my punctuation when I tell you that my exact reaction at seeing this new addition to the road -- springing out of nowhere seemingly overnight -- was a beat of silence, and then a quiet "the hell am I looking at."

I'm not even mad, I'm just dis... actually, I'm not even disappointed so much as I am just straight up confused. They've dropped a series of these circles at about two-block intervals all along Hay Street, which runs parallel to the east of Osborne from McNaughton at the south to the end of Churchill Drive at the north. In Osborne terms that's from the start of the bridge to the Robin's Donuts by the cemetary, which really isn't very far a distance at all.

And for what purpose? Well, that's what I was trying to figure out, so being the diligent info seeker that I am I figured I'd have a look-see at whatever city documents have now been put up online. (I certainly don't remember our household or neighbourhood ever being told in advance that this construction would be happening, but that... seems to be a common theme around town.)

This was done as one of the infamous thirty-six active transportation projects you've heard so much about, this one in particular designed to "[serve] as an alternative to cycling on Osborne Street". Only thing is, it was... already a faster alternative to cycling on Osborne Street, to the point that the City's cycling map from just last year was already highlighting Hay as the ideal low-traffic proposed route for biking through the area. And since many of the now-circular intersections were ones that didn't require stops on Hay anyway, I'm not entirely sure what this project adds or accomplishes except perhaps the optics of looking busy.

Other notes of interest from that link in the middle of the paragraph above:

"The Hay Bikeway will connect St Vital to the Downtown."

Guys, your 'bikeway' is one and a half kilometres. It almost, but not quite, connects one side of Churchill Drive to the other end of Churchill Drive; anything after that and you're either back along Osborne or underwater. (There's supposed to be an "unpaved multi-use path" to the north, but unless you've preemptively evolved yourself some gills I wouldn't recommend counting on that one to get you to work on time.) Let's not exaggerate our accomplishments here.

"Bike Boulevards are streets where some type of traffic calming has been implemented to discourage non-local automobile traffic and to encourage cycling and pedestrian transportation."

Wait, what? No, wait, hang on. This Hay project is supposed to be a discouragement for automobile traffic? Assuming for the moment that our easily but temporarily befuddled citizens will eventually wrap their heads around how to drive through the circles, what you've done for them is remove almost all of the stop signs along a residential street directly perpendicular to one of the most consistently clogged traffic thoroughfares in the city. That's... well, you're right, that's definitely discouraging, but not in the way the word was originally intended.

"Traffic calming", what is this, I don't even. In the years that I've been in this neighbourhood I've never seen enough traffic -- auto or cyclist -- along Hay to justify or require calming measures, so it's... I still don't even know what to make of it. The circles are cute, sure, but entirely unnecessary where they are; they're the concrete equivalent of covering the eraser on a pencil with one of those bigger, teddy-bear-shaped erasers that fits on the end of your pencil and does the exact same job your original eraser did.

It's also a bizarre decision because Hay is the very last place in the area you would even think to put traffic calming measures, and there are none of these circles anywhere else in the immediate neighbourhood where you would originally have expected traffic to be. I've found none next to the high school, none around either of the elementary schools, none around the Riverview Health Centre, none near the community centre, and none in that large triangle of streets north of Jubilee and west of Osborne where you actually could plot considerable shortcuts before to save yourself some time spent in traffic.

(It helps, too, that the Jubilee Overpass is finally open again. Not done -- it's still only one lane eastbound at the moment -- but at least open, albeit a month late.)

For those of you unfamiliar with the area, I've indicated the placement of the calming measures in green on this helpful map:

I'm leaving off a couple of finer details on there -- two nice ice cream shoppes, a couple bookstores, a graveyard to shoot hip-hop videos in, et cetera -- but you get the general idea. Since Churchill Drive meanders for a while and then just peters back into Osborne northbound, a very long way away from Confusion Corner and a veritable no-go zone during peak hours, nobody's ever seemed real keen on trying to sneak around through it; we'll see if motorist interest picks up now that you can use it to cycle around (see what I did there) to an unpatrolled residential street straight through the area and right beside Osborne where the only barriers between you and your top speed are a few curves and the occasional cyclist to dodge.

