Lobby group hopes Sidney traffic study isn’t shelved

A Sidney traffic and tourism advocacy group says the town should not shelve ideas in a recent traffic movement study

A Sidney traffic and tourism advocacy group says the town should not shelve ideas in a recent traffic movement study to explore the possible benefits of making Beacon Avenue a two-way street.

The Sidney Traffic Improvement Group (STIG) told the News Review this week that they have expanded their mandate to look at tourism research and marketing — with an eye at finding ways of attracting tourists to Sidney and then helping make sure issues such as one-way streets and a lack of sufficient directional signage do not drive them away. STIG and its chairman Denis Paquette formed late last year and had approached town council in January for a $25,000 grant to conduct tourist research and more direct information-gathering on what downtown businesses want (especially in terms of making Beacon Avenue a two-way route). Paquette, owner of the Sidney Waterfront Inn, has long lamented one-way traffic on Beacon as well as what he sees as a lack of signage to direct travellers into Sidney.

The town has not granted STIG (made up of mostly local hotel owners) any cash and contracted Urban Systems to review traffic movement in the downtown core. Urban Systems’ report is now public on the town’s website and, in a nutshell, stated Sidney need not do anything significant to its traffic patterns for at least 10 years.

Council passed a series of minor changes as recommended in the report — such as longer traffic lights and shared lane painting — and sent it to it healthy communities and community development committees.

Mayor Larry Cross asked on March 11 that the council get those committees to review the study and comment on it. Councillor Mervyn Lougher-Goodey disagreed, indicating he didn’t want them to make comments to council on the matter, especially since they hadn’t been privy to council’s briefing with Urban Systems. After debate, a majority on council decided to leave it up to the committees to decide what to do with the report and to not specifically ask them to provide any comment on it.

That decision had some people, such as Paquette, wondering if these was an attempt to stifle debate and squash much of the report — especially issues around traffic direction on Beacon Avenue. Urban Systems recommended here that any discussion on the overall one-way structure would require additional research and consultation with the business community and the public, before any action to change it is taken.

Paquette and STIG hope the report does not fade away and wants to ensure the parts of it that do talk about options for Beacon Avenue get some debate.

Lougher-Goodey said there’s no reason for the town to go down that road.

“If there’s no great reason to change it, then don’t do it,” he said.

Lougher-Goodey said he isn’t hearing demand for change to a two-way Beacon Avenue from anyone other than Paquette. The councillor added he feels the decision to change Beacon into a one-way street nearly 20 years ago was done for good reason (to bolster the fortunes of downtown businesses) and said he doesn’t think the situation has changed enough to warrant a revision.

Asked if the traffic report will be shelved, Lougher-Goodey said it will be looked at by the two committees of council. He noted, however, that council has already made its decisions on the report.

In the meantime, the town has asked STIG to consult with other groups, such as the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, on their efforts. Paquette said STIG has decided to stay on their own and pursue their own agenda.

Asked if STIG will duplicate the efforts of local business groups like the Chamber or the new business improvement area (BIA) in the downtown core, Paquette and member Steve Duck said no, and they would work hand-in-glove with the BIA and Chamber in a complimentary manner.

“The BIA is about building retail as a destination with a focus on the Capital Regional District,” said Duck, who was a consultant for the Sidney Business Development Group’s effort to get the BIA off the ground.

He said STIG would focus on tourists from out of the immediate area, learn how they find Sidney and what it takes to keep them here. The BIA has a retail business focus, he said, and the Chamber helps develop overall business growth on the Peninsula. The goal of STIG, added Paquette, would be to eventually form a local tourism marketing association, not unlike Tourism Victoria or Oceanside Tourism in Parksville.

At the moment, however, they have little in the way of finances and indicated they want to return to the town and seek a grant out of Sidney’s economic development fund.

That isn’t stopping them from taking some small actions. This Sunday, during the first run of the season for the Anacortes Ferry, Paquette said a new sign — pouting the way into Sidney from inside the ferry terminal — will be revealed. He said it was built on short notice, with the approval of the town and support from Washington State Ferries.

“It’s about building (Sidney’s) profile,” Paquette said, “to get people to come in a see what we have.”