Debate over whether a return to full two-way traffic flow on Sidney’s Beacon Avenue is in the cards could boil down to the cost.
Both the Town of Sidney and the Sidney Tourism Improvement Group (STIG) have asked for engineering and cost reports showing what would need to take place on the street to make it fully two-way. The reports differ on the bottom line and both parties have said that the cost to taxpayers for any change could sway the outcome of a public consultation process in December and January. STIG, however, hopes that cost alone won’t be the only determining factor in this decision.
Currently, traffic on Beacon Avenue is two-way between the Pat Bay Highway and Fifth Street; one-way between Fifth and Second streets, and; two-way again between Second and First streets.
The battle over traffic flow has been simmering since 1997, when the Town, under then-Mayor Don Amos, changed the three-block segment of the street for both beautification and business delivery reasons. Not everyone was keen on the change. Denis Paquette, owner of Sidney Waterfront Inn and Suites has been a vocal proponent of the two-way system in an effort to keep visitors in town longer and, therefore, help improve the local economy.
Paquette and other business owners formed STIG earlier this year and the movement for two-way traffic has been growing, putting pressure on the municipality. A traffic movement study conducted by Urban Systems this year was not designed to look at Beacon Avenue specifically, but the company did so when they had less work than time allotted in their contract with the Town. They deemed the one-way portion of Beacon to be counter-intuitive for drivers — yet before any change, the Town would have to consult with business owners and the rest of the community.
After initial delays and continued pressure from STIG and others, the Town voted this month to proceed with public consultation. A public meeting on the issue is tentatively set for Jan. 23 at the Mary Winspear Centre.
Part of that announcement included a Town engineering department report estimating the cost to revert Beacon back to two-way traffic would be $150,000 to $250,000.
Prior to that, STIG held its own public meeting, revealing they asked two engineering firms to provide cost estimates as well. Steve Duck of TIDES Group and working with STIG, says those estimates were verbal-only, but put the cost of reverting Beacon to a full two-way system at $60,000 or $125,000.
In an email to the PNR, Duck said getting the written estimates on those numbers will cost around $2,500 and may be out of reach by STIG at this point.
“Given the range when the Town’s estimate is included, it’s apparent the devil is in the details which will make valuable comparison difficult,” Duck stated.
That said, Duck seemed to soften STIG’s insistence on the two-way option for Beacon Avenue.
“The one-way versus two-way stand does not provide for any vision of what is the better way for Beacon Avenue,” he said. “Certainly, STIG has been encouraging an evaluation of two-way in response to the Urban Systems traffic report recommendations.”
“The long term vision of this group is for shared streets for al modes of transport, which will include moving cars in both directions.”
Duck added Town council has the responsibility to determine the outcome and STIG will work with Sidney’s public participation process.
Mayor Larry Cross said in an interview with the PNR recently that the public process has begun. There’s a survey online at www.sidney.ca, seeking people’s opinions about Beacon Avenue. There are also plans to host public forums in the new year (one is tentatively set for Jan. 23).
Chief Administrative Officer Randy Humble added the Town really wants to promote its online survey — SidneySays — as a venue for public feedback. He said there will be mail outs going to businesses and residents that will include the survey.
Once the Christmas season is complete, said Cross, the public consultation process will ramp up and firm times and dates for meetings and open houses on the future of Beacon Avenue will be announced.
Humble said the Town hopes to wrap up its consultation by mid-to-late February with staff recommendations to council to follow.