Anyway, I'm not necessarily complaining yet about the new construction, because I'm willing to give it a chance until or unless we get hundreds of cars barreling through. The circles are still an untested commodity in our city; we still don't know how well emergency vehicles can navigate them, how well snow plows can clear them, or how safe they'll be when they're iced over at minus fifty. (Not that we have traffic engineers to tell us the answers, either.)

Heck, if these had been the first or among the first of a small group of traffic circles in town, I would have argued that their implementation in comparatively quieter neighbourhoods is a really smart pilot project study. I mean, yeah, instead of that we just dumped the suckers wherever and all over the place because someone gave us money and we wanted to spend all of it as quickly as possible -- but humour me as I do my best to focus on the positives here, even the imaginary ones.

If anything, I'm relieved that my immediate area seems to be getting off easy thus far; things could always be worse, much worse, very much worse. I'm just saying that I have trouble wrapping my head around why they did it, plopping some roundabouts that nobody needed or wanted or asked for into the least effective possible place the neighbourhood has. Were they just bored? You guys didn't have enough on your plate as it was? Was somebody so opposed to the number thirty-five that you had to cram some circles randomly anywhere just to shut 'em up? Or are our city planners just really, really big Wu-Tang fans?

I'm afraid the answers to these questions may never actually be made available, so I'll put the matter aside for future considerations and just move on before I end up going around in circ--

...les? Agh, I totally blew the timing on that segue. I gotta start blogging more often! I'm getting rusty, here. There is an election going on out there, after all, as lame as it may have been thus far (to the point that even our reporters are bored by it) and as loathe as the rest of my neighbourhood might be to embrace it.

Kids these days! What can you do.

So, in the name of throwing myself back into the thick of things, I'm totally going to hit up that Mayoral debate tomorrow; folks on Twitter sounded like they were having a blast at the one earlier today, but of course I work business hours now and I missed everything like a dweeb. So the evening debate on downtown it is! If I can find an unsecured wireless connection (hey, remember this?), it'll be a liveblog; if I can't, it'll be a recap after the fact. And everybody interested will have already copped the spoilers through Twitter, again, but humour me here.

See you then, true believers!


K said...

1) awesome office
2) lapdance highschool label: BAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Anonymous said...

I guess we are fellow bloggers AND fellow Riverview-ites.

The hungry fiance and I are equally baffled/miffed about the appearance of these eyesores on Hay. Love the reflective orange signage ... it really enhances the natural beauty of the elm trees.


bwalzer said...

The thing is ... traffic circles are kind of fun. They are the only legitimate driving situation where you get to enthusiastically throw the wheel back and forth. Even on a bike there is nothing to stop one from gratuitously swooping right-left-right.

I am still recovering from a summer bike crash at the old Omand's Creek bridge so I now feel that not building the new one was definitely a mistake. It turned out that the Grosvenor Bikeway involved creating many traffic circles. I used to think the Grosvenor Bikeway was pointless. Not any more.

I am sorry traffic engineers. I will never doubt you again...

Ben Century said...

Part of my job is driving around the entire city. Number of times I've used Hay Street: zero. Even on my many trips to Riverview, I've never felt the need to take this much valued "shortcut".

On the topic of roundabouts as traffic discouragements, if you go down Waterfront drive in the middle of winter, you'll see that everyone just drives over these circular speed bumps.

Anonymous said...

I would just like to point out that all the residents on Jubilee and Hay definately recieved notification for public meetings regarding the bikeways on the streets. Not sure how far they extended beyond that though.

I did go to the meeting and it was quite a circus being that the Jubilee crew was unhappy with the biking hooligans that were likely to start kicking their trash cans over. And the outrage of 3 people that we were going to put in some of the circles and remove stop signs. Apparently the concern was that people wouldn't be able to figure them out. Based on the size of the signs I find that fairly disheartening